"I'd sit on the bench before I'd go out, always nervous," says Merrill, "and Thurman would make sure to say to me, 'Don't blow it, ya bum.' "
Not many guys can boast that they've sung with Luciano PavarottiandWillie Randolph, but Merrill says the Yankees coach is "a hell of a tenor" who likes to work out his vocal chords in the tunnel leading from the clubhouse to the dugout. Ironically, though, Merrill never gets to team up with Layton. Because the Stadium's audio system delays playing back the notes Layton hits, Merrill is forced to sing a cappella or risk having any musical accompaniment turn his words into an indecipherable mess.
Though he just turned 82, Merrill isn't thinking of giving up his gig any time soon. "I still get nervous, but I always feel like a kid when I'm in front of the crowd," he says. "The feeling is extraordinary, and I feel fortunate to be doing it. And it's great to see that Bob and Eddie are still a part of all this. It would feel very strange if those boys weren't around."
You probably don't give a whole lot of thought to Sheppard, Layton, and Merrill when you're paying 33 bucks for an upper-deck box seat to watch Jeter, Williams, and O'Neill. But one of these baseball summers, those distinctive dinosaurs will be gone, replaced, no doubt, by a mundane p.a. voice, a less-imaginative organist, and a parade of guest stars turning the national anthem into their own personal showcase. When that day comes, maybe rhymin' Simon ought to return to the outfield and sing another of his tunes, this time in tribute to the Holy Trinity. "The Sounds of Silence" would seem appropriate.