Opera singer and New York Yankees fixture Robert Merrill has died at the age of 87.
Merrill died Saturday at his home in suburban New York City, family friend Barry Tucker said Monday. Reference books gave conflicting ages for Merrill, 87 or 85.
Merrill performed around the country with Tucker’s father, tenor Richard Tucker, the younger man said. “My father felt that he had the greatest natural voice that America created,” he said.
Merrill, once described in Time magazine as “one of the Met’s best baritones,” became as well-known to New York Yankees fans for his season-opening rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner — a tradition that began in 1969.
Merrill’s lifelong enthusiasm for baseball led to his long tenure at Yankee Stadium, where he sang the national anthem on opening day for three decades.
Merrill, who often appeared in a pinstriped shirt and tattered Yankees necktie, performed the same duty for the Yankees during the World Series, the playoffs and at Old-timers Day.
He took the job seriously and once said he didn’t appreciate when singers tried to ad lib with “distortions.”
“When you do the anthem, there’s a legitimacy to it,” Merrill told Newsday in 2000. “I’m bothered by these different interpretations of it.”
Yankees team spokesman Howard Rubenstein called Merrill “a true inspiration for us, the ballplayers and all of our fans. … We dearly miss him.”
When I ranted about some modern “interpretations” of the National Anthem, it was with Merrill’s version in mind as the gold standard. Nobody did it better than Robert Merrill. Rest in peace.