Spencer Ross: High school B-ball star, famed sportscaster — and matzo ball maker
Bet you didn’t know he also is a Master Chef.
Need a hint?
He’s in the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame; the New York State Baseball and Basketball Halls and soon to be inducted in the Brooklyn Sports Hall.
OK – this is easy. With the exception of the New York Mets, he’s called play-by-play for every professional New York Metropolitan area sports franchise, including the Yankees of MLB, the Nets and Knicks of the NBA and, in the NHL, for the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and New York Rangers.
But Spencer Ross’ claim to fame – and this may be a first – is his matzo ball soup.
“I make the best tasting matzo balls in the world,” he told the Eagle, from a bench on Katherine Hepburn Park the other afternoon. “The secret,” he continued, “is seltzer and schmaltz (chicken fat).”
And who knew the basketball star at New Utrecht High School would become a household name in sports – with a microphone and not a ball.
“As a junior, we should have won the City Championship,” said Ross, a member of the Utes’ class of 1958. “We lost to Thomas Jefferson, at Madison Square Garden in the Opening Round of the playoffs, 82-58.”
The 80-year-old Ross remembers the game like it was yesterday. In fact, he recalled his Utes led 28-27 at the half, “And we had already beaten Jeff earlier in the season.”
Jefferson, he remembered, was loaded.
“They had future pros in LeRoy Ellis and Tony Jackson,” he said. “We held TJ to 15 at the half.”
Jackson went-off in the second half, scored 39 points and wound-up scoring 54.
The Jack Gordon-coached Utrecht squad saw all five starters garnering scholarships as seniors.
“I had some offers – to Belmont and Alfred (NY),” Ross said.
But a twist of fate landed him in Florida—and a new budding career.
“I was asked by a stranger, ‘How’d you like to attend school in Florida,’” Ross remembered. “I said, ‘That’s the school in Gainesville.’”
The stranger responded: “Don’t ever say that again.”
The school in question – Florida State – is located in Tallahassee.
The so-called stranger – a Brooklyn-born baseballer – John Cangelosi – was the man responsible for Spencer Ross attending Florida State.
“In fact,” Ross said, “in 1985 I was doing a Chicago White Sox-Yankee exhibition game and Cangelosi was playing. I went to the clubhouse after the game and he told me yes, his dad was from Brooklyn.
“I was the kid who got the scholarship,” Ross said.
But basketball and Spencer Ross – at least like oil and water – did not mix. “I quickly found out these kids were bigger, stronger, faster and shot better,” he said.
For Ross – who started his basketball playing career in the schoolyard at P.S. 103 (on 14th Avenue) — was staring at the fork in the road – in Tallahassee – he was stuck with reality and the path to a new frontier called radio.
“I was told I wouldn’t be making the travel quad with the team,” said Ross, “and at the same time Coach Bud Kennedy) told me WTNT Radio was going to broadcast our games.”
This was 1960. This was a first for Florida State.
And a first for Ross, who immediately told his coach, “I can do that, coach. I can do it.”
Ross had the best of teachers at the young age of 10. “I listened to the great Marty Glickman. I had a PhD in Marty Glickman.”
Glickman, like no one else – or since – painted a picture with words. Top of the key, right, left baseline – you get the picture.
So, Ross recorded a scrimmage, submitted it to WTNT and hired the young Ross at a rate of $10 per-game.
He did Florida State baseball and traveled with them to the College World Series.
WTNT went off the air at midnight and the enterprising Ross suggested to management he play music till 2 am. He did – and pocketed an additional $60 a-week for his Friday and Saturday work.
And it was the late Marty Glickman who struck again. It was Glickman who was hired to find a play-by-play announcer for the fledging New Jersey Americans in the brand-new American Basketball Association.
This was 1967 – the year Spencer Ross turned pro as the very first announcer for the Americans.
As for Glickman, Ross didn’t hold back praise and thanks.
“He was my mentor, he was my surigant father (my dad died when I was 16), he was my strictest critic and taught me much about broadcasting.”
Glickman and former Boston Celtics Hall of Fame Coach Red Auerbach lured the kid from 1335 50th Street in Borough Park to Boston to call their games in 1995.
But there was more – always more for Spencer Ross. He’s done play-by-play for the New York Stars (World Football League), New York Sets (World Team Tennis), won the first Emmy Award for any Yankee announcer and called pre-season on television for both the New York Giants and New York Jets.
There was also rugby, amateur wrestling, roller derby and even rodeo along the way,
“My spotter for the Giants’ games was a law student – John Mara,” he said. His dad (Wellington) owned the club. “And Roger Goodell – the present-day NFL Commissioner – was my spotter for Jets’ games.”
But perhaps the best moment in the lengthy career of Spencer Ross was a no-call.
It was 1985, Ross was in the Yankee broadcast booth with Phil Rizzuto and Bill White. The opponent that day was Tom Seaver and the Chicago White Sox,
Seaver was going for career-win 300. Ross did three innings of play-by-play and three as a color analyst. The veteran Lindsey Nelson was brought in for his story-telling for this game.
“When we came back from commercial for the final inning,” Ross said, “I told Lindsey, ‘There’s only one man to call play-by-play for this milestone moment’”.
Ross gave the microphone to Nelson.
“I met him (Lindsey) 10 years later in Knoxville,” Ross said.
Nelson greeted him with this: “In all my years in broadcasting, that was the most selfless gesture I’ve ever seen.”
Not too bad for a fledgling chef.
Andy Furman is a Fox Sports Radio national talk show host. Previously, he was a scholastic sports columnist for the Brooklyn Eagle. He may be reached at: [email protected]
Leave a Comment
Leave a Comment