The rector of his Bolton Landing parish, as well as his own father, concluded early that Chet Ross had nothing on his mind but baseball. “I was like a hound dog,” said Ross. “I only went home when I was hungry.”
That dedication allowed Ross to avoid trouble – he never once appeared before his uncle, Bolton Town Justice Jim Ross – and, more important, it enabled him to become one of Warren County’s finest pitchers ever.
The local press dubbed him “Bolton’s husky hurler.”
In his four years at Bolton High School, he recorded 21 wins, losing only once, to a much bigger school, St. Mary’s of Glens Falls.
He played for his town team, semi-pro teams and in exhibition games against the traveling, so-called Negro teams.
And, as we learned from a June 26,1953 issue of the Lake George Mirror, he was “almost a New York Yankee.”
“Chet Ross was rehashing the Yankee game of the night before, wishing for all his might that he was in there pitching instead of Whitey Ford. ‘And I would have, too, if my arm hadn’t gone dead,’” the Mirror reported.
We caught up with Ross on the patio of his friend Tom Roach, the owner of Adirondack Marine and Bayfront Cottages.
Ross confirmed that the loss of his pitching arm ended his prospects as a major league ball player.
“I always felt that if my arm had held up, I could have made it to the majors. But I did it to myself; it was my own fault,” he said.
“Back then, if you could stand up, you could play. I would pitch doubleheaders,” he recalled.
Nevertheless, there’s a famous tabloid cover photo of Casey Stengel taken in 1949, the year he became the Yankees’ manager.
Behind Stengel, inscribed on a chalkboard, are the names of all the prospects whose fates are in the manager’s hands. “The 1949 pennant may be tied up in the hundreds of players down on the farm teams,” the cutline reads. Look closely, and you’ll see Ross’s name among them.
That year, Ross was playing for the Easton, Maryland Yankees.
Ross said he had a good season, until his arm grew sore and refused to heal.
“My arm just didn’t have any more life in it,” he said.
Ross went home to Lake George, where his wife Joyce and a job with the state’s Conservation Department were waiting.
And, in fact, Ross is better known in the area for his 39-year career with the state than he is for his pitching arm.
He was the first foreman of the Million Dollar Beach and, over the years, added the campgrounds, picnic sites, historic parks and Prospect Mountain to his portfolio, retiring in 1987 as Operations Supervisor for Region 5.
“It was the perfect job because I never had to be in any one place. But the people who worked for me always seemed to be able to sense when I was coming and get busy. ‘Look,’ I told them. ‘You’ll never hide from me. I’ve been a state worker for almost forty years and I know every place there is to hide,’” Ross recalled.
Although Ross has been retired for almost thirty years, his advice is still sought on issues affecting the state’s local properties and he’s still a good source for an inquiring reporter.
“Dog Beach? I always sent a person over there to keep it cleaned up. Of course I knew where the pipes from the Battleground Campground to the sewer mains were located. I laid them out. I don’t know why the State stopped paying the town to treat its sewage. Maybe because the town has two pump stations on state property,” he said.
Over the years, Ross aided the community in many ways, including serving as a member of the Town Board.
And according to Tom Roach, there’s another dimension to Ross’s life that he rarely discusses: his wartime service with General George S. Patton’s Third Army.
“Patton: Old Blood and Guts. His guts and our blood. But I liked him. I saw him often, but not as often as I heard him yelling,” said Ross.
Ross was with the 6th Armored Division that was ordered to cross France in the winter of 1944 to relieve a beleaguered Allied army at Bastogne.
“It was a hell of a ride, but we made it,” said Ross.
Which is about the best thing that could be said of any man’s life, if you ask me.
Photo: Above, Chet Ross pitching for Yankee farm team Stroudsburg Poconos in 1947; and below, taking a few swings with the bat.
A version of this story was first published in the Lake George Mirror.