Think back to your all-time favorite TV sports moment. Maybe it was the Rangers’ Stanley Cup victory or Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit. You may have thrilled to Michael Phelps’ 23 gold medals, American Pharoah’s Triple Crown victory, the Giants’ win at Super Bowl XLII, or Mariano Rivera’s MVP role in his final All-Star game. If you’re a sports fan in New York, chances are you shared those moments with veteran broadcaster Bruce Beck.
By the time Beck was in high school, he was already well known as a stats guy, and he still is. The numbers spill out readily in conversation: 21 years at NBC 4 New York, nine as lead sports anchor; nine-time sportscaster of the year; he’s won eight Emmys, covered eight Olympics, and announced eight Belmonts with Triple Crown contenders in the running before seeing American Pharoah become the 12th-ever horse to nail the Crown in 2015.
But for Beck, life isn’t just about numbers — for him, hard work, family, and giving back are the hallmarks of true success.
A White Plains resident who has lived in Westchester County for more than 25 years, Beck says he’s more likely to be called the hardest-working guy in TV than the most brilliant. “We all roll that way as a family,” he says of his wife of 37 years, Janet, and their two sons. Jonathan, the eldest, is a vice president at JP Morgan Chase, living in Ardsley with his wife and 1-year-old daughter; Michael, a litigation lawyer, lives in Manhattan with his wife. “We don’t do anything not 100 percent,” Beck says. “Your attention to detail, your preparation and, most importantly, your relationships, impact what you can accomplish in life.”
Bruce grew up in New Jersey, where his mother, Doris, an arbitrator on the New York Stock Exchange, was elected mayor of Livingston. She was the first female mayor in Essex County history. His father, Felix, was a successful mortgage banker and president of the Mortgage Bankers Association of America. From the start they expected a lot from their son. “My father told me to carry the name of Beck with dignity, every time he dropped me off at school.”
As a youngster, Beck played nearly every sport but remembers grabbing a kitchen utensil as a pretend microphone and calling the culinary plays as his mother baked. He graduated to commentating games in the backyard and later to turning off the TV’s sound to announce the play-by-play in his living room. By the time Beck recognized that he didn’t have the height, speed, or vertical leap for a career in pro basketball, he didn’t have to search far for an alternative dream to pursue. “I could last a lot longer as a broadcaster, and still have a vicarious thrill from the games.”
Brian Cashman, general manager of the Yankees, has a simple equation explaining Bruce’s longevity in a notoriously competitive field: “Ability plus personality equals magic delivered.”
“Connecting with the audience is the job, and he connects more than most,” says Ed Cohen, the voice of the New York Knicks. “Over four decades of doing it, Bruce has earned the respect of his interviewees. The subjects know he’ll tell their story; there’s a trust that can’t be manufactured.”
While all of the Becks share a passion for sports, Janet notes that her husband often immerses himself in his work to the point of tunnel vision. During a vacation in Barcelona, his family once hopped on public transportation and went back to the hotel, leaving him on a bench outside a museum, engrossed in tweeting. “He’s never off duty,” Janet points out. “After a while, he phoned and said, ‘Where did you guys go?’ Bruce is in his own world sometimes.”
Another passion the Becks share is volunteering and mentoring, as evidenced by their oft-repeated family mantra, “To receive is nice; giving is nicer; giving back is nicest
“Giving back is in the Beck genes,” says Cohen, who calls Bruce a friend, mentor, and personal hero. “His work with charities, giving time to help young broadcasters, sharing with others, that’s part of who he is, how he grew up. You can’t fake that.”
Tom Conklin, CEO and president of Make-A-Wish Hudson Valley, notes that the Becks have been involved with the organization for more than 10 years, fundraising and doing stories on Make-A-Wish kids. The Becks have an almost two-decade tradition of serving meals on Thanksgiving at St. John’s Bread and Life soup kitchen in Brooklyn, along with an array of other charities, such as JDRF (formerly Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and Westchester Medical Center.
Beck also applies his characteristic tunnel vision to mentoring. Once established, the relationships seem to last a lifetime. “Mentoring kids is Bruce’s passion. They call, send him information to review, tapes to critique, requests for letters of recommendation. He never says no,” Janet notes. “He’ll take a call even when we have one foot out the door. I often tell people that the Becks are always 10 minutes late to dinner.”
Cohen, whom Beck mentored since his Scarsdale High School days, says, “Bruce was a great guide in a crazy world and a crazy business.” Cohen has seen firsthand the work that goes into being Bruce Beck. “As I was growing up, Bruce told me someone who hustled and worked hard could do anything. He advised me, critiqued me, and showed me how to navigate situations — and I’m just one of many in a long line.”
In 2017, Bruce and Janet started working together on a new mentoring endeavor at Steiner Sports in New Rochelle, called the Bruce Beck Sports Broadcasting Camp
(www.brucebecksportsbroadcastingcamp.com), aiming to foster the next generation of sports broadcasters. The Becks provide scholarships for campers through Steer for Student Athletes, a Rye-based mentoring program. During weeklong sessions, youngsters learn broadcasting basics, interview pro athletes, and call a play-by-play game at Yankee Stadium. Cohen is a daily instructor, and broadcasters and industry pros, like Cashman, speak at the camp.
For most of this century, Bruce ran a similar camp in Montclair, NJ, with CBS sports announcer Ian Eagle, but wanted to offer something similar closer to home. “I thought I was done working, then Bruce asked, ‘Will you run this camp with me?’” says Janet, who ran a promotional premium business and worked in development and marketing.
Beck estimates that five to 10 campers each year — about 10 to 20 percent — end up working in some aspect of the industry. Alumni of the New Jersey camp now have jobs with MLB Network; as college sports announcers; and as broadcasters, anchors, writers, and producers on TV, radio, and the web. “This camp is for kids who want to do this for a living, or are just looking for a great summer program,” Beck says.
Life in Westchester agrees with Bruce and Janet, who were attracted to the county by its beauty and easy Manhattan access. In his rare downtime, Beck likes to stick close to home and family, looking forward to TV nights, brunch with the kids, walking their Australian labradoodle Madison, or playing a round of golf at Fenway Golf Club in Scarsdale, where he’s a member.
“We feel blessed to be here,” Janet says. “Whether we’re driving around or just walking the dog, it makes me think of the ‘I Love New York’ campaign — the hills, mountains, trees, and beaches are all so lovely.”
Beck will turn 62 in September, but if he follows his father’s example, retirement is not on the horizon. Felix Beck worked full time until age 72, then continued as a consultant till age 84. “If Bruce could work for another 10 years, he’d be happy,” Janet muses. “He doesn’t think of retirement. He’d like to take his knowledge and experience and continue to mentor
This article originally appeared in Westchester Magazine here.
On Wednesday, ESPN tried something new that had never been done before. The big-name sports network decided to roll out a broadcast team of four aspiring teenage broadcasters to call a Little League World Series game between Hawaii and Virginia.
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