Saturday, May 15, 2010

#278 Jim Spencer

Who is this player?
Jim Spencer, reserve infielder, New York Yankees
Generally regarded as one of the top defensive first basemen of his era, Jim Spencer of the New York Yankees was a part-time player in 1980. Splitting time between first base and designated hitter, the lefthanded batting Spencer provided some offensive pop (13 HR) and a reliable late-inning glove. He belted a grand slam early in the season against the Texas Rangers and had a five-RBI performance against the Oakland A's in June. Spencer appeared in the ALCS that fall after he helped the Yankees win the AL East but the Yanks were swept by the Kansas City Royals three straight.

The grandson of a former major leaguer, Jim Spencer was 3-sport athlete in high school and hit a home run at Yankee Stadium as a American Legion All-Star in 1963. Two years later, he was a first round selection (11th overall) by the California Angels. He was the MVP of the Texas League in 1967 and earned a trial look by the Angels after leading El Paso to the championship in 1968. He wrested away the starting position at first base the following season and would remain there for the next four and a half seasons.

In 1973, he was traded to the Texas Rangers and was selected to the American League All-Star team. It was also in Texas where he established his reputation as a fine fielder. Although he already won a Gold Glove in 1970, Jim committed only 2 errors at first base over the next two seasons, in excess of 180 games. Now with the White Sox, he had another fine performance in 1976, only committing two errors in 143 games played. Another Gold Glove followed in 1977. Spencer was traded again in 1978, this time to the New York Yankees, where he saw his first World Series experience as he helped the Yankees overtake the Boston Red Sox and charge to a Series championship.

When he reported to spring training in 1981, Spencer complained to press about excessive platooning the previous summer by former manager Dick Howser and pressure from George Steinbrenner who was unhappy with Spencer's lack of production at the plate. Less than two months later, the Yankees tried to trade Spencer to Pittsburgh, but Commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed the deal because the Yankees would have given the Pirates $850,000. exceeding Kuhn's limits for cash transactions. In May, the Yankees sent Spencer to the Oakland Athletics, where he would spend the remaining years of his 15 year career.

After his playing career ended, Spencer was an assistant baseball coach at Navy, and he worked briefly as a scout for the Yankees. He often appeared at charity events and Yankee fantasy camps. Spencer suffered a heart attack at his winter home in Sarasota, Florida in February 2002 and passed away at the age of 54. Only five days before he died, Spencer had played first base in a benefit game for the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Florida.

Why I love this card
What stood out most with this card is that Spencer was so bad-a**, he is glaring straight into the sun without sunglasses or eyeblack. And isn't the least bit afraid. That may not sound like much, but think back to Little League. What did every kid do the moment any trace of sun was in their eyes? That's right turtle-up at even the sound of a ball coming at you. Seeing Spencer on this card not at unintimidated by sunlight oozed "major leaguer" for me.

Something else....
Like the Rick Bosetti card, Topps again shows some laziness with Spencer's 1980 issue. Check out the back again of Spencer's 1980 card and his 1979 card. They both use the same exact like about a pinch-hit grand slam in 1978!

On this date in 1980:
Shawn Weatherly of South Carolina is crowed Miss USA. Bob Barker hosts the pageant from Biloxi, Mississippi. You can watch the crowing moment here.

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