Spencer, major-leaguer for 15 years, dead at 54

Andover High graduate was Gold Glover, All-Star

February 12, 2002|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Jim Spencer, a member of the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame who won two Gold Gloves at first base during a 15-year career in the majors, died of an apparent heart attack Sunday at age 54 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Spencer grew up in Westminster and Ferndale. He graduated in 1965 from Andover High, where he was an All-American in baseball and basketball.

This past weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Spencer played for a third year in a benefit baseball game for the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital.

Spencer played first base in the game Saturday night and was about to return to his winter home in Sarasota Sunday afternoon before taking ill.

"I was told he went back to his room to lie down for a while and he apparently suffered a heart attack," said Susie Spencer, his wife of 10 years.

The Spencers resided in Sykesville, but had been spending part of their winters the past few years in Florida.

In addition to his career at Andover, Spencer was a standout for the amateur teams run by Sheriff Fowble and Walter Youse. Spencer hit a home run at Yankee Stadium before he ever signed a professional contract, connecting as a 16-year-old playing in a 1963 amateur all-star game.

Spencer was the first-round pick of the California Angels and the 11th overall selection in baseball's inaugural amateur draft in 1965. He went on to set American League season and career fielding records for a first baseman. Spencer played in the 1973 All-Star Game and was a member of the 1978 world champion New York Yankees.

He was inducted into the Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.

After his playing career, Spencer had a variety of baseball-related jobs, including as an advance scout for the Yankees and an assistant coach at the Naval Academy. He also worked in promotions for the Yankees and appeared at charity events and fantasy camps.

Spencer and his first wife, Frances, lived in Severna Park during the 1970s and '80s. They divorced shortly after his baseball retirement in 1982. After a long battle with cancer, Frances died in August.

After spending four years in the minors, Spencer made it to the majors with the Angels in 1968. He was called up for 19 games in September after a Texas League MVP season with El Paso.

After starting the season in Triple-A in 1969, Spencer became the Angels' first baseman. He was runner-up to Lou Piniella of Kansas City for American League Rookie of the Year.

Spencer, the grandson of Ben Spencer, an outfielder for the Washington Senators in 1913, went on to play for the Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, Yankees and Oakland Athletics.

In 1973 with the Angels, he tied the American League season record for fielding percentage (.999) by a first baseman that had been set in 1921 by John McGinnis of the Boston Red Sox.

Spencer, who won Gold Gloves in 1970 with Angels and 1977 with Chicago, finished with the American League career record for fielding percentage of .995 in 1,221 games.

His best offensive season came in 1979 with the Yankees, when he batted .288 with 23 homers and 53 RBIs in 295 at bats, the best home run ratio in the majors that year. For his career, Spencer hit .250, with 146 homers and 599 RBIs.

Spencer is survived by his wife, Susie; daughters Jessica Spencer and Jaime Spencer, both of Sykesville; his parents, Lloyd and Helen Spencer of Sykesville; and a sister, Debbie DuVall of North Carolina.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete last night.

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