Four prominent members of the 1979 Yankees have passed away over the years. I’ve written extensively about three of them—Thurman Munson, Bobby Murcer, and Jim “Catfish” Hunter— in this space. All three were beloved players, though for very different reasons. I have hardly written anything about the fourth player. It’s about time to end that practice.
Jim Spencer has become a forgotten link to the late 1970s. When he died in 2002 from a heart attack, there was barely a mention in the New York newspapers, like the Daily News and the Post. There might even be a few longtime Yankee fans who are surprised to hear that Spencer is deceased. His passing created little fanfare, even for those who grew up with the Yankees during the Bronx Zoo years.
No one ever remembers Spencer fondly as part of the late seventies run of pennants and world championships, just like no one remembers Jay Johnstone or Gary Thomasson. I guess that’s the fate that befalls old platoon players or bench guys; the more time that goes by, the less and less they seem to become pertinent. That natural human tendency to forget overshadows the fact that Spencer could provide decent production in a part-time role. Did you know that he led the 1979 Yankees in OPS with a mark of .970? I certainly didn’t. In just 295 at-bats, Spencer clubbed a career-high 23 home runs. It’s too bad that Spencer couldn’t have timed that performance to occur in 1978, when it would have felt far more relevant as part of a world championship contribution. Limited by injuries in 1978, Spencer came to bat only 166 times, rendering him a footnote during that memorable summer and fall.