Friday, November 20, 2009

Tales of T212 #18 : Franklin J. Spencer

Back in the early 1980s I thought I'd combine my interests in minor league baseball and vintage baseball cards by assembling a collection of the Obak cigarette cards that were distributed on the West Coast in 1909, 1910 and 1911.I didn't realize it then, but those cards are so much rarer than most of the contemporary T206 cards from "Back East" that putting together complete sets of the Obak could take decades to accomplish -- and that's if a guy had more money than God to buy the cards when they became available.At about the time I started my Obak collection I also started researching the players who appeared in the sets. Over the course of several long Wisconsin winters I pored over microfilms of The Sporting News and The Sporting Life from the period several years before to several years after the Obak cards circulated, making prodigious notes on 3x5 file cards for each player in the set.I gave up trying to collect the T212s (that's the catalog number Jefferson Burdick assigned the three sets in the pioneering American Card Catalog in 1939), long ago, and have since sold off all my Obaks, one-by-one, first on eBay, then on the Net 54 baseball card forum. As I was selling each card, I included interesting tidbits about each player from my notes. The bidders seemed to like learning a little bit about these guys on the cards, so I thought I'd now begin sharing their stories here.

"Stub" Spencer was nearing the end of a lengthy, though undistinguished, minor league career when he made his lone Obak baseball card appearance in the 1911 set. (By the way, I'm long overdue apologizing for the quality of the card pictures I use in these postings. They are lo-res images that I scanned from my Obak collection many years ago. The cards are now long dispersed in other collections, so I'm stuck with what I had.)

We don't know when or where Spencer was born. The SABR Minor League Database records his first professional engagement as being with St. Paul in 1901. A player's first pro team is often, though by no means not always, close to home, so it's possible Spencer was a "western" boy. He did, in fact spend his entire pro career west of the Mississippi River.

Spencer started out as an outfielder. In 1902 he was with three of the six teams that made up the short-lived (1902-1903) Class D Iowa-South Dakota League: the Sioux City Cornhuskers, Sioux Falls Canaries and Le Mars Blackbirds. Though the league's stats appear to have been unrecorded, Spencer earned a berth on a Class A team, Seattle of the Pacific National League, for 1903. In 1904 he was with Butte, also in the PNAL.

In 1905, Bellingham of the Northwestern League moved Spencer went behind the plate, where he remained for the rest of his playing days. It looks like Spencer spent most of his career as a second-string catcher, obviously because of his light hitting. Between 1903-1913, he never hit above .248, and four times failed to break out of the .100s. He had only two career home runs.

Spencer rarely spent more than a single season with any team. In 1906 he was with Davenport. He played for both Vancouver and Aberdeen in 1907, and split 1908 with Aberdeen and Butte. In 1909 he was with Spokane. He played for Seattle and Tacoma in 1911 and ended his professional career in 1913 at Edmonton. In looks like Spencer was out of Organized Baseball in 1910 and 1912.

As with his birth specifics, the date and place of his death are unknown.

UPDATE: Veteran collector Dave Eskenazi, who specializes in early professional baseball in the Northwest, has provided some further details about Stub Spencer. Armed with his findings, it looks like we've also found Spencer's whereabouts during the 1910 season.

In 1910 the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada League had a catcher named Spencer. Since biographical details (such as furst names) for that Class D minor league circuit are hard to come by, we can't be sure, but it looks like that was ol' Stub. He hit a decent .280 that season.

After his return to the NWL with Seattle and Tacoma in 1911, Spencer was back in the WCL in 1912, with the Red Deer (Alberta) Eskimos, where he hit .251. That's Spencer's photo, provided by Dave, at left.

We noted earlier that he had ended his pro career with Edmonton of the WCL in 1913, but Dave found both a photo and a record that show that Spencer caught for the Saskatoon Quakers of the WCL in 1914, when they won the league pennant, though Spencer contributed only a .146 batting average to the effort.

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