Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Never Mets?

Someone recently asked me who I wish I could have met, but no longer can. The parameters were simple. The person had to be somewhat attainable (by Johngy's Beat Presidents, Kings, reclusive billionaires). The person had to be alive and well during my collecting career (no George Washington, no Babe Ruth, not even Janis Joplin).
That list would be interesting, but one person immediately comes to mind. Brian 'Spinner' Spencer.
Spencer was a player in the NHL from 1969 through 1979. After playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Islanders, the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins, he officially retired after playing for the minor league Hershey Bears.
As far as I knew, his story ended there and he was just another of my favorite players who had retired and was probably living in Canada getting on with his life. We didn't have the internet and its' websites to keep us updated on former players.
When I was at DePaul, I did some part-time research for The Autograph Review, a small magazine for autograph collectors. In the pre-internet days, this research consisted of going to the Chicago Public Library and scouring phone books for former players.
I found a listing for Spencer in British Columbia, sent off a letter and attempted to call the number later that week. Nobody answered the phone (everyone didn't have answering machines then either).
A few weeks later, I received a call at home. The person identified himself as being with the FBI. He asked me what my interest in Spencer was. After I explained I just wanted him to sign a hockey card, he told me to stop any attempts at contacting him. He explained that Spencer was wanted on charges of kidnapping and murder and was facing the death penalty. He asked me a few more questions and thanked me for my time.
I later learned that Spencer's world involved a lot of drugs and violence. He was acquitted of those charges however and committed himself to changing his life. He moved to Florida to start fresh.
Unfortunately, shortly after he moved, he was robbed at gunpoint allegedly while trying to purchase cocaine. He was shot and killed just months before his 40th birthday.
I later read the book, Gross Misconduct, and learned a lot more about the short and tragic life of Spencer. It is a fascinating book, which thoroughly delves into Spencer's life.
One major sad aspect was the relationship Brian had with his father, whose life also ended tragically and senselessly.
On the night of his NHL debut, his father was killed during a standoff with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The elder Spencer had gone to a local tv station and held the staff at gunpoint until they switched games to show the Leafs (Brian's team) instead of the Canucks.
It seems that Brian Spencer's entire life was up and down. Sadly, it ended before he could manage to escape his demons.
I would have loved to met him because of his hockey abilities and performances. However, talking to him about life outside of hockey might have proven to be more interesting.

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