Bill Spanswick Dies; Enfield’s Only Major League Baseball Player


ENFIELD, CT — Bill Spanswick, the only Enfield product ever to play Major League Baseball and a charter inductee of the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame, passed away Wednesday. He was 82.

News of Spanswick’s passing was announced Wednesday night on Facebook by his nephew Jeff, a fellow Hall of Famer, who posted his uncle’s 1965 Topps baseball card with the words, “Best in my book…love that guy. Great uncle…better friend. U will be missed. Love u crow…Definitely one of my heroes growing up. Wanted to be just like him.”

A 3-sport standout at Enfield High School, the 6-foot-3 left-handed throwing Spanswick led the Raider baseball squad to the 1956 Valley Wheel championship, compiling a 9-1 record including a no-hitter and seven one-hitters, along with a 56-inning scoreless streak. He also co-captained the basketball team to a 12-4 record his senior year, and played on the football squad.

Bill Spanswick in the 1956 Enfield High School yearbook. (Courtesy of Enfield Historical Society)

He earned a baseball scholarship to the College of the Holy Cross, but after his freshman season, he signed to pitch professionally with the Boston Red Sox organization. In 1957, he and his brother Jim attended a workout at Fenway Park, where they were photographed receiving pointers from legendary superstar Ted Williams.

Bill Spanswick (right) and his younger brother Jim (left) listen to baseball legend Ted Williams at Fenway Park in 1957. (Photo: Ed Malley, courtesy of Jim Malley)

His initial pro season was divided between Red Sox minor league clubs in Lexington, Nebraska and Waterloo, Iowa, then he advanced to Raleigh in the Class-B Carolina League in 1959. The Capitals won the league title that year, paced by Spanswick’s 15-4 record, 2.89 earned run average, and 156 strikeouts in 152 innings pitched.

That season, he befriended, and roomed with, a first-year outfielder who batted .377 and knocked in 100 runs in only 120 games. That 19-year-old kid, who went on to become one of the greatest players in Red Sox history and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, was Carl Yastrzemski.

Spanswick made it to Triple-A, the highest minor league level, in 1961, and was promoted to the major league club for the final two weeks of the season, though he did not appear in a game. A dismal 1962 season in Seattle (5-9 record, 4.62 ERA) and the onset of arm trouble caused some doubt as to his future.

Those doubts were erased in 1963, when he posted a 14-8 record for Seattle, with a 2.49 ERA and 209 strikeouts in 185 innings. He was named the Triple-A Pitcher of the Year, and earned a spot in the majors with Boston in 1964. He made his Major League debut on April 18, tossing three scoreless innings of relief against the Chicago White Sox, and belted a single in his first big league at-bat.

Traditionally, the short distance to the left field fence (the Green Monster) at Fenway Park has caused troubles for left-handed pitchers, and Spanswick was no exception. He compiled a 2-3 record with a 6.89 ERA in 29 games, including seven as a starter. He struck out 55 batters in 65 innings, but walked 44 and allowed nine home runs.

He fared well at the plate during his time with the Red Sox, collecting four hits in 14 at-bats for a .286 batting average. In an unusual statistic for a pitcher, he struck out just four times, equaling his hit total.

“Ted Williams liked the way I hit, and told me I should get a first baseman’s glove,” Spanswick recalled in a 2018 interview with Patch, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. “I was a decent hitter, but the pitchers just threw hard fastballs and thought I couldn’t hit them.”

During the 1964 season, Spanswick’s image appeared on a Topps baseball card for the first time – a rookie card that also featured a teenage sensation and fellow New Englander named Tony Conigliaro. “Tony C” went on to become the youngest player in American League history to reach 100 career home runs and seemed destined for long-lasting stardom, until a 1967 beaning effectively ended his career.

The rookie card is valued at about $300 in mint condition, and $85 in near-mint condition.

“For the last 10 years, it was like I was still playing. I must have gotten three or four autograph requests a week in the mail,” Spanswick said in 2018, noting many of the requests were for signatures on that particular card. He also was featured on a Topps card of his own in the 1965 set.

Bill Spanswick’s two major league trading cards from Topps. (Jensen family collection)

He went back to Triple-A in 1965, registering a 6-3 record with the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, he got off to a rough start in 1966 and dropped. He resurfaced that season back in Seattle, now in the California Angels organization, but injured his elbow again the following year and called it quits after bouncing between Triple-A affiliates of the Angels, Washington Senators and Philadelphia Phillies.

Spanswick worked in the trucking industry following his playing days, and eventually founded Spanswick Trucking. He also stayed involved in baseball, serving as pitching coach for American International College in 1991, when the Yellow Jackets played in the NCAA Division II College World Series.

He and his wife Bonnie moved to Florida after she retired from teaching at John F. Kennedy Middle School. Spanswick worked for a few years at JetBlue Park, the spring training home of the Red Sox.

He made a memorable return to Boston in 2012, as one of the 212 Red Sox alumni who came to pay homage to Fenway Park on the 100th anniversary of its opening.

After emerging from the center field tunnel, Spanswick headed for the mound and joined dozens of other pitchers, each wearing a jersey representative of the time in which he played.

“My shirt was like wearing a woolen jacket,” he recalled in a 2012 interview with Patch. “You put it on and it was hard to bend your arm. I could not believe we actually played wearing those.”

The jersey number Spanswick wore, 14, has been retired by the Red Sox, but not in his honor. A decade after he pitched in Boston, the numeral was assigned to a young power-hitting outfielder named Jim Rice, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.

As he walked onto the outfield grass at the centennial celebration, Spanswick glanced at the right field roof and saw his old number 14 among the collection of nine numbers permanently retired by the franchise. Remembering that moment in 2018, he quipped, “I wish it was up there for me. Oh well!”

Spanswick became a Hall of Famer in his hometown in 1996, as one of the charter electees of the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame alongside hockey star Craig Janney, legendary field hockey coach Cookie Bromage and his high school coach, Carl Angelica.

Bill Spanswick (standing, 4th from right) with other inductees of the charter class of the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996. (Courtesy of Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame)

“The town of Enfield and baseball world has lost a true local legend,” Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame chairman Mike Cotnoir told Patch. “Baseball was in his blood for his entire life, and he was born with a baseball glove on his hand. He was our local boy who made good, all the way to the Boston Red Sox. Bill always worked hard at his game, and never stopped pushing toward his goal of becoming a major league player. After his career, he found many ways to give back to our community through coaching, helping local teams’ pitchers and hosting baseball clinics for our youth. Bill was an approachable sports icon in our community, and never said no to giving advice or an autograph. He will be truly missed, and his legacy includes his many athletic accomplishments, a wonderful family, and being our hometown hero who we forever cherish in our hearts.”

Longtime Enfield multi-sport coach Bob Cressotti told Patch, “When you think about the tradition of Enfield baseball, Bill’s name is at the top of the list. He set the standard for many to follow. He was a role model to aspiring baseball players in town. Bill treated everyone like a friend and approached everyone with a smile. A friend of mine for years, he will be sorely missed.”

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