By Ted Spencer
This is April 16, and it’s my final day as vice president and chief curator. This date has special meaning in my life for many reasons, all coincidental. Let me explain.
I’m a Red Sox fan, and, although every player who donned that uniform is special to me, one stands out. Jim Lonborg is my all-time favorite. For years, I thought he was five days younger than me since the Baseball Encyclopedia listed his birthday as April 16, 1943. Mine is April 11, 1943. He was one of the brightest stars of the 1967 Impossible Dream team. He spent one season in Milwaukee (1972) and then was traded to the Phillies in January of 1973 — the same month my family moved to Philadelphia from Quincy, Mass.
His presence on the team helped acclimate us to the local team and the other league. I always felt that, if Jim were still pitching, I was not getting older. It was years later that I heard from Jim that he was actually born in 1942 and was a year older than me. It’s OK. By that time, I was old anyway.
We lived in the Philadelphia area for more than nine years. I worked for INA, the Insurance Company of North America, in Center City. I had what I felt was the best job in the world, far surpassing any expectations I ever had of myself. I was manager of media services, in charge of graphic design and video production for internal communications. During the winter of 1981-82, I stumbled across an ad in a design magazine that listed the position of curator of exhibits at the Hall of Fame. This is the only place that could have moved me from INA. At the time, I was involved in the internal communications programming for INA’s merger with Connecticut General Insurance, so when the call from Coop finally came in early March, I gave six-weeks notice because I wanted to be in Philadelphia for the formation of the new company: CIGNA. I left the following Friday, April 16, 1982.
Fast-forward 20 or so years, and retirement is looming just over the horizon. My wife, Patty, and I decided that I would retire at my 66th birthday — when I would qualify for full Social Security. I would leave on the following Friday. We would then leave the next day for our annual family vacation in South Carolina. Since we always travel south on Friday, it meant that my final day would be on April 16, 2009.
There is one other aspect of this story that has the most meaning. I don’t think that this run of 27 years would have been nearly as successful as it has been if it were not for a boyhood friend. Jerry Caruso lived on the same street as I did in Quincy. We went through grammar school and part of junior high school together, before I went on to a Catholic high school. After that, we drifted off to different circles of friends.
Back in the summer of 1954, I was over at Jerry’s house, and he was playing the Ethan Allan All-Star Baseball Game. He was playing it in conjunction with his baseball cards. He had devised a schedule and his own version of a scorecard and was keeping statistics. (Up to this point, I had only dabbled in collecting.) I was impressed. It seemed that Jerry knew everything about every player in the Majors on that day. I wanted to do the same thing.
I bought a game and started seriously collecting cards, and I set up my own schedule of games and began keeping the stats. I did this for about five years — until my junior year of high school.
This endeavor set in place the foundation for the job I took in 1982. It certainly gave me great knowledge of baseball in the 1950s, but also a comfort level in looking at, and talking about, the game as a whole. I’ve never forgotten Jerry and what that experience on that day in 1954 has meant to my career over the last 27 years.
Over the years here, I’ve had the opportunity to play host to friends from all the previous phases of my life, from grammar school to INA, but Jerry was never one of them. He died young — sometime during my early years here in Coop. I’ve always felt a sense of extreme disappointment because I was never able to share the specialness of the Hall of Fame experience with him.
Jerry was born on April 16, 1943.
Ted Spencer is vice president and chief curator of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.