Name: Eddie Spence
Hometown: Pittsfield, Massachusetts, USA
Boxing Record: click
EDDIE SPENCE: THE PROFESSOR COULD BOX
By Brian Sullivan, Eagle Staff, The Berkshire Eagle, Pittsfield, MA., Feb 4, 2001. (Spence named one of the one hundred (100) best athletes in Berkshire County during the 20th Century by the Berkshire Eagle staff.)
PITTSFIELD. There is one knockout that doesn't appear on the final record of Pittsfield boxer Eddie Spence.
Football coaching legend Vince Lombardi once sent Spence to the mat in the late winter of 1969, Sports Illustrated courted Spence for a story.
The hook was simple--the magazine wanted to trumpet Spence as the most educated professional boxer in the United States.
Spence was known as "The Professor."
And so SI writer Pat Putnam did the interview and a photographer spent a day with Spence taking pictures. But the week before the issue hit the newsstands, Lombardi, the architect of the successful Green Bay Packers teams of the 1960s, announced he was accepting an offer from the Washington Redskins to be their new coach-general manager.
SI then pulled the cover switch. In came Lombardi and out went Spence, who was relegated to an inside story.
Spence, now a successful local attorney, started his career as an amateur boxer in 1960 as a 6-foot-1 inch welterweight. He turned pro in 1962, but not before turning in an amateur mark of 36-6, including Western New England Golden Gloves titles in 1961 and 1962.
During his nine-year professional career he posted a record of 50-12. He boxed main events throughout New England, including feature bouts in Boston Garden. he boxed as a welterweight, a middleweight, and light heavyweight.
Though never weighing more than 172 pounds, Spence captured the New England heavyweight crown from 212 pound Paul Raymond. In 1969, Spence won the six-state light heavyweight title from Pete Riccatelli in the latter's hometown of Portland, Maine.
A year later Spence won the big prize from Raymond. Both of those victories came in the fourth round and both were knockouts. Spence's last bout was Dec. 15, 1970 at Boston Garden where, in a rematch he lost his New England heavyweight crown to Raymond.
Despite breaking his right hand in the second round. Spence went the 12 round distance with Raymond but lost by decision.
The prognosis wasn't good. It was the second broken hand Spence had suffered in a span of 15months. He would have to stay out of the gym for six months he was told. And that's when Spence decided it was enough and announced his retirement.
It put the skids on negotiations going on at the time between Spence's came and former welterweight and middleweight world champion Dick Tiger, who was ranked fifth in the light heavyweight class at that time.
The deal would have involved a televised bout from Madison Square Garden in New York City. Spence retired holding the New England light heavyweight crown that he defended successfully five times.
SALA: DRIVING ME UP A WALL
"He's driving me up the wall," wailed fight manager Roger Sala. "When he comes into the ring, I don't know if he's going to break out in an aria, recite Shakespeare, or throw punches."
"One time I'm telling him something in the gym and he's not listening. Then he looks up and says, 'You know, Roger, I was just thinking that whereas the Fechnerian argument makes sensory magnitude a logarithmic function, the newer methods of direct estimation indicate that it should be a power function--S equals kM, where k and M are constants for any particular sense modality.' I know that's what he said because I made him write it down."
So began the Sports Illustrated story from the March 3, 1969 issue. In its own complicated way, it capsulized the relationship between fighter and manager for almost a decade.
Sala, who recognized Spence's great talents, battled to have his fighter lock in on the task at hand. The cerebral Spence, meanwhile, sought other more eclectic challenges.
Said New England boxing promoter Sam Silverman at the time: "Eddie sure as heck doesn't look like a fighter. Other fighters listen to him talk and figure they have a real pushover. I've got light heavyweights lining up for two blocks trying to get a shot at him."
Sala concurred. The baby-faced scholar, he said, hid in appearance his lion's heart and his tenacious abilities. "If you walked into a bar and were looking for a fight and saw Eddie, then he'd be the one you would go after."
THE EARLY YEARS
As worldly and intellectually gifted as Spence would become, his world as a youngster was air tight. His parents were divorced when he was young--Eddie Sr. had been a great basketball player in his day and Eddie Jr. even now still goes to the hardwood and plays pretty well. While Spence has said he was a lonely child, he wasn't necessarily an unhappy one.
Still, he had few close friends while attending St. Joseph's High School. In the SI article, one classmate said that Spence "was nothing but a big zero."
Said Spence in the same SI story, "I look upon myself as someone who was born when he was 17 years old. Before that my life was, well, nothing happened. Very dull. But I don't believe my early years have any effect upon my thinking or my actions now.
"I don't believe in Freud," he continued, "I believe in the autonomous motivation of an adult. I look back upon my childhood and I understand it. Just because I react one way to a situation now doesn't mean I can't react another way to the same situation in the future."
The Eddie Spence of the 1960s acted, sang in plays, learned to dance, and took piano lessons.
He also taught at Berkshire Community College, and was the first graduate of a state community college to come back and teach at the facility.
Frank Deane, the director of the summer and evening programs at BCC, was enthused at the time about hiring Spence to teach a course in personality.
"Several years ago he taught another psychology course for us and I thought he was very successful. The students certainly liked him. The spectrum of his interests made him an exciting person to talk with."
And that hasn't changed some 30 years later. Shunned by a young girl who told Eddie Spence in so many words that he was not the man he should be, the St. Joseph's High string bean, who was all of 16, showed up at Roger Sala's training facility at the Pittsfield YMCA with a "How to Fight" book authored by former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.
Sale told the youngster to come back the next day. "I never figured I'd see him again, " Sala said. " He was a tall kid, about 6-foot-1, but skinny. Only 142 pounds. But he came back and fought."
Sala talked Spence into enrolling in Berkshire Community College a short time later, according to the SI story.
"Boxing gave Eddie confidence in himself," Sala said in the magazine piece. "It was something he never had. When I met him his greatest ambition was to open his own soda joint. Boxing was the first thing he had ever done well. The first time that he had gotten any recognition."
"Actually, it wasn't the first," said Spence in the same SI story. "I played basketball with some ability, but never in high school. I never wanted to get involved in high school. That's why I took up boxing. It's an individual effort."
Spence continued to put more things on his plate. Beyond his stage career, modern dance lessons, music and taking lessons in Italian (he even worked on a dump truck for a time), his pursuit of education continued. He retired once from the ring near the end of 1966 while pursing his master's degree at SUNY Albany.
Spence didn't fight between June of 1967 and December of 1968. One night while working as a bouncer in a local nightclub, he got into a wrestling match with a drunken patron. It lasted 10 minutes and ended without a clearcut winner.
"Some fighter," people in Pittsfield snickered.
Recalled at the time: "People seemed disappointed that I didn't kill the guy. To tell you the truth, I was disappointed I didn't punch his head off. But to heck with them. I don't care what they said."
But apparently he did. He was quickly in the gym and looking for a fight. A few weeks later he won an eight round decision over Sugar Ryan, then knokced out Hank Stroud in four rounds. Two more victories against quality opponents followed.
"He's better than ever," said Sala in the SI story. "And for the first time he's throwing a good hook. And he's always had a ton of guts. One time he fought a guy named Cadillac James and he went in with a broken hand and broken nose. He never told me and he won the fight."
"Why," asked Spence as the story concluded. "Why concentrate on one thing. I wouldn't know what to choose."
== EARLY GOLDEN GLOVES ==
Eddie Spence was a Western Mass. Golden Gloves champion in 1961 and Roger Sala had a plan to help Spence get his second title in 1962.
"Roger was a very colorful guy," Spence said recently. "He understood things that I didn't. Going into my second Golden Gloves he said that I wasn't getting any publicity and that he was going to do something about it. He just told me to keep quiet."
In Holyoke, Sala told the event organizers that his boy hadn't had a lot of work lately, and that he would be willing to fight twice in one night.
Spence couldn't believe it. "Two fights? I had never done more than three rounds. I told Roger I'd be exhausted for the second fight."
Sala, Spence, said, had a little of P.T. Barnum in him.
Spence won his first bout but in the second fight he was running quickly out of gas.
But before the final round the referee came over and said that Spence's opponent had just quit.
So impressed were the other boxers in Spence's division that they all withdrew from the next day's schedule.
Bingo. A second Golden Gloves crown.
"Sam(promoter Silverman) and Roger understood my level of competency better than I did," Spence said. "At least for that period of time."
"I was raised in a neighborhood where most of the kids were older than I was." Spence said in a recent interview. "There was a lot of subtle intimidation. I had to learn to be quiet and non-demonstrative.
"You don't see kids going to boxing now. There's no mother who wants to see her son in a physically confrontational setting.
"But if properly taught and not staged as some gladiator sport of extinction, then it's something you don't have to say no to. I don't think people should be picked on."