Wes Westrum’s Minnesota Baseball Roots


Wes Westrum’s baseball heyday came in New York. He logged a decade catching for the Giants, racking up two All-Star team nods and a 1954 World Championship ring. Westrum returned to the Big Apple as a Mets coach, becoming manager when Casey Stengel fractured his hip and was forced to retire.

All those New York headlines could never match the drama of Westrum’s Minnesota roots. I grew in admiration for any Minnesota native developing as a major leaguer after reading Stew Thornley’s fine Baseball in Minnesota: A Definitive History Thornley has documented the rise of Westrum and his Minnesotan counterparts in Minnesotans in Baseball

Before he died at age 79 in 2002, Westrum sent an epic description of his evolution as a baseball player. (I asked about his place in Minnesota baseball history, along with memories of other native sons. Mentioning that my wife was born in Redwood Falls may have helped increase my chances at a response!)

Westrum wrote:

“Spent all my youth in all the sports. My father died at an early age (37). Baseball was the quickest way to help the family. I was a better football player and had a scholarship to Minnesota. Played pro baseball while in high school so I couldn’t go. Played basketball at Bemidji State Teachers one year before Uncle Sam got me.

Caught Paul Giel in his first game with the New York Giants. Great competitor and wonderful fellow. I was Jerry Koosman’s coach and manager with the New York Mets. Great person.

Russ Rolandson from Alexandria was with us in 1947 with Minneapolis Millers. He was a catcher from the College of Hamline.

Bill Dickey of the Yankees was my idol growing up in the small town of Clearbrook, Minnesota. The people of Clearbrook took up a small collection of $65 to send me to the Crookston (MN) Pirates in my junior year of high school. I made the (minor league) team.

Lots of fond memories of those days. Best always, ‘Wes’ Westrum”

The local hero did return. Westrum passed away in Clearbrook, Minnesota May 28, 2002. Did his friends and neighbors realize they were investing $65 in an all-star career? Clearbrook did in 1990, opening the Wes Westrum Baseball Museum.

One grateful catcher never forgot one hometown’s kindness.

Frank Malzone’s Mystery


Frank Malzone is one of Boston’s best-kept secrets. He packed
six All-Star appearances and three Gold Gloves into a decade,
earning him Red Sox Hall of Fame status in 1995.

I enjoyed reading
about his memories in Game of My Life: Memorable Stories of Boston Red Sox Baseball.

I wrote to him, hoping to learn more. Instead, I feared the story might end
all too soon.

“Simple answers. Please, no more questionnaires. It’s asking a lot. Frank.”

I didn’t send him a 2010 census form. I asked only three questions:

1. After 1955, you switched from #43 to your famous #11. Why?

“Never wore #43. Had #7 and switched to 11. Did favor for another player.”

2. Your two years of Army service (1952-53) delayed your career. How did you feel about being off the diamond so long?

“No play some in the Army.”

3. How did you feel about coming in second in 1957 A.L. Rookie of the Year balloting?
(Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek won.)

“New York writers wanted me to be ineligible.”

Was Malzone joshing me? Was his memory failing?

I contacted the website where I found his jersey numbers, www.baseball-almanac.com.
This site is a wealth of free information about all things baseball. If you can’t make it to Cooperstown, here’s the next best stop for instant history.

Webmaster Sean Holtz is an all-star. He replied to my Malzone question in less than 24 hours.

Hello Tom,

Thank you for visiting & contacting Baseball Almanac.

I put up his Spring Training by accident and I apologize for the confusion I caused. He did actually start the season with number seven, but Billy Consolo wanted it and Malzone was willing to change with him. I have:

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=malzofr01
Fixed Malzone’s page.

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teamstats/roster.php?y=1955&t=BOS
Updated the team roster.

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=consobi01
Fixed Consolo’s page.

Take care & thanks again,

Sean

Baseball Almanac, Inc.
“Where what happened yesterday, is being preserved today.”

A tip of the cap to Mr. Malzone. He didn’t like it, but he still took time to shine a bit more light on his admirable, overlooked career.

Collector Called Out By Umpire


One of the best bargains in the autograph collecting hobby is www.sportscollectors.net. For a $14.99 premium yearly subscription fee, you get access to tons of current mailing addresses for countless names from baseball’s past and present.

Additionally, collectors post their TTM (through the mail) results. A message board, my favorite feature, allows collectors to detail their individual victories and setbacks. This feature is a daily education.

To my SCN brethren, hobbyist Barry Urbanek, I send a grateful standing O. Barry posted his misadventure with umpire Randy Marsh. Barry sent a 2004 Bowman card to Mr. Marsh, along with an envelope addressed to “Fred Marsh.”

Been there, done that!

Barry wrote on SCN that he was “called out on the play” by Marsh.

“FYI — My name is not FRED! But since that’s what you called me, that’s what you get. FRED!”

Guess how one up-in-arms umpire autographed his card?

This cautionary tale is important. Everyone in baseball wants to be remembered. They pay attention to details as small as an envelope.

Barry wrote me later to say that he was unsure if he’d try writing RANDY Marsh again, worrying that Marsh would have saved Barry’s contact info. I hope Barry tries again. This could be the first “do over” ever granted by an ump. It’s clear that Marsh is willing to write notes to collectors. I’m betting he’d “re-autograph” his cards. I think the “before” and “after” stories would make for one classic collectible.

Go for it, Barry. Put the MEMORY in “memorabilia.” Make it your own.

Besides, it’s not like Marsh will be calling balls and strikes against you this year!

What’s the biggest surprise you’ve gotten in a baseball TTM response?

A New Way to “Collect Autographs”

I confess. I’ve never been the world’s greatest autograph collector.

I consider myself retired from the “quantity” side of the hobby.
Every request I’ve sent out in 2010 has only a letter and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. No cards to be signed. Not even a blank index card.
I’m collecting recollections.

I’m asking 2 or 3 questions of each person I contact. That’s it.

I remember a well-known retired pitcher I wrote a few years ago. He’d been out of uniform more than three decades. I asked him a question about his Christianity.

“I’ve never had a letter like yours before,” he began. “Any time someone writes me, they want me to autograph cards.”

Along with being clear in what I want, I’m trying to make a couple of points in every letter I send, including:

1. My motivation — In every letter, “Tom Owens, Baseball Fan Since 1971” is the first line of my return address. Yes, I type. Hand-written letters might seem more sincere to some. Fill your correspondence with personal content, so no one will ever suspect you have a mass-mailed, fill-in-the-blank excuse for a letter.

2. My connection — I apologize to those who I’ve never seen play. I’m honest. Most of all, I make it clear that I know their background and their era. I show that I’ve done some homework. Do an online search. Look at his or her stats. Could there be a story behind one of the dates or numbers?

3. My perspective — I end each letter the same: “My ‘career’ ended in Little League, but those baseball memories keep me warm in the winter and young year-round.” There’s no claim that I could’ve outplayed them. I’m a humble, grateful fan trying to imagine what even a day of someone’s career felt like.

(I should thank Joe Garagiola for this last tip. When I interviewed him years ago, I asked how people who knew him as a kid in St. Louis behave. He sighed. Every time I meet someone from when I grew up in St. Louis, he said, they insist that they struck me out in a sandlot game.)

Not everyone will answer questions by mail. Not everyone will sign autographs. However, no one will respond if they aren’t asked. So, swing for the fences. See what lands in your mailbox.

What do you think makes a good letter? What have you learned from the current and former players you’ve contacted?

A New Way to "Collect Autographs"

I confess. I’ve never been the world’s greatest autograph collector.

I consider myself retired from the “quantity” side of the hobby.
Every request I’ve sent out in 2010 has only a letter and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. No cards to be signed. Not even a blank index card.
I’m collecting recollections.

I’m asking 2 or 3 questions of each person I contact. That’s it.

I remember a well-known retired pitcher I wrote a few years ago. He’d been out of uniform more than three decades. I asked him a question about his Christianity.

“I’ve never had a letter like yours before,” he began. “Any time someone writes me, they want me to autograph cards.”

Along with being clear in what I want, I’m trying to make a couple of points in every letter I send, including:

1. My motivation — In every letter, “Tom Owens, Baseball Fan Since 1971” is the first line of my return address. Yes, I type. Hand-written letters might seem more sincere to some. Fill your correspondence with personal content, so no one will ever suspect you have a mass-mailed, fill-in-the-blank excuse for a letter.

2. My connection — I apologize to those who I’ve never seen play. I’m honest. Most of all, I make it clear that I know their background and their era. I show that I’ve done some homework. Do an online search. Look at his or her stats. Could there be a story behind one of the dates or numbers?

3. My perspective — I end each letter the same: “My ‘career’ ended in Little League, but those baseball memories keep me warm in the winter and young year-round.” There’s no claim that I could’ve outplayed them. I’m a humble, grateful fan trying to imagine what even a day of someone’s career felt like.

(I should thank Joe Garagiola for this last tip. When I interviewed him years ago, I asked how people who knew him as a kid in St. Louis behave. He sighed. Every time I meet someone from when I grew up in St. Louis, he said, they insist that they struck me out in a sandlot game.)

Not everyone will answer questions by mail. Not everyone will sign autographs. However, no one will respond if they aren’t asked. So, swing for the fences. See what lands in your mailbox.

What do you think makes a good letter? What have you learned from the current and former players you’ve contacted?

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