Wes Westrum recalled his Minnesota roots: Celebrating a decade of Baseball by the Letters via its first-ever blog post!

(From March 10, 2010 edition of Baseball By The Letters)

 

Westrum Wes 1951 Bowman
Westrum died in 2002. His rookie card comes from the 1951 Bowman set. 

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.

The Lessons of Minnesota’s Paul Giel


Let me start with the end of Paul Giel’s 200 reply:

P.S. – For a guy from Iowa, you did well to marry a girl from Redwood Falls!

When I wrote to him, I told him I was contacting Minnesota-born players. Adding a WHY in your letter gives you an edge on the other “Dear —, Please sign this…” form letters. Don’t lie, but use any detail in your own history that might make your letter stand out.

Secondly, expect the unexpected.

I received a 9-by-12 envelope from the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. I was ready to recycle this unopened. I would have missed the surprise — one autographed 8-by-10 of Giel as a Gopher gridiron star battling Southern California in 1953.

Lastly, I should add my theory about Giel altering his baseball job history, failing to mention the one horrid final game he pitched for the 1961 Athletics.

I think he WISHED he had retired. I think he WISHED he had remained a Twin.

He didn’t log even one whole season with the Twins. But he remains a Minnesotan forever.

Paul Giel: Mystery in Minnesota

Paul Giel remains a University of Minnesota legend. He earned All-America status in football and baseball, but capped an illustrious gridiron career with Heisman Trophy runner-up honors.

Giel shunned a three-year Canadian Football League contract and the Chicago Bears in favor of baseball. A bidding war ended with a then-record $60,000 signing bonus from the New York Giants. He wrote to me in 2000.

“I chose professional baseball because I had a great (by those days’ stands) offer from the New York Giants. Talk about luck! The Giants won the National League Peannant and beat Cleveland in the World Series.

I was with the Minnesota Twins for a few months in 1961 when the Washington Senators moved to the Twin Cities. I only pitched in a few games in relief and did nothing worth noting. I retired from baseball when they wanted to trade me to Kansas City.”

Giel’s career summation is worth noting. Despite his claim that he didn’t join Kansas City, Giel pitched one game for the Athletics. After giving up seven earned runs in 1.2 innings, he ended his career.

Giel died in 2002 at age 70. He was commemorated by the New York Times, a paper that remembered his “bonus baby” status with the local Giants.

Tomorrow: two important lessons Paul Giel taught this autograph collector.

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.

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