Friday, November 19, 2010

'56 of the month: Wes Westrum

I received this card from deal in the big '55 Topps Jackie Robinson transaction a couple months ago.

I didn't want to display it until I figured out the mystery of the "front line 5" written underneath Westrum's position and team. But I give up. I'm stumped.

Obviously, it doesn't have to do with his position, as "5" is the number designated for the third baseman. It doesn't have anything to do with his uniform number because baseball-reference says he wore Nos. 40, 6 and 9 during his career.

And the "front line" mention has me puzzled, too. That is terminology best used for football or hockey or even volleyball.

The other thing that confuses me is the writing appears to be that of an adult, not a kid. What adult writes on a 1956 card?

Here is the back. If you can get past the tremendous cartoon on the left-hand side, you'll note that there is another random number on the back -- "37." What does that mean?

Is it the 37th 1956 card that the collector had acquired? Was it his 37th favorite player? Was it the 37th player he had come across with a girl's name for a middle name?

Sometimes the random notes left by collectors are more interesting than the player on the card.

Westrum was a lifetime Giant (booo!) who was just about at the end of his career at the time of this card. He went on to become a manager, first with the Mets. He was the link between Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges (except for a handful of games by interim manager Salty Parker). Later he managed a year-and-a-half for some mediocre Giants teams in the mid-70s.

But enough about that. What is the deal with the front line 5 and the 37?

I'll be thinking about this for awhile.


  1. Agreed that it must mean something. It's possible "front line" refers to a team's best backup players. The phrase pops up in this extremely interesting article by Bill Bryson in Baseball Digest's June '58 issue.

    "How BAD Can a Big Leaguer Be?"

    Wes caught 67 games in 1956, threw out half of opposing base stealers, and hit more productively (91 OPS+) than the nominal starter, Bill Sarni (74 OPS+). Perhaps "Front Line 5" was a team or broadcaster nickname for their most important bench players?

  2. I think you might be on to something after reading that insightful article. Westrum shows up in one of the charts for his 1948 season (I love the stats on Gino Cimoli in '56. 73 games and 36 plate appearances!)

  3. Maybe the collector had a team photo in which Westrum was the 5th player sitting in the front row?