Happy Birthday, Biggs Wehde!

Wilbur Wehde pitched for the Chicago White Sox in both 1930 and 1931, making a total of twelve mostly ineffective relief appearances – though in one of them he earned a victory in relief.

(Image from Chicago Tribune in 1930. Wilbur Wehde is second from the left in this group of 1930 September acquisitions. That guy on the far right? Luke Appling.)

Wehde is listed as a 180 pound pitcher in your encyclopedia, but over time he put on some weight – clearing at least 220 lbs. and earning his nickname, “Biggs.” Later in his semi-pro career, running became problematic and he frequently was given a courtesy runner.

Wehde arrived in Holstein, Iowa on November 23, 1906, born to Gustave David and Frieda (Suiter) Wehde. Gustave was a German immigrant who worked in the creamery business and also as a produce broker, while Freda took care of a growing family. Wilbur was one of five children born to Gustave and Frieda, and he also had four half-siblings when Gustave married for a second time to Anna Christophersen in 1919. When Wilbur approached adulthood, the family moved to Sioux City, Iowa. Having learned the game in Holstein, Wehde began playing with the amateur teams of his hometowns until his pitching prowess earned the attention of scouts. One of the first games of note to garner some attention was his 21-strikeout game in a win over Early on July 14, 1926. In 1927 and 1928, Wehde started pitching for other semi-pro clubs in Iowa and Nebraska. In 1929, he was supposed to pitch for Waterloo but returned to Sioux City to open the local semi-pro season. By then, the first articles calling Wilbur “Bigs” appeared in the newspapers. In his later years, Bigs became Biggs. I guess he grew into a second ‘G’. However, when he passed away in 1970, his Sioux City obituary called him “Bigs.”

Wehde’s professional baseball career began wih Dubuque of the Mississippi Valley League in 1929. Signed in early July, his maiden effort was a three-hitter over Keokuk on July 8, 1929. In 1930, Wehde improved his win count from six to eleven and his innings count from 131 to 220. The Chicago White Sox purchased his rights on September 13, 1930 and almost immediately Wehde was tossed to the wolves. In his first appearance on September 15, 1930, Wehde faced Washington in relief of Ted Lyons and gave up a double to Heine Manush which drove in an unearned run in his first major league inning. He appeared in four relief appearances over five days before the end of the season, giving up eight runs on seven hits and seven walks in a shade over six innings of work. One of those hits was Lou Gehrig’s 40th homer of the season.

In 1931, the White Sox optioned Wehde to Dallas. In Dallas, Wehde only made thirteen appearances totalling 29 innings, but when the White Sox pitching staff needed some warm bodies, Wehde got called up for a second time in July. He made eight more appearances and got his only decision on July 28, 1931 when the White Sox rallied for eleven runs in the eighth inning (off of Herb Pennock, Red Ruffing, and Lefty Gomez no less) to beat the Yankees, 14 – 12. A cursory look suggests that Wehde may have been intimidated by his move from low minors to major league hitters, as his control, usually good enough in the Mississippi Valley League, was not good enough in the American League or American Association.

In mid-August he and catcher Frank Garrity were optioned to the Minneapolis Millers, but he’d be back with Dubuque in 1932. With rare exception, he would spend the rest of his minor league years playing with Sioux City in the Western League – at least until Sioux City left the league, replaced by Mitchell and then Pueblo. His professional days ended with a season with Sioux Falls in the Northern League in 1942.

Biggs Wehde

Sioux City would be a longtime stop in his baseball career, but he would also stay in that town after his baseball days – working in a stockyard for much of his adult life. His career had two detours. He spent a short period of time in Lead, South Dakota digging for gold, and he did an eighteen-month tour with the United States Navy in the South Pacific during World War II as the war reached its conclusion. While aboard the USS Missoula, he participated in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, as well as when the Missoula served as a transport ship returning veterans of various Pacific campaigns home.

Wehde married Cora Vance in 1928, and they had two daughters, Delores and Joan, and a son named Jerry.

A long illness took Wehde, who passed away at a VA hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on September 21, 1970, some nine years after the death of his wife. They are both buried in Calvary Cemetery in Sioux City.

Notes:

Baseball-Reference.com
Retrosheet.org
FindaGrave.com
Wikipedia.org

1910, 1920, 1940 US Censuses
Iowa Delayed Birth Certificate
Iowa Marriage Records
WWII Bonus Case Files

“Holstein Beats Marcus,” Sioux City Journal, July 22, 1925: 13.

“Holstein Beats Early,” Sioux City Journal, July 15, 1926: 11.

“Cowboys Will Play Waterloo,” Sioux City Journal, April 20, 1928: 19.

“Cowboys Sign Three Players,” Sioux City Journal, March 24, 1929: 27.

“Dubuque Tigers Win Pair From Keokuk Indians,” Davenport Daily Times, July 8, 1929: 15.

Photo, Chicago Tribune, September 14, 1930: Section A, Part2, Page 3.

“Catcher is Bought by Chisox,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 16, 1930: 13.

“Wehde Farmed Out,” Chattanooga News, January 21, 1931: 10.

“Sox Send Millers Recruit Battery,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 16, 1931: Sports-2.

“Death Takes Former Hurler for White Sox and Cowboys,” Sioux City Journal, September 23, 1970: 9.

2 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Biggs Wehde!

  1. Hello, Zach! Thanks for stopping by. I maintain lists of ballplayers and events that happened on given dates (Baseball 365 link) and then pick something to write about for that day (assuming I have time to write!). Usually, I pick a unique name or someone I haven’t heard of and do a little digging. It takes a couple of hours to get a skeleton of information – and then you decide how much more you can find (or want to find) and go for it. This took me a couple of days to make sure I didn’t miss anything. My blog tends to focus on people I hadn’t heard of – and I hadn’t heard of Wilbur Wehde until I saw his name on the birthday list for November 23rd.

    Cheers!

    Paul Proia

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