The Sad Tale of Harlan “Biff” Wysong

Harlan Wysong - 1931 Reds Spring Training

You can almost write Wysong’s biography with four articles.

“Harlan Wysong, little son of Mr. and Mrs. Ed. Wysong, was severely burned in the face last week by an explosion of coal oil, which he was pouring on a fire.”

The Wilmington Journal, 21 Feb 1912, Page 2.

Reds prospect in the 1930s, Harlan Wysong went 1 – 3 from 1930 to 1932, but walked 34 guys while striking out 11.  Apparently, his arm went bad in 1932, so he returned home and played semi-pro baseball as a first baseman for a few years. 

“Wysong’s Pitching Arm is Treated”, Wilmington News-Journal, 27 July 1935, Page 2.

“Common Pleas Judge Frank M. Clevenger granted Eva Wysong a divorce on the grounds of neglect.  Custody of their two children was awarded to Mrs. Wysong and he was enjoined from interfering with the plaintiff, but is to have the right to visit the children.  He was instructed to pay $10 per week for support of the children.”

“Granted Divorce”, Wilmington (OH) News-Journal, 25 April 1946, Page 2.

Wysong was in poor health for years, but it took a bad turn in the summer of 1951. He was hospitalized for a few weeks and then death called. He was just 46 years old when he passed on.  Apparently he was temperamental, and frequently displayed an uncontrollable temper.  “…His admiring fans all chipped in to buy him a fine leather traveling bag.  They presented it to him with appropriate ceremony before a game and the temperamental Biff gave it an unappreciative kick under the player’s bench and remarked something about not being able to pitch with ‘a thing like that.'”

“Death of Biff Wysong Sets Off Reminiscing About Baseball Here”, Washington Court House Record-Herald, 9 August 1951, Page 17.

Harlan Wysong’s life seems so unhappy – and short. So, instead of stopping here at with these four snippets, let’s fill in some of perhaps the happier stuff, too.

Harlan Wysong arrived on April 13, 1905 to Edward and Eveline Wright (Jones) Wysong in Clarksville, OH. Harland was the fourth of five children born to the homemaker and cannery engineer. He completed a year of high school and began work – but didn’t avoid schools. He pitched for Wilmington College for at least a year. As a pitcher there, he stopped the University of Dayton’s 21 game winning streak. According to the Wilmington News-Journal, locals could recognize the tall but sturdy pitcher. “He’s big, tall, strong, and the picture of an athlete. He has cheeks that get red as the contest gets hotter and his ears turn even more red.”

From his teens, Harlan was a top amateur and minor league pitcher and a crack hitter who played the outfield and first base when not on the mound. After making his way through the nearby town teams in Clinton and Clarksville (The Clarksville Coca-Colas), the Washington Court House Athletics, as well as the Auger Bit Company’s team, the left hander was signed to pitch for Peoria in the Three-I League. From there, he landed in the Central Ohio League with Washington and pitched well enough (9-3, 103Ks in 105.2 innings at one point) to be recruited to pitch for Columbus in the American Association. He wasn’t just a good low level pitcher – he was hitting 100 points better than his team. That was 1928.

Anyway – Columbus recognized that he had control issues with his fast ball, and they released him to Erie of the Central League for the 1929 season. A year later, Wysong returned to Columbus where he won nine of 21 decisions. Cincinnati gave Wysong his first major league start on August 10, but the Phillies clocked him for five runs on six hits and three walks in just 2.1 innings, so Wysong was returned to Columbus. Wysong became a true prospect with a spring training in 1931 that included many fine appearances against major league teams. Reds outfielder Bob Meusel said, “Wysong showed me a better fast ball than Lefty Grove owns.” All Wysong had to do was learn to control his pitches.

“It would have been an easy game for Biff if only he had gone out to the park in the morning and made a quiet investigation as to the location of the platter. Biff overslept, however, and did not make the trip. He entered the contest, therefore, handicapped by a dense ignorance of the habitat of the rubber, and this caused his downfall in very short order.”

Ryder, Jack. “Reds Hit Well, But Pirates Go Them Several Points Better”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 April 1931, Page 40.

That didn’t happen. The Reds kept him as the last pitcher on the staff for 1931 – but the season was a disaster for Wysong. Starting two games and relieving ten more, Wysong had more walks than innings pitched, had an ERA near 8.00 and lost both starts without ever getting out of the second inning. Stories came out that Wysong wasn’t ambitious enough – teammates claimed he needed to get mad and that the Reds manager was trying to find a player who could get under Wysong’s skin and use his anger to get him to pitch better.

For whatever reason, manager Dan Howley remained optimistic that Wysong would become a star pitcher. According to the Wausau Daily Herald, “Wysong stands 6 feet 4 inches. When he whips down the ball at the speed of which he is capable, the sphere is just a blur on the landscape. In the mood, he has control enough to baffle any batsman – so Howley says – but he hasn’t shown it yet.”

Wysong returned for 1932, had a solid spring training (despite Wysong’s claims of a sore arm), and was kept again as the last ditch pitcher. After a few slightly tolerable outings, Wysong was called on to pitch in an extra innings contest with the Braves on May 7, 1932. In the 12th, Wysong allowed three runs, but the Reds answered with four runs – the last driven in by Ernie Lombardi’s triple (!) to give the Reds the win. It was Wysong’s only winning decision (against three losses) and his last major league appearance. Cincinnati traded Wysong to Rochester for pitcher Benny Frey. Before long, Wysong, who tried to pitch through pain, had shuffled through three minor league stops (Rochester, Columbus, Houston). When the season ended, he went to Terre Haute to see a specialist to treat a lame arm.

Wysong spent spring training with Houston in 1933 (despite the soreness he pitched well enough – five wins in six decisions – at the end of 1932), but his arm didn’t come around. Dispatched to two minor league teams (Elmira got him, then sent him within days to Springfield in the Mississippi Valley League), Wysong’s arm didn’t allow him to pitch. Before long, Wysong was playing amateur baseball, but at first base instead of as a pitcher. He remained a hard hitting first baseman through at least 1940 playing in various local leagues in central Ohio.

Harlan married Eva Mulford in 1930; they had two sons, Gordon and Gary. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1946. By then, Wysong was a laborer in road construction and later ran a mill at a General Motors plant. In July, 1951, Wysong was admitted to McClellan Hospital in Xenia; it couldn’t have been good as his ex-wife even checked on him. Cirrhosis of the liver took Wysong on August 7, 1951. He was just 46.

Sources:

Baseball-Reference.com
FindaGrave.com
OH Birth Indexes
1910, 1920, 1930, 1940 US Census
OH Birth Indexes
OH Death Certificate

Wilmington Journal, 19 April 1905, Page 1.

“Peoria Ball Club Calls for Wysong”, Wilmington News-Journal, 08 April 1927, Page 12.

“Quakers Break Dayton’s 20-Game Winning Streak”, Wilmington News-Journal, 05 May 1927, Page 6.

“Washington Athletics Sign ‘Lefty’ Wysong”, Wilmington News-Journal, 19 May 1927, Page 6.

“Wysong Signs With Washington Team”, Wilmington News-Journal, 09 June 1927, Page 6.

“Sporting”, Circleville (OH) Herald, 04 August 1927, Page 7.

“Columbus Team Signs Wysong”, Wilmington News-Journal, 04 August 1927, Page 6.

“Wysong Day Is To Be Staged”, Wilmington News-Journal, 09 September 1927, Page 6.

“Washington Athletics To Have Real Battle On Hands Sunday”, Wilmington News-Journal, 12 October 1927, Page 6.

“Wysong Signs”, Wilmington News-Journal, 17 February 1928, Page 6.

“Wysong Attracts Consideration at Senator’s Quarters”, 17 March 1928, Page 6.

“Wysong Released To Erie, Pa., Outfit”, Wilmington News-Journal, 09 May 1928, Page 6.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 25 January 1929, Page 6.

Babb, Kroger. “Wysong Gaining Diamond Fame”, Wilmington News-Journal, 05 March 1929, Page 6.

“Wysong Victorious”, Wilmington News-Journal, 07 June 1929, Page 6.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 16 October 1929, Page 9.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 11 April 1930, Page 13.

“Biff Wysong Fast Becoming Ace of Columbus Mound Staff”, Massillon Evening Independent, 16 April 1930, Page 8.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 14 May 1930, Page 6.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 02 July 1930, Page 6.

Ryder, Jack. “Wysong Comes To Redland In Exchange for Campbell”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 04 August 1930, Page 9.

“Harlan ‘Lefty’ Wysong Is Traded to Cincinnati”, Wilmington News-Journal, 04 August 1930, Page 6.

“Wysong Gets Chance in Majors”, Wilmington News-Journal, 04 August 1930, Page 6.

“Cinci Drops Double Bill to Phillies”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 11 August 1930, Page 9.

“‘Biff’s Wysong Suffers From ‘Charleyhorse'”, Wilmington News-Journal, 05 Mar 1931, Page 8.

“‘Biff’ Wysong still on Reds Injured List”, Wilmington News-Journal, 11 March 1931, Page 8.

“Howley Praises ‘Biff’ Wysong”, Wilmington News-Journal, 13 March 1931, Page 6.

Smith, Lou. “Sport Sparks”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 28 March 1931, Page 17.

Ryder, Jack. “Reds Hit Well, But Pirates Go Them Several Points Better”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 April 1931, Page 40.

Thompson, Denman. “Howley Turns to Vets As His Youngsters Fail”, The Sporting News, 2 April 1931, Page 5.

“Dan Howley Has Visions Of Taking One From Giants; But How About Chicago?”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 May 1931, Page 9.

“‘Biff’ Gets Stiff Training Course”, Wilmington News-Journal, 03 August 1931, Page 6.

“Babe and Lou Put It In Bleachers As Yankees Whitewash Redlegs, 8 – 0”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 11 August 1931, Page 15.

“Biff’s Arm Lame; Johnson To Start Against Cards”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 09 March 1932, Page 9.

Ryder, Jack. “Champion Cards Play Improved Ball to Crush Reds, 4 – 2”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 27 March 1932, Page 29.

Ryder, Jack. “Si May Twirl Nine Frames Against the Colonels Today; Second Team At Knoxville”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 02 April 1932, Page 15.

Babb, Y. Kroger. “Sport Honey From the Bumble Bee”, Wilmington News-Journal, 28 April 1932, Page 6.

“Three in Twelfth for Braves — Four For Reds — Score Is 9 – 8”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 08 May 1932, Page 34.

“Cincinnati’s ‘Sleeping Beauty'”, Wausau Daily Herald, 14 May 1932, Page 12.

“Wysong Sent to Rochester”, Wilmington News-Journal, 10 May 1932, Page 6

“Pitcher Harlan Wysong Sold to Red Wings by Cincinnati”, The Sporting News, 12 May 1932, Page 1.

“Wysong To Columbus”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 24 June 1932, Page 16.

“Wysong Shipped To Texas Club; Donahue Is Out”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 08 August 1932, Page 9.

“Wysong’s Mother Hurt”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 22 August 1932, Page 9.

“Wysong Returns Home Last Week”, Wilmington News-Journal, 19 Spetember 1932, Page 6.

Specialist Treating ‘Biff’s’ Hurling Arm”, Wilmington News-Journal, 29 October 1932, Page 6.

“Rixey Visits Wysong At Home in Clarksville”, Wilmington News-Journal, 10 October 1932, Page 8.

“Elder Brother of Dizzy Dean Joins Houston”, Shreveport Times, 26 February 1933, Page 15.

“Elmira Colonels Get Wysong From Houston”, Reading Times, 20 April 1933, Page 11.

“Rice Slashes His Pitchers; 3 Are Shifted”, Elmira Star-Gazette, 08 May 1933, Page 12.

Deeley, Don. “Playing it Over”, Elmira Star-Gazette, 11 May 1933, Page 19.

“Richmond Nine to Meet Powerful Shroyer Team”, Richmond (IN) Palladium-Item, 08 July 1933, Page 7.

“Harlan ‘Biff’ Wysong, Slugging First Sacker, Added to Linco Roster”, Richmond Palladium-Item, 20 June 1934, Page 7.

“Wysong’s Pitching Arm is Treated”, Wilmington News-Journal, 27 July 1935, Page 2.

“‘Biff’ Wysong Is Hitting Ball Hard”, Wilmington News-Journal, 27 June 1939, Page 6.

“Divorces Sought”, Wilmington News-Journal, 28 February 1946, Page 3.

“County Courts (Real Estate Transfers)”, Wilmington News-Journal, 04 May 1946, Page 8.

“Mainly About People”, Wilmington News-Journal, 06 July 1951, Page 2.

“Harlan Wysong Dies; Hurled for Reds”, Philadelphia Inquirer, 09 August 1951, Page 28.

“Biff Wysong Passes; Former Red Hurler”, Cincinnati Enquirer, 09 August 1951, Page 20.

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