Following Art "Solly" Hofman's No. 97 profile yesterday, here is another in a six-part offseason series this year in which I revisited the rankings of the top 100 Cubs of all time, originally done in the winter of 2006-07. In addition to six new profiles (the first was Jon Lieber, the new #100 on Nov. 29), I'll be revising the profiles of the four active players on this list (Kerry Wood, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano and Derrek Lee) over the winter. Also, at this time there aren't any photos of Hank Wyse available that I have permission to post. If anyone does, send it to me and I'll post it with this profile.
Hank Wyse was born in Lunsford, Arkansas on March 1, 1918 and signed with the Cubs in 1940. After a couple of years in the minor leagues he made his Cubs debut on September 7, 1942 and it appeared he was on his way to a fine Cubs career -- except it was partly derailed when he suffered a back injury when he fell off a welding platform while working in the offseason in a war plant in Miami, Oklahoma. The injury gave him 4-F draft status during the war, so he was one of the few players in the primes of their careers who were not eligible for military service. He also had to wear a corset while he pitched.
Wyse was a part-time starter and part-time reliever (15 starts, 23 relief appearances) in 1943 -- that during an era when the roles were different than they are now; many pitchers would spot-start and throw out of the bullpen between those starts. Then in 1944 he became a mainstay of the Cubs' rotation, going 16-15 but with a 3.15 ERA, and in 1945 was one of the best pitchers in the National League, finishing 22-10, ranking fifth in NL ERA at 2.68 and second in NL WAR at 5.1. He was selected to the All-Star team but no game was played due to wartime travel restrictions; it was his only All-Star selection. He also finished seventh in MVP voting in those pre-Cy Young Award days. On April 28, 1945 he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Pirates; Bill Salkeld broke it up with one out. At the time no Cub had thrown a no-hitter in 28 years and it would be ten more seasons before Sam Jones would break that drought.
Wyse's 20-win season in 1945 made him the only Cubs pitcher with a 20-win season between 1940 (Claude Passeau, 20) and 1963 (Dick Ellsworth, 22).
In the 1945 World Series Wyse started and lost Game Two, 4-1; that loss tied the series 1-1. For some inexplicable reason, manager Charlie Grimm wouldn't go back to his second-best starting pitcher behind Hank Borowy to start the rest of the series. Borowy had started Game One (and won), and Claude Passeau, at 36 still solid but aging, started and shut out the Tigers in Game Three on one hit. Ray Prim, who at 38 had led the NL in ERA, started and lost Game Four; the Series was now tied at two games each.
It made sense to start Borowy in Game Five, but when he lost and the Cubs needed a win in Game Six, Grimm turned back to Passeau instead of Wyse. The game went into extra innings and Borowy was used in relief, as were Wyse and Prim. The latter two pitched poorly and allowed the game to be tied; Borowy heroically threw four relief innings only a day after starting Game Five.
The Cubs won the game in the 12th inning, tying the Series again. Wyse would have been the logical choice to start Game Seven, but Grimm, apparently not trusting him after his poor outing in Game Six, went with Borowy. You know what happened next. To his dying day, Wyse always claimed that the Cubs would have won the 1945 World Series if Grimm had started him instead of Borowy.
Wyse pitched well in 1946 but declined in 1947, possibly suffering the effects of the back injury. The Cubs sold him to an independent minor league team in Shreveport, Louisiana on May 10, 1949; he pitched a couple of mediocre years for the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators and retired from the major leagues after 1951. He pitched three more years in the minor leagues before retiring to private life in Oklahoma; he died in Pryor, Oklahoma, aged 82, on October 22, 2000.