WALLY PIPP, "A Life of Irony"
by James Floto
He wasn't Lou Gehrig, but he may hold the all-time record for baseball ironies.
Erudite baseball fans know Wally Pipp as the possessor of the most famous headache in baseball history. In his own words, "the most most expensive asprins in history." On June 2, 1925, Pipp told Yankee manager Miller Huggins he needed to sit that day out...
...Rookie Lou Gehrig took his place, Pipp lost the job he had held since 1915 and at season's end was shunted off to Cincinnati. To most who have heard of him, Pipp is synonymous with "the personifciation of dispensability," the assumption being that he wasn't much of a player.
The pervasive feeling through the years has been that Lou replaced some journeyman, otherwise how could he come along and take his job. But that's part of the irony. Just as Bobby Thomson was replaced first by Willie Mays and then by Hank Aaron when he was traded to the Braves, Pipp was an excellent player. But Gehrig was Gehrig, just as Mays and Aaron were all-time greats.
A seldom-remembered fact is that Robert Ripley, of Believe it or Not fame, termed the slugging Yankees of the late teens "Murderer's Row" before Ruth and Gehrig showed up. Lou was still in high school at the time! Pipp led the AL in homers twice before Ruth turned the game on its ear with 54 homers in 1920. More significant was that he twice drove in 100+ runs, four times drove in over 90, and had 996 RBIs for his career. Even after Ruth and Bob Meusel came along, he was still 2nd or 3rd in RBIs for the Yanks of the early 1920s. He held virtually all the Yankee first base records until Gehrig broke them. Wally was also a top notch fielder--he is still among the career leaders for chances per game and putouts at first base.
To the irony that Pipp played in more games than any Yankee between 1915 and 1924, add the following:
IN 1922, Wally Pipp, picking up a little extra money scouting for the Indianapolis club, discovered Lou Gehrig playing at Columbia and strongly urged that he be signed.
THE STREAK: It actually started the day before Gehrig sat in for Pipp, when Lou pinch hit for Pee Wee Wanninger, the Yanks' shortstop.
WANNIGER had replaced Everett Scott as Yankee shortstop just a few weeks earlier. Scott was the man whose consecutive games streak (1307) Gehrig broke. That original streak was broken when Wanniger replaced Scott, only weeks before Gehrig's streak began, and on the same team.
Fans tend to think Pipp was washed up when he was dealt to the Reds. In fact, he hit .296 with 99 RBIs his first year there. He played two more years, then retired: he was pushed aside by another future Hall of Famer, George "Highpockets" Kelly.
Pipp's connections with the Yankees remained strong. For awhile he was Babe Ruth's ghostwriter and he regularly appeared at Yankee Old Timer's games. He eventually became a salesman in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was visiting Detroit on May 2, 1939 when he ran into Gehrig at the Book-Cadillac Hotel, where the Yankees stayed. Lou told Pipp that he didn't feel well and might sit out the game. That was the very game Gehrig took himself out of the lineup, ending the 14-year streak that began on "The Day of The Two Asprin."
"The breakdown of Gehrig reminds me of the collapse of Scott...playing day after day for a record in a book. It takes too much out of a man." Thus spoke Wally Pipp, who was intimately involved in Gehrig's life, from discovering him at Colombia to running into him on the very day the streak ended. Wally Pipp had an underrated baseball career, and a life filled with irony.
Editor's Note: Recent
evidence suggests that the headache story is a fabrication
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