Tuesday, February 01, 2005
February 1st, 1926
Wally Pipp Sold to Cincinnatti Reds
A lot of people, even ones who aren't really baseball fans, know the story of Wally Pipp. Plagued with a minor injury (a headache, according to most versions) Pipp asked out of the Yankees' game in early June 1925, to be replaced with a young rookie out of Columbia University, with Pipp doomed to waste away on the Yankee bench. The story has a nice little Paul Harvey aspect about it ("and that rookie's name was Lou Gehrig...so now you know the rest of the story") as well as a kind of Aesop, or perhaps Gordon Gecko-ish moral: next time you take the easy way out you might be replaced by someone more dedicated and talented than you.
The only problem with this little story is that bears only passing resemblance to the truth. Pipp was benched for the June 2nd, 1925 game (which, incidentally, was not the actual start of Gehrig's streak, he had pinch hit the day before) but it was not because of a headache. The aging Pipp was having a terrible season (he would finish at .230/.286/.348) and manager Miller Huggins figured the 22 year-old Gehrig deserved some time in lieu of the struggling veteran. Gehrig hardly set the league afire initially in 1925; he was pinch-hit for several times by Huggins, especially against left-handers. Pipp never got another start for two reasons. The first was that in 1925--on account of injuries to many including Babe Ruth--the Yankees had their first under .500 season since 1918 (and, in a side note, the last they would suffer until 1965 which is astounding) meaning Huggins had no incentive to play the aging Pipp over the younger Gehrig. The other reason was that on July 2nd Pipp was beaned during batting practice, severely enough that many thought he would meet the fate of Ray Chapman but he survived. These two circumstances combined to give Wally Pipp few chances to start in the rest of 1925.
Also, compared to many versions where Pipp is forced to sit on the Yankee bench watching Gehrig play the game, a veritable Tantalus of the Roaring 20s, Pipp was sold to Cincinatti where he actually had a rebound season in 1926 (.291/.352/.413) until age got to him in 1927. In 1928 the Reds replaced him with another first baseman whose best days were behind him, George "Highpockets" Kelly.
Pipp would spend many of his remaining days--he died in 1965--denying the headache story, sometimes without explanation and sometimes mixing chronology so that his beaning occurred on June 2nd, providing a reason for his being out of the line-up on that day. Pipp should've saved his breath, like so many others, his story was lost to legend.
February 1st, 1958
Mysterious Walker Dies
No kidding, that was his nickname. Frederick Mitchell "Mysterious"