April 23, 2021

Wally Pipp 100

June 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Wally Pipp 100

One hundred years ago, June 29, 1913, Wally Pipp played his first major league game.

We all know, or think we know, how his career ended.

Not nearly enough is written about what occurred in-between.

Born in Chicago, Pipp graduated from high school in Grand Rapids, Michigan and made his big league debut with the Detroit Tigers in ’13, playing 12 games and hitting .161.  The next year he graduated from college and then, in 1915, was dealt to the New York Yankees and was a mainstay for a decade.

In 1916 Pipp led the American League with 12 home runs and then knocked out a league-best nine dingers the next year.  Except for 1918 when he battled illness Pipp, a six-foot-one-inch 180-pound first baseman, appeared in at least 136 games for the Yankees every year through 1924.  He hit an AL-best 19 triples in ’24 and finished in the top 15 of MVP voting in ’22 and ’24 with the Yanks.

Pipp finished with a career batting average of .281 and played in three World Series, winning one of them.  His all-time rank among batters, according to Baseball-Reference, is 447.

Lou Gehrig made his debut with the Yankees on June 15, 1923 and immediately supplanted Pipp at first base and the rest is history.

No, that’s not right at all.

Gehrig played just 10 games for the Yankees that year and 24 the next while Pipp continued to be one of the league’s top players.  It was not until 1925 that Gehrig became “The Ironman” and Wally Pipp got “Wally Pipped.”  Or maybe he just got “pipped” which, I’m not kidding, means to “wound or kill with a bullet,” “get the better of,” or “to blackball.”

So maybe it was fate.  Perhaps if Wally Pipp were named Rocco Jackson, Xavier Zenith or Spike Ignatius his legacy would be different.

But no, he got “pipped.”

On June 2, 1925 Gehrig took over for Pipp at first base and played 2,130 straight games, a record that stood for decades, and was one of the greatest players ever.

Wally Pipp, meanwhile, appeared in just 62 games with the Yankees in ’25 then was shipped to the Cincinnati Reds in 1926 where he had one of his best seasons, hitting .291 and finishing 14th in the NL MVP voting.  Another decent season followed in ’27, and Pipp also played well in’28, and then called it quits.

What happened on June 2, 1925?  We will never know for sure.

One popular legend says Pipp had a headache and asked manager Miller Huggins for the day off.  Another story has it that Huggins wanted to shake up his struggling lineup and benched Pipp.  If so, it worked as the Yankees beat the Washington Senators, 8-5, at Yankee Stadium to snap a five-game losing streak as Gehrig collected three hits, including a double, and scored a run.

The next day, Gehrig got the start again and went 0-for-3, with Pipp coming in late in the game to go 0-for-1.  Pipp was also a late-inning replacement for Gehrig on June 4 but would not appear in another game until June 18.

Another explanation is that Pipp got plunked in the head in batting practice and thus had to sit out for a few weeks and then never could get his job back.  However, various reports say it actually wasn’t until July that Wally got beaned.

Whatever did actually happen on June 2, 1925 it doesn’t seem to have been Wally Pipp’s Yankee death-knell.  A scan of the box scores shows that Gehrig didn’t set the world on fire his first few weeks as a starter though by season’s end his average was up to .295.  Perhaps it was simply, as Pipp himself would later say, Huggins knew the upside for the 22-year-old Gehrig was more promising than for the 32-year-old Pipp.  And, since the Yankees were having a bad year, (they would finish seventh in the AL) Huggins used it as a season to develop the kid, and kick Pipp.

Three pennants, a world championship, 15 seasons and a deep well of memories.  Lou Gehrig is remembered for 2,130 but Wally Pipp had plenty of numbers of his own.  They all add up to an anniversary worth noting.  And a career worth remembering.

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