The True Story of Wally Pipp

Wally Pipp is baseball’s answer to Rodney Dangerfield. And nearly 100 years past his prime, he’s still getting no respect.

The mention of Wally Pipp conjures visions of laziness and fake headaches and calling in sick.

As in, that guy “Pipped” out, he’s not coming to work. Or he’s pulling a “Wally”, translated loosely to mean he’s a coach potato, slacking off again. A sloth

Pipp is the guy that lost his job to Lou Gehrig, who just happens to the greatest first baseman in baseball history. But Pipp was hardly a slouch on the field. And he was rarely off the field, missing just a handful of games over the previous four seasons before Gehrig took his job in 1925.

In fact, Wally Pipp anchored Yankee pennant winners in 1921 and 1922, and the championship 1923 team, the Yanks first. And he was coming off a career year in 1924 when he hit .295 with nine home runs, 114 RBIs and an American League leading 19 triples.

At the close of play on June 2, 1925, the Yankees found themselves in seventh place in the eight-team American League, 13 1/2 games behind the first place Philadelphia Athletics.

Gehrig Takes Over
As the story goes, that day Pipp told Yankee manager Miller Huggins that he had a headache, and Huggins replaced him with Gehrig in the Yankee lineup. Lou Gehrig, who had pinch hit for Yankee shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger the previous day to start his famous consecutive games streak, didn’t sit down for nearly 15 years, 2,130 games later.

Pipp’s recollection of that day is somewhat hazy. Decades later, in a 1953 interview, he recounted that he did have a headache — because he had been beaned in batting practice.

“Charlie (Caldwell) (better known in later years as Princeton’s football coach) whistled one in and, somehow or other, I just couldn’t duck,” Pipp recalled. “The ball hit me right here on the temple. They carted me right off to the hospital. I was in that hospital for two solid weeks. By the time I returned to the Yankees, Gehrig was hitting the ball like crazy and Huggins would have been a complete dope to give me my job back.”

That’s not exactly how it went down. In fact, Pipp was a pinch-hitter the very next day, June 3, after his supposed beaning. Although Pipp never started another game at first base for the Yankees, Gehrig didn’t exactly tear the league apart in 1925, and Huggins had pinch hit for a few times because the Yankees’ manager was disappointed in Gehrig’s performance against left-handers.

Pipp’s Beaning
Pipp’s beaning took place exactly a month later — on July 2. According to various accounts he suffered a fractured skull or a concussion — certainly more than a headache. He played sparingly the rest of the season, and was shipped to Cincinnati at the end of the season.

The Yankees originally picked up Pipp on waivers from Detroit in 1915. For nearly 10 years Wall Pipp was a fixture in the Yankee lineup. When Pipp sprained an ankle in 1923, Gehrig, pictured at left, was called up for a few games. Columbia Lou hit .423 with a his first homer and nine RBIs in limited duty. In 1924 he hit .500 in 12 at bats and knocked in five runs. In 1925, Gehrig hit 20 homers, drove in 68 runs and batted .295, a harbinger of much bigger and better things to come.

Pipp had a solid career, and was one of the best first baseman of his era. He led the American League in home runs with 12 in 1916 and nine in 1917. He hit .281 for this career, with 90 HRs, 997 RBIs and 1941 hits.

Hardly a dead beat. Wally Pipp may have lost his job — but he lost it to the guy who ultimately became the greatest first baseman in baseball history.

There’s no shame in that.


12 Comments on “The True Story of Wally Pipp”

  1. TC says:

    Great one Rick – knew he was decent player, but nothing else other than the guy Gehrig replaced…

    • sportslifer says:

      Yeah Tom, as I was doing the research I was surprised how good a ballplayer Pipp really was. Tough losing your job to a lockdown legend.

  2. Pipp says:

    Wally Pipp was my great uncle. I am pleased to see that people are still writing about him. Thanks!

  3. Winslow says:

    One of the best articles I’ve ever ready about Wally Pipp. He was married to my grandfather’s cousin here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He’s in both the Grand Rapids and Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. Hope he makes it into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooper’s Town. I think time maybe running out? Did you also know it was Pipp that scouted and found Gehrig?

    • sportslifer says:

      James thanks for your note and your interest in my blog. Not sure about Wally Pipp and the Hall, but he did scout Lou Gehrig at Columbia University and recommended that Yankee manager Miller Huggins sign him.

      • David Pipp says:

        So I have to ask, where did you get the picture of Wally Pipp with the glove raised? It is one I have not seen before. Wally Pipp is my grandfather’s uncle (easier way of saying it). I’d love to get in touch with someone who could get me some of those pictures…

      • sportslifer says:

        Thank David. I’ve had feedback from several of Wally Pipp’s descendants. Hope you enjoyed the blog. As for the picture, I found it through a Google image search.

  4. LeftyFromBrooklyn says:

    Excellent article! I love to read stories about the Yanks and had forgotten Wally’s role in scouting Lou Gehrig.

    How I long for the good old days of MLB when we had 90 minute games and 3 hour double headers.

  5. Joe Zainea says:

    I was a friend of Pipp’s youngest son, Wally. The story of Wally Pipp unfortunately gets wrapped up in the legend of how he was replaced by the great Lou Gehrig. The guy was a real slugger in the dead ball era and produced good numbers for many years. Before his death young Wally tried valiantly to get the veteran’s committee to recognize his father’s contributions by putting him in the HOF. I guess while he got some respect from them it wasn’t enough for Wally Pipp to enter the Hall. I think he was hampered because he straddled the dead ball and live ball eras which made judging him difficult.

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