Wally Pipp

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Walter Clement Pipp

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Biographical Information[edit]

"I took the two most expensive aspirins in history." - Wally Pipp, discussing the events that led to his being replaced by Lou Gehrig at first base for the New York Yankees

Wally Pipp, who is most famous as the player whom Lou Gehrig replaced in the New York Yankees' line-up, had a 15-year career with three teams.

He appeared in three World Series in the early 1920s, led the American League in home runs twice in the dead-ball era, and led the league in triples once.

In the 1923 World Series, which the Yankees won, he batted fifth in the lineup behind Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel. He was with the Yankees from 1915 to 1925.

He broke in with the Detroit Tigers in 1913, where he was a teammate of Ty Cobb and Wahoo Sam Crawford. After he left the Yankees, he finished out his career on the Cincinnati Reds, as a teammate of Edd Roush, Bubbles Hargrave, and George Kelly.

Wally Pipp's major league record has a gap for 1914 between his 1913 season with the Tigers and his 1915 season with the Yankees. Pipp's 10-game sojourn with the Tigers in 1913 ended with a farm-out to the Providence Grays of the International League, where he hit .444 in 10 games before being moved to the Scranton Miners of the New York State League on July 20th. He played first base there for the rest of the 1913 season, hitting .220 in 173 at-bats.

Pipp went to spring training with the Tigers in 1914 but was optioned to the Rochester Hustlers of the International League on April 21st. There, he posted what contemporaneous newspaper accounts described as "in many ways the most remarkable record ever made in a first-class minor league." Pipp led the International League with 290 total bases on 173 hits including 28 doubles, 27 triples, and a league-leading 15 home runs. Playing 154 games at first base, he batted .312 in 551 at-bats and also stole 26 bases. One of the International League pitchers Pipp would have faced in 1914 was Babe Ruth, his future Yankee teammate, who pitched with both Providence and Baltimore that season.

His solid performance in the International league earned Pipp a new call-up to Detroit on August 20th, but the Tigers inexplicably never put him into a game the rest of the way. Those Tigers weren't particularly distinguished, finishing in fourth place, 19 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia Athletics. George Burns, at 21 the same age as Pipp, was the regular first baseman, hitting .291 in 137 games. Nineteen-year-old Harry Heilmann also played first base in 16 games, and George Moriarty, the regular third baseman, played in three games at first base.

The Tigers continued this disinterest into 1915 but Pipp's 1914 season hadn't gone unnoticed. In late 1914 Col. Jacob Ruppert and T. L. Huston had acquired the American League's New York (Highlanders/Yankees) franchise and American League President Ban Johnson had promised the new owners he would assist them in acquiring players to make the franchise, important to the league's economic well-being, competitive. Ruppert and Huston's new manager, Wild Bill Donovan, had managed Pipp at Providence and recommended him. On that advice, Ruppert and Huston negotiated with Frank Navin, owner of the Tigers, to acquire Pipp and Hugh High, another Detroit minor leaguer. On January 7th, Pipp became a Yankee, " . . . sold at the waiver price [$7,500; another source cites the consideration paid as $5,000] to assist the New York team in playing strength."

The Yankees welcomed Pipp, who led the American League in home runs in 1916 and 1917 and was a fixture at first base for New York's World Series teams of 1921, 1922, and 1923 until the Gehrig era began in 1925. After the 1925 season the Yankees sold Pipp to Cincinnati where he played through 1928 before finishing with the Newark Bears of the International League (1929-1931). Famously, Gehrig started at first base in place of Pipp on June 2, 1925 and never relinquished the job after that, not missing a game until 1939. The legend is that Pipp begged out of the line-up because of a mere headache (hence the quote above), but in fact he had been beaned in batting practice the day before and he was suffering the after-effects of a concussion. Gehrig was a top prospect whom manager Miller Huggins was looking to get into the line-up in any case, while Pipp was on the downside of what had been a brilliant career. Pipp's injury opened the door, but Gehrig would have forced it open in short order in any case.

Sources: Personal research, including review of Wally Pipp player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, New York; Acknowledgments: Marshall Wright and Lyle Spatz, fellow members of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • AL Triples Leader (1924)
  • 2-time AL Home Runs Leader (1916 & 1917)
  • 100 RBI Seasons: 2 (1923 & 1924)
  • 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 1 (1920)
  • Won a World Series with the New York Yankees in 1923

Related Sites[edit]