LOCAL LORE: Brookland’s Best Ballplayer

Even though the Nats didn’t make it to the World Series this season, we’re still in baseball mode and I thought it might be a good time to mention one of Brookland’s own. Wally Pipp. Ever hear of him? If you’re a fan of baseball arcana, you should have. 

Walter Clement Pipp was born in Chicago in 1893, but came to Brookland in 1909 to study architecture at Catholic University. CUA started their baseball program in 1910, and Pipp signed right up. Here’s a photo from 1913, taken on CUA’s first sports field, which was the flat piece of land where Curley Hall now stands. You can see Holy Cross College (now O‘Boyle Hall) in the background.

Wally Pipp is at right. Photo courtesy The Catholic University of America Archives.

Pipp played first base and was good, so good that no one doubted he would be a major leaguer soon after graduation. It didn’t take him too long. In 1913 he joined the Detroit Tigers, but did not play well and was sent to the minors. In 1915 the Tigers sold him to the New York Yankees, who at the time were not known as the powerhouse they would soon become.

pipp

Pipp was the starting first baseman for the Yankees in 1915, and he had a decent year. 1916 was better, when he and John “Home Run” Baker emerged as the Yanks power hitters. Pipp led the American League in home runs with twelve (it was the dead ball era), and led it again in 1917 with nine. (Wally Pipp, New York Yankee, circa 1920)

When Babe Ruth joined the team in 1920, Pipp kept up his good stats for a number of years, though the Bambino became the power hitter, with Pipp batting behind him in the cleanup position. The Yankees won the American League pennant in 1921 and 1922, but lost the World Series to the Giants both times. In 1923, they finally beat them in six games. In 1924, the Yanks didn’t win the pennant, but Pipp did lead the American League in triples with nineteen. Then came 1925. 

The story goes this way. June 2, 1925. Pipp has a headache and asks the trainer for a couple of aspirin. Manager Miller Huggins walks by and says “Take the day off, Wally. The kid can replace you this afternoon.” The “kid" was a new recruit from Columbia University. His name - Lou Gehrig.

The kid from Columbia, Lou Gehrig

 It was the first of 2,130 consecutive games Gehrig would play at first, a record streak that lasted for 56 years until Cal Ripken surpassed it in 1995. Wally Pipp was out. “I took the two most expensive aspirin in history,” he is reported to have said. At the end of the season Pipp was sold to the Cincinnati Reds. He had a few decent seasons for them, then retired in 1928.

So, is the headache story true? More than likely not, even though Pipp did insist it was. But in 1925 Pipp was in a slump, as were some of the other Yankee vets. Huggins wanted to shake things up and try out some of the younger guys, so he made a number of changes, including benching Pipp. Perhaps not as romantic a story, but it does have the ring of truth. Still, for quite a while, ballplayers who were replaced in the lineup did say they had been “Pipped.”  

If you want to know more, there are many good sites that discuss the Pipp/Gehrig story. Here are two of them:

Society for American Baseball Research

Snopes - Wally Pipp


© Robert Malesky 2017