Back when baseball seasons consisted of 154 game seasons, Wally Pipp played in 150 or more games a year for the Yankees six times. He was a rock of consistency. Wally Pipp was an iron horse.
In 1921, the year the Yankees won their first American League pennant, Wally Pipp led the team (along with second baseman Aron Ward) in games played with 153. That season, Pipp hit .296 with 8 home runs, 9 triples, and 103 runs batted in.
The Yankees won the American League pennant again in 1922. That year, Pipp hit .329 with 9 homers, 10 triples, and 94 rbi’s. His exploits earned him consideration for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Pipp starred for the Yankees again in 1923, batting .304 with 109 runs batted in for the first Yankees team to ever win a World Championship.
He then hit .295 with his league leading 19 triples in 1924 (with 110 more rbi’s) before the fateful, and misrepresented, 1925 season arrived.
The story of Wally Pipp’s benching in 1925 has been exaggerated a great deal over the years. In fact, it does not seem that he even asked out of the line-up that fateful day in June due to a headache. Rather, he was sent to the bench because the team was slumping, not because of a headache.
In early June 1925, the Yankees were in seventh place in the eight team league. Much of the team’s poor play was the result of Babe Ruth missing the first months of the season with his famous “belly-ache,” but no player on the team was doing particularly well. Pipp himself was hitting only .244. Yankees manager Miller Huggins felt he had to do something, so he shook-up his lineup. Second baseman Aaron Ward and catcher Wally Schang were benched along with Wally Pipp on June 2, 1925. The man who replaced Pipp was, of course, Lou Gehrig, and, while Gehrig’s consecutive games streak began that day, the story isn’t that simple. It must also be noted that Gehrig wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire before he had this opportunity to start. Through June 1, 1925, Gehrig’s batting average for the season stood at .167.
In his first game, Lou Gehrig had three hits in five at bats including a double. But the next two games, Gehrig went hitless. While it is true that Wally Pipp would never start another game as the Yankees’ first baseman, on five occasions during that month he replaced Lou Gehrig at first base during the game. Gehrig didn’t so much as take his job away, at the start, they shared the position.
What was unfortunate for Wally Pipp, was that Lou Gehrig eventually began hitting…and hitting extremely well. In his first month of regular play, Lou Gehrig hit .348 with six home runs and 14 runs batted in. Gehrig then hit .305 in July, which was solid, but still there were reports of manager Miller Huggins being less than pleased with Gehrig’s overall performance, especially against left-handed pitching. On July 5, 1925, against the Senators, and left-handed pitcher Tom Zachary, the Yankees started Fred Merkle (not Gehrig) at first base. Lou Gehrig’s famous playing streak may have ended that day, in its infancy, if not for the fact that he had a pinch-hit appearance late in the game. Later that month, on July 19, the Detroit Tigers started left-hander Dutch Leonard against the Yankees. Gehrig also began that day on the bench in favor of Merkle. Later in that game, Gehrig did appear, amassing three hits including a home run.
By August of 1925, Lou Gehrig was tearing the proverbial cover off the ball. That month, Lou Gehrig hit .350 with five more home runs. It became obvious, the torch had been passed, but not as simply and as easily as the legend has it.
Yet, Lou Gehrig may never had had the chance to amass the consecutive games streak if not for a terrible situation that happened to Wally Pipp that history has inaccurately recorded as the “headache” that took him out of the line-up. There was no headache that took Wally Pipp out of the line-up in June. The headache came a month later…and it wasn’t just a minor thing.