Walter Clement Pipp (February 17, 1893 – January 11, 1965)
Wally Pipp was an excellent baseball player in the early 1900s. He played Major League Baseball (MLB) for 15 seasons and led the American League in home runs twice before Babe Ruth’s game changing 54 homers in 1920. Pipp had 996 RBIs and a lifetime batting average of .281.
Pipp played first base his entire career and was a talented fielder. According to Sports Illustrated, he was one of only three players to ever lead both the National League and the American League in fielding. Wally Pipp still holds (or shares) the record for most seasons leading the American League in double plays putouts and chances accepted (four years each). His 226 sacrifices as a player for the New York Yankees is still a team record.
But Wally Pipp’s distinguished baseball career is not what most people remember him for. Pipp’s name has become a verb, a metaphor, an answer to a trivia question, an eponym. Nobody wants to be Wally Pipped.
It happened on June 2, 1925. Wally Pipp was removed from the New York Yankees’ starting lineup and replaced with a relatively unknown rookie named Lou Gehrig. Pipp never got his job back; Gehrig went on to play first base for 14 years – an amazing 2,130 consecutive games.
As with many urban legends, there are a variety of reasons given for the substitution that day. Did Pipp have a headache? Maybe he was hit in the head by a ball and was seeing double. Some reports claim Pipp suffered a fractured skull from a previous beaning and was still in the hospital. Others suggest he was benched because he had not been playing up to his full potential lately. Or perhaps Yankee manager Miller Huggins benched several veterans, including Pipp, to reinvigorate the starting lineup. Whatever the truth is, Wally Pipp the man went on to become Wally Pipp the metaphor.
The term has grown to cover more than just sports. We all get Wally Pipped at one time or another, in various degrees. Maybe you are the lead in a Broadway show and you get hurt. The understudy takes the stage and does such a tremendous job that she takes over the lead role and you are relegated to handing out programs. Or your boyfriend scores tickets to a concert and you’re out of town but your roommate is free…. well, you get the picture.
No one wants to learn how dispensable they really are. Sure, it was Pipp’s bad luck to be replaced by the greatest first baseman of all time but you never know who’s waiting in the wings, sitting on the bench, teeing up to take your place.
Think how Pete Best must feel.
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