PHILADELPHIA, PA – It remains, almost eighty-five years later; one of America’s greatest sports legends.
As the story goes, on June 2nd, in the year of our Jeter 1925, a first baseman named Wally Pipp showed up for work at Yankee Stadium complaining of a headache. He asked the team trainer for two aspirin. Miller Huggins, the famous Yankee munchkin manager, told Wally to “take the day off.” Huggins is then quoted as saying, “Weâ€™ll try that kid Gehrig at first today and get you back in there tomorrow.”
Well, of course, Huggins’ little projection remains one of the truly erroneous and historically imprecise comments of all time – right up there with these three all-time great declarations:
“We’ll have peace in our time.” -Neville Chamberlain
“I’m retiring.” -Brett Favre
“You know, Mary â€“ what I really need is a nice relaxing evening at the theater.” – Abe Lincoln
Lou Gehrig, as we all know â€“ The Iron Horse; the Yankee legend â€“ went on to play every game for the next fourteen years, compiling up Hall of Fame statistics and accolades; mythical even to this day â€“ while Wally Pipp, yes old aspirin-searching Wally, became the pitiful metaphor for the American price one pays for taking a little time off.
Well, at the risk of drifting into Wally Pipp-like MTM history, we, the Philview and the Phanatic, are, with all due respect, offering up our own modest request for a day off from our bi-weekly column. Actually, a few short months.
There is no headache, no physical malady, only the wish to continue our focus on baseball and baseball alone â€“ and contribute when the world’s greatest game is once again a fervent part of our daily routine. It is our passion, and remains so. Come March, when familiar sounds echo from Floridian spring trainings, we do once again hope that you’ll indulge a couple of foreigners, from below the Newark line, in conversation and debate. Until then, we wish you a wonderful winter and holiday of your choosing.
Now, you may say, “MORONS, aren’t you afraid that another columnist may come along to replace you â€“ and make your columns about as relevant as Wally Pipp’s Daily Tips on Venereal Disease Prevention?” Sure, but that’s the chance we take.
And, if we may state our case, we’ve done our research, and we really don’t think being Wally Pipp is all that bad. In reality, when one looks deeper into the famous parable, the true facts around the day off bubble up like acid reflux after a boiling-hot bowl of chili.
The fact is Wally Pipp was a player of decent but comparatively moderate ability. Leading up to his famous “headache,” and possibly a cause of said same, was an anemic .181 average the last three weeks in May. Aspirin or no aspirin, Gehrig was the more gifted and powerful player â€“ and Pipp would have soon been relegated to the bench anyway. 1925 was not a good year for the Yanks – they were struggling – and a frustrated and still very diminutive Miller Huggins was doing everything this side of the Lollipop Guild to shake things up. Gehrig would have gotten his chance, sooner or later.
And to that you may say, “Okay IDIOTS, what about the long term effects on the three players in our little drama?” One took time off, while two others soldiered on, you may point out. Pipp was a chump, you may yell to the highest mountain, while Gehrig and Huggins are in the Hall of Fame. Well, that’s true, but additional reels make the film all the more interesting…
You see, the mediocre at best Pipp parlayed his “headache” into a career in public speaking on the banquet circuit, where he gleefully enhanced his own mythology and joked incessantly, for a fee, about his “day off.” He lived, healthy and happy, into his seventy-second year.
Gehrig and Huggins on the other hand â€“ the two worker bees who refused to take a break when every alarm was going off around them â€“ both died young of horrible, awful, terrible, nasty, atrocious, ghastly, hideous, repulsive, shocking, dreadful, appalling and, above all, fatal diseases.
Yes, Gehrig and Huggins are in the Hall of Fame, but in our humble opinion, the trouble with being inducted posthumously into the Baseball Hall of Fame is that it’s posthumous.
We’ll take Wally Pipp and hope to see another day in Mattville come spring training.
Rex O’Rourke and his great football picks, tomorrow.