Saturday, February 14, 2009

Baseball Place No. 8: Babe Ruth's resting place and No. 8A: Wally Pipp's resting place

Babe Ruth’s grave stone is as over-sized as the man himself.

The Bambino’s resting spot is in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., which is in Westchester County.

Josh Pahigian lists the Babe as stop No. 8 in his list of "101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out."

And, for the second time, he goes there alone.

There are a lot of myths about Babe Ruth, but there is a myth about another late Yankee, one of Ruth’s teammates, in fact.

That leads me to our second alternative site.

Baseball Place No. 8A: Wally Pipp’s resting place.

Friends, today I aim to clear the name of Walter C. Pipp, a fine Grand Rapids resident who is buried here, in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Legend has it that Pipp on June 2, 1925 told Manager Miller Huggins that he had a headache and wanted to sit out. Miller put that new Lou Gehrig kid in the lineup for the day, and he remained there for the next 14 years.

Yet another Yankee lie.

Wally Pipp was no slacker.

First of all, Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games actually started the day before, when he pinch hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger.

But the 1925 season was not a good one for the Yankees. Ruth had all sorts of issues. By the time June arrived, the team was already near the bottom of the standings and 11 games under .500.

With the season seemingly lost, Huggins was ready to make some changes.

The New York Times on June 3, 1925 reported that Huggins, "took his favorite lineup and shook it to pieces. Wally Pipp, after more than 10 years as a regular first baseman, was benched in favor of Lou Gehrig, the former Columbia University fence-wrecker. Aaron Ward, another old standby, surrendered second base to Howard Shanks. Steve O’Neill and Wally Schang perched themselves comfortably on the bench while Benny Bengough donned the mask and protector."

And five days later, the Times reported, "Miller Huggins’ withdrawl of Ward, Pipp and the Schang-O’Neill combination was an admission that the absence of Ruth was not the only thing wrong with the club. Not all of these men are through — Ward least of all; but they were in a slump, and Huggins did the obvious thing by injecting a little youth into the team."

The Yankees sold Pipp, 32, to the Reds after the season, and he performed well, hitting .291 and driving in 99. His next two years were not as productive, and he retired after 1928.

Pipp finished with a .281 average, 997 RBI, and 1,941 hits over 15 seasons. He played before there were All-Star Games and Gold Glove Awards, but three times he was in the top 15 in voting for the Most Valueable Player Award. He also led the American League in home runs twice — the first Yankee to do so.

While those numbers fall short of the Hall of Fame, they show a career to be proud of. Pipp just had the misfortune of getting a little old when one of the all-time greats was ready to take the stage.

Pipp died in 1965 just shy of his 72nd birthday, and his family still lives in the Grand Rapids area.

He’ll never be in Cooperstown, but he was a member of the first class of the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame when it was established in 1972.

Technically, I haven’t paid my respects in person. But I’ll be sure to make my over to Woodlawn Cemetery when the snow is gone — maybe on June 2.


Anonymous said...

I'm hoping to visit the Pipp site soon. Can you tell me what part of the cemetery he's in?

Anonymous said...

Wally Pipp was my grandfather's cousin. We have never seen where he was buried. Thank you for the post.