Up to that point in his first two seasons with the Yankees, Gehrig was nothing more than a pinch hitter and defensive replacement. Gehrig only appeared in 23 games during the 1923 and 1924 seasons combined. Circumstances beyond his control would lead to Gehrig's baseball immortality being cemented. Many people believe that the streak started the next day on June 2, 1925 when as per legend, Wally Pipp asked to take a day off. Gehrig stepped in for Pipp at first and didn't give the bag up until the day that he took himself out of the lineup thirteen years later on May 2, 1939. Just as Steve Buscemi says as Nucky Thompson in the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, the story of Gehrig's rise and Pipp's fall makes for a good story but its not entirely true.
Jonathan Eig in his book Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig describes the events that went into Gehrig becoming an everyday player for the Yankees:
Huggins was frustrated. The season was only two months old, yet his team seemed to be giving up. Players had been missing curfew, practicing halfheartedly, mouthing off in the dugout, and drinking too much. Pipp wasn't giving him problems off the field, but on the field the first baseman was a disaster. Huggins had already dropped Pipp from the fourth spot in the batting order to the sixth, and Pipp had not responded. He was batting .244 with only three home runs and twenty-three runs batted in. During the last three weeks of May, his batting average was an anemic .181. After the loss to Walter Johnson, Huggins decided to try a new lineup. Maybe the veterans would respond to the threat of losing their jobs. He benched not only Pipp but also catcher Wally Schang and second baseman Aaron Ward. (Page 65)After starting at first for ten seasons for the Yankees, Pipp suffered a head injury during batting practice a month later which resulted in a fractured skull that limited his playing time during the remainder of the 1925 season. Pipp's contract would be sold to the Cinicnnati Reds for the 1926 season and would retire after the 1928 season.
Gehrig as we know became a cornerstone for the New York Yankees become a Hall of Famer as part of a formidable one-two punch with not only Babe Ruth but also Joe DiMaggio. It would seem that the illness that bears his name was the only thing that could stop the Iron Horse.
Here is the boxscore from the June 2, 1925 edition of the New York Times for the June 1, 1925 game between the Washington Senators and New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium:
Until Then Keep Playing Ball,
For Further Reading:
- Click Here for Lou Gehrig's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click Here for Wally Pipp's career statistics from Baseball Reference.com
- Click Here for the boxscore for the June 1, 1925 game between the Washington Senators vs The New York Yankees from Baseball Reference.com
- Wally Pipp: A son's tale about the start of Gehrig's consecutive games streak by Chris Anderson
from the Sarasota Herald Tribune dated April 22, 2009