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What Happened to Wally Pipp After He Was Benched?

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Wally Pipp may be the only baseball player famous for sitting the bench. As the legend goes, Pipp was the New York Yankees’ longtime first baseman when, on June 2, 1925, he called in sick with a headache. Yanks manager Miller Huggins rested Pipp, recommended he pop an aspirin, and penciled in fresh talent. That “fresh talent” was a little known slugger named Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse tore it up and didn’t leave the lineup for another 14 years. Meanwhile, Pipp lost his job and his pinstripes.

Now Pipp’s name is a running joke. He’s a darling cautionary tale: If you’re hurt and don’t suck it up, someone else will do your job—and they may do it better.

It’s a great story. Too bad it isn’t all true.

Pipp the Myth

It’s true that Gehrig took Pipp’s job. It’s not true, though, that the veteran lost it because of an achy skull. (“Please don’t believe that aspirin story,” Pipp once said. “It just isn’t true.”) If anything, Pipp lost his job because the Yankees were playing terrible. The Bombers were 15-26 and had lost five straight. By June 2, Huggins had seen enough. He benched six starters—including a slumping Pipp—and gave the team’s youngsters a shot.

The Yankees won. Gehrig went 3 for 5.

It was the beginning of Pipp’s end. Gehrig soared, and Pipp spent June as a benchwarmer. In July, Pipp was knocked into the hospital after getting beaned in the dome with a batting practice fastball. The accident nearly killed him, and it secured Gehrig’s spot as the new starter. At season’s end, the front office traded Pipp to the Reds.

So Pipp’s parable isn’t exactly what your Little League coach led you to believe. It’s not a tale of “suck-it-up-and-do-your-job.” It’s a less romantic mix of your dad’s brazen advice of “don’t suck out there, kid” and your mom’s over-protective advice of “don’t forget your helmet!”

Pipp the Man

Still, most fans know Wally Pipp the parable, not Wally Pipp the person. Don’t let the Gehrig story fool you—Pipp was no slouch. He spent three solid seasons with Cincinnati and closed his career with the International League’s Newark Bears, hauling in more dough than he ever made in the majors. Proving he had a knack for bad timing, Pipp then retired for good—in October 1929.

Pipp played the stock market for a few years and toyed with a writing career, moonlighting as Babe Ruth’s ghostwriter and penning a finance book called Buying Cheap and Selling Dear. According to Sports Illustrated, “He also broadcasted a pregame baseball show for the Detroit Tigers, wrote radio scripts, and dabbled in publishing.”

When World War II rolled around, Pipp worked in a Michigan plant that made B-24 bombers. Afterward, he landed a sales gig with the Rockford Screw Products Corporation. Pipp went from playing first for the Yankees to peddling screws and bolts—and he loved it. Armed with the gift of gab and endless baseball stories, Pipp spent the rest of his life selling wares to Detroit’s auto hotshots. He passed away in 1965.

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Big Questions
Are There Number 1 Pencils?
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Almost every syllabus, teacher, and standardized test points to the ubiquitous No. 2 pencil, but are there other choices out there?

Of course! Pencil makers manufacture No. 1, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4 pencils—and sometimes other intermediate numbers. The higher the number, the harder the core and lighter the markings. (No. 1 pencils produce darker markings, which are sometimes preferred by people working in publishing.)

The current style of production is profiled after pencils developed in 1794 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté. Before Conté, pencil hardness varied from location to location and maker to maker. The earliest pencils were made by filling a wood shaft with raw graphite, leading to the need for a trade-wide recognized method of production.

Conté’s method involved mixing powdered graphite with finely ground clay; that mixture was shaped into a long cylinder and then baked in an oven. The proportion of clay versus graphite added to a mixture determines the hardness of the lead. Although the method may be agreed upon, the way various companies categorize and label pencils isn't.

Today, many U.S.  companies use a numbering system for general-purpose, writing pencils that specifies how hard the lead is. For graphic and artist pencils and for companies outside the U.S., systems get a little complicated, using a combination of numbers and letters known as the HB Graphite Scale.

"H" indicates hardness and "B" indicates blackness. Lowest on the scale is 9H, indicating a pencil with extremely hard lead that produces a light mark. On the opposite end of the scale, 9B represents a pencil with extremely soft lead that produces a dark mark. ("F" also indicates a pencil that sharpens to a fine point.) The middle of the scale shows the letters and numbers that correspond to everyday writing utensils: B = No. 1 pencils, HB = No. 2, F = No. 2½, H = No. 3, and 2H = No. 4 (although exact conversions depend on the brand).

So why are testing centers such sticklers about using only No. 2 pencils? They cooperate better with technology because early machines used the electrical conductivity of the lead to read the pencil marks. Early scanning-and-scoring machines couldn't detect marks made by harder pencils, so No. 3 and No. 4 pencils usually resulted in erroneous results. Softer pencils like No. 1s smudge, so they're just impractical to use. So No. 2 pencils became the industry standard.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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