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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
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

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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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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