In the meantime, the new third baseman, Matt Williams, was lighting up Cactus League pitching. Though it was only March, the Giants bench was all over Brown with repeated calls of "Wally Pipp." Then one day in Scottsdale, when Williams was having another great game, the fans began chanting "Wally Pipp" at Brown.
Lest Brown get down, he should take heart from the estimable company of players who have also heard the Pipp chorus. Last year, Keith Hernandez, Pedro Guerrero and even Eddie Murray were all Pipped. "I've been in baseball for 38 years and Wally Pipp has always been around," says San Francisco manager Roger Craig.
So why does Pipp, who seems to be just a quintessential footnote, endure so well in the hearts and minds of baseball people?
For one thing, the Pipp legend is a wonderful allegory for the Protestant work ethic: Skip a day of work and you'll suffer dire consequences. Nearly everyone harbors the fear that the boss will find someone younger, quicker and better to do his job. No one wants to find out just how replaceable he really is, particularly ballplayers, who have short careers to begin with. The Satchel Paige maxim—"Don't look back. Something may be gaining on you."—is just another way of saying, "Don't look now, but Gehrig is coming off the bench."
But the Pipp story is not just about people losing their jobs. It is a story of bad timing and opportunities missed, or, from another perspective, of good timing and opportunities seized. "It has to be the right time and the right place," says San Diego first baseman Steve Garvey, "and it has to be coupled with production." Of course, he's right. If Gehrig doesn't hit, Pipp returns to first base and Gary Cooper never gets to make the movie.
We all get Pipped at some time in our lives, whether it's over a girlfriend or a part in the school play. It's just that when it happens to baseball players, they hear that name.
Has [Jim Traber] turned [Eddie] Murray into Wally Pipp...? "I've been filling in for a Hall of Famer, not a Wally Pipp, " said Traber....
—Los Angeles Times, Aug. 10, 1986
Pipp has transcended mere trivia and become a metaphor. His very name conjures up a picture of a player sitting on the bench and watching his replacement sparkle. At the ball yard, nearly everyone knows what it is to be Pipped. (Thus, Pipp is an eponym, that is, someone for whom something is named.)
But when we turn a man into a verb, into a metaphor, there is a danger that we will forget the man. Little is remembered of Pipp, the person, except that he was the warmup act for Gehrig.
"It's a shame," Scioscia says, "but I don't know anything about him. Probably, he was a great player."