Pipp was the first building block of the pennant-winning Yankee teams of the early '20s. In 1916 the Yankees added third baseman Frank (Home Run) Baker. He and Pipp formed the heart of the original, pre-Ruthian Murderers' Row. That season Pipp became the first Yankee to lead the American League in homers, with 12. Baker finished second with 10. Collectively the Yankees hit 35, tops in the league for the second straight year. They would lead the AL 33 times in the next 45 years. In 1917, Pipp hit nine home runs and again led the league. In his first three seasons with the Yankees, Pipp batted only .251, but as Baseball Magazine noted, "he makes up for the infrequency of his wallops by their length."
Pipp started hitting the ball with greater consistency in 1918, and he was batting .304 when World War I interrupted his season. Pipp enrolled in naval aviation school at MIT in August but was spared overseas duty when the war ended on Nov. 11.
Over the ensuing years, both Pipp and the Yankees improved. In the five seasons from 1920 to '24, he hit .301 and averaged 29 doubles, 97 RBIs and 94 runs a season. The club strengthened itself with the addition of outfielder Bob Meusel, pitcher Waite Hoyt, third baseman Joe Dugan and, of course, Ruth, who was purchased from Boston after the 1919 season for $125,000, Those changes paid immediate dividends, as the Yankees won 95 games in 1920, finishing three games behind the Cleveland Indians.
The Yanks won their first pennant in 1921 and repeated in '22. Pipp, batting in the cleanup spot behind Ruth, hit .296 in '21 and .329 in '22. The '22 Yankee club was the last to play in Manhattan but it was a historic forerunner of the Bronx Zoo teams of the late '70s. The club had so much intramural fighting that Huggins reprimanded his team by saying: "I'm running a ball club, not a fight club."
On July 26 in St. Louis, Meusel and catcher Wally Schang tangled on the bench early in the game. Later, Pipp bobbled a ball in the fifth inning, and when the Yanks returned to the dugout, Ruth criticized his fielding. Pipp lashed out, giving Ruth several rapid-fire slaps to the face. Ruth flailed in return. Teammates had to pull the two apart and Ruth said, "We'll settle this after the game."
Ruth homered twice that afternoon, and Pipp knocked in a run in an 11-6 win. Though Pipp was ready to finish their spat after the game, Ruth waved him off.
"That fight cleared the atmosphere a lot," Pipp told a reporter a number of years later. "We stopped stumbling and fumbling as a club and went on to win the pennant."
In 1923 the American League champions opened the season by inaugurating Yankee Stadium before a record 74.200 fans. The stadium was like the club itself: big, brash, costly and breathtakingly splendid.
The Yankees won the pennant by 16 games and beat the Giants in six games to win their first world championship. But the Yanks were still a few players away from becoming the dynasty that would win seven championships from 1927 to '39. The waning days of the "23 season brought a dress rehearsal for one key star's arrival, though, when Pipp wrenched his right ankle stepping off a train in Boston. Gehrig, just called up from Hartford, played four games down the stretch before Pipp returned for the World Series.
"If that guy [Wally Pipp] didn't come up with a headache, where would Lou Gehrig be?" Dodger manager Tom Lasorda said.
—Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1985