Mets pitcher Frank Viola is an authority on current statistical matters. "I can tell you who's hitting what for the Tigers," he boasts, which is indeed impressive. He cannot, however, tell you who Ralph Branca is. The Shot Heard 'Round the World apparently did not reverberate in East Meadow, the New York City suburb in which Viola grew up.
Viola's erstwhile teammate, Darryl Strawberry, was asked in 1983 whether a long home run he had just hit to center-field in San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium would have made it out of the Polo Grounds, with its 480-foot distance to deepest center. It was in this green expanse that Willie Mays made his famous over-the-shoulder catch on Vic Wertz's drive in the 1954 World Series. Straw responded that he didn't know, never having heard of the Polo Grounds.
Terry Bross is a pitcher in the Mets organization who played basketball for St. John's in Jamaica, Queens, a subway token away from Flat-bush, which Bross cannot locate on a subway map. The name Branca does not ring a bell with Bross, either, nor does the number 2,130, Gehrig's landmark consecutive-games-played figure. None of this distinguishes Bross from most of his teammates; what does is the fact that he can identify Wally Pipp, which is the answer to the trivia question, "Whom did Gehrig replace at first base for the Yankees?"
How can this be?
It seems that St. John's assistant basketball coach Al LoBalbo would frequently confront a player after a lackadaisical performance in practice by asking the rhetorical question, "You don't want to be another Wally Pipp, do you?"
"Finally," says Bross, "I had to ask Al, 'Who is this Pipp character?' Otherwise, I never would have known the name."
How bad is it?
"I think," says Montreal's charitable Rodgers, "most guys know the names 'Babe Ruth' and 'Hank Aaron.' "
History in the Unmaking, Part II: It is 1987. During an Expos-Atlanta Braves spring exhibition game, Montreal pitcher John Trautwein alerts fellow Expo pitcher Randy Johnson to Hank Aaron's presence in the park. When it becomes apparent that Johnson has no idea who the Hammer is, Trautwein informs his roommate that Aaron is the man who has hit more home runs than anybody else in major league baseball history. "Then why isn't he in the lineup today?" Johnson inquires.