erik lundegaard

Tuesday March 20, 2018

The Short, Consequential Career of Pee Wee Wanninger

My father is fond of the following baseball trivia question:

Who did Lou Gehrig replace to begin his 2,130 consecutive-games-played streak?

It’s a famous baseball story—if partially apocryphal. On June 2, 1925, Wally Pipp, the Yankees longtime first baseman, complained of a headache and asked manager Miller Huggins if he could sit out a game. Huggins sent in Gehrig ... who stayed at the position for 14 years.

The apocryphal bit is the headache. If there was a headache, it was Huggins’, since the Yankees started the season poorly: 15-26, seventh in the A.L. And they’d just lost five in a row—three to the Athletics, one to Boston, and one to the Washington Senators, who were, remember, 1924 World Champions, and who at this point had as many titles as the Yanks: one. So Huggins was doing what he could to change things around. Pipp, a career .300 hitter, was down to .244. His replacement, Gehrig, wound up going 3-5, with a double, a run, and an RBI, in a 8-5 Yankee victory. The rest is history. Certainly for Pipp: In the off-season the Yanks sold him to the Cincinnati Reds for $7500. Three years later, he was out of baseball.

Pee Wee WanningerAnyway, that’s the famous story but it’s not the answer to the trivia question—which is why my father likes it. Because the day before this game, on June 1, 1925, Gehrig came in as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 8th inning for shortstop Pee-Wee Wanninger.

And that’s the answer: Pee-Wee Wanninger.

Dad and I were talking about this again on the phone last week, and afterwards, curious, I did a dive into Baseball Reference stats and came away with some interesting tidbits my father didn’t know.

The first game of the streak was a 5-3 loss to the Senators. The last game of the streak was a 3-2 loss to the Senators. Oh, and guess who Gehrig faced in that first game? Walter Johnson, the Big Train, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Talk about your deep ends. He flew out to left.

But here’s the part that amazed me most.

Before Gehrig, the record-holder for consecutive games played was a shortstop named Everett Scott, who was part of that late '10s/early ‘20s migration of Red Sox players to the Yankees. His streak, 1,307 games—still the third-longest ever—began in 1916 in Boston and ended on May 5, 1925 with the Yanks. It was part of another Miller Huggins shake-up. Scott was hitting just .208, so, streak or no streak, on May 6, Huggins replaced him.

With Pee-Wee Wanninger.

Isn’t that amazing? Wanninger replaced the guy with the longest consecutive-games streak, and then, less than a month later, was replaced by the guy starting the new consecutive-games streak. Life doesn’t give us this kind of symmetry often. We need to appreciate it when we find it. 

For all the baseball history he made, Wanninger didn’t last long. He was hitting .316 on June 6, but by the end of the month he was down to .291 and kept falling. End of July: .264. August: .243. He played sparsely in September, and that off-season was dealt to the St. Paul Saints of the American Association. A year later, the Saints traded him to Boston. He ended his Major League career that same season in Cincinnati. Lifetime, he hit .234/.266./295. He has negative career WAR. But he could close a bar with the stories he could tell. 

Lou Gehrig's streak starts: June 1, 1925

Boxscore, June 1, 1925 

Posted at 08:56 AM on Tuesday March 20, 2018 in category Baseball  
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Twitter: @ErikLundegaard