Grandpa Wally Pipp asked out -- and the rest is history

Female pitcher Jackie Mitchell, shown at left in
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Female pitcher Jackie Mitchell, shown at left in this 1931 file photo, was signed to the Chattanooga Lookouts for an exhibition game with Yankee legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Both men struck out at bat against her. Fans continue to debate whether it was a stunt.(Credit: AP)

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Lou Gehrig's entryway into the Yankees' starting lineup at first base occurred June 2, 1925, when, the widely told story goes, Wally Pipp asked out of the lineup after being beaned during batting practice two days earlier.

John Clark, a baseball fan for as long as he can remember, certainly knew the tale. He never realized how it would impact his own life.

Clark, 58, who lives in Fort Myers, Florida, was adopted in infancy in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Despite having "wonderful parents" who adopted him, Clark, when he reached adulthood, still had the urge to find his biological parents.

He went to the adoption agency, where his adoptive father was on the board of directors. Clark said the person he spoke with "had a liberal view, thinking adopted people should be able to find their natural heredity.'' She stunned Clark when she told him, "Well, your grandfather played first base for the New York Yankees.''

Clark said, "I was elated, on Cloud 9.'' He thought back to his Little League baseball team, where Bill Pipp played and was well known as Wally Pipp's grandson. Now Clark could say the same.

Clark found out that his natural father, Thomas J. Pipp, was alive, and in 1987, he went to see him in Grand Rapids, partially to interview him about Wally Pipp.

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"I was so nervous, I went in with a tape recorder to interview him on Wally,'' he said. "I didn't want to say, 'This is John, your long-lost son.' I didn't tell him who I was. I said I was a grad student at Michigan State.''

A few nights later, Clark called the man he believed to be his father and broke the news. He didn't get the response he hoped for -- Pipp denied it -- but Clark already had received confirmation from Pipp's wife that Clark had been born from a previous relationship and that Pipp paid the hospital costs when he was born. Clark said DNA testing also has proved he is Pipp's son.

After Thomas Pipp died in 2012 at 83, Clark became close with two of Pipp's children, Mary and Dan, both of whom live near Tampa, Florida. While noticing each other's striking similarities, the siblings often have recounted the story of their grandfather.

Mary Pipp said she has lived with the "don't get pipped'' line all of her life and is fine with it. She said Gehrig was "bound to reach his destiny and his greatness in life no matter what'' happened the day her grandfather asked out of the lineup.

Pipp himself told several different versions until his death in 1965, but the popular story is that Pipp was hit two days earlier in BP by Charles Caldwell, who pitched in three games for the Yankees in 1925 before going on to become a successful college football coach at Princeton. Caldwell's brother lived in Valley Stream for many years.

The late pitcher's son, Chuck, said by phone, "It was an errant pitch'' that hit Pipp. "It's famous in our family. My father did admit that. We'd rather talk about coach of the year [at Princeton] in 1950, the great power team that Princeton had. That's what we talked about, not about my father not being a fabulous pitcher at one time.''

Caldwell is in the college football Hall of Fame.

Gehrig's consecutive-game streak of 2,130 actually started the day before he replaced Pipp. Manager Miller Huggins had him pinch hit for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger, the player Huggins inserted in the lineup about a month earlier for Everett Scott -- ending his record consecutive-game streak at 1,307.

Clark, who works for a company that installed the drainage system beneath the Yankee Stadium turf, appreciates his lineage and Wally Pipp's role in the Gehrig story.

"Ultimately, what made Wally famous was this day that Gehrig took his place,'' he said. "Wally was a great player; he wasn't a Hall of Fame player. He would have been an All-Star if they had All-Star games back then. He had some big years. He was a great player. Having said that, Gehrig is the reason why he's famous.''

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Clark said he enjoyed playing baseball as a youngster -- he pitched and played first base -- until the day he was beaned.

He doesn't remember who replaced him.

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