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What Happened to Wally Pipp After He Was Benched?

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Wally Pipp may be the only baseball player famous for sitting the bench. As the legend goes, Pipp was the New York Yankees’ longtime first baseman when, on June 2, 1925, he called in sick with a headache. Yanks manager Miller Huggins rested Pipp, recommended he pop an aspirin, and penciled in fresh talent. That “fresh talent” was a little known slugger named Lou Gehrig. The Iron Horse tore it up and didn’t leave the lineup for another 14 years. Meanwhile, Pipp lost his job and his pinstripes.

Now Pipp’s name is a running joke. He’s a darling cautionary tale: If you’re hurt and don’t suck it up, someone else will do your job—and they may do it better.

It’s a great story. Too bad it isn’t all true.

Pipp the Myth

It’s true that Gehrig took Pipp’s job. It’s not true, though, that the veteran lost it because of an achy skull. (“Please don’t believe that aspirin story,” Pipp once said. “It just isn’t true.”) If anything, Pipp lost his job because the Yankees were playing terrible. The Bombers were 15-26 and had lost five straight. By June 2, Huggins had seen enough. He benched six starters—including a slumping Pipp—and gave the team’s youngsters a shot.

The Yankees won. Gehrig went 3 for 5.

It was the beginning of Pipp’s end. Gehrig soared, and Pipp spent June as a benchwarmer. In July, Pipp was knocked into the hospital after getting beaned in the dome with a batting practice fastball. The accident nearly killed him, and it secured Gehrig’s spot as the new starter. At season’s end, the front office traded Pipp to the Reds.

So Pipp’s parable isn’t exactly what your Little League coach led you to believe. It’s not a tale of “suck-it-up-and-do-your-job.” It’s a less romantic mix of your dad’s brazen advice of “don’t suck out there, kid” and your mom’s over-protective advice of “don’t forget your helmet!”

Pipp the Man

Still, most fans know Wally Pipp the parable, not Wally Pipp the person. Don’t let the Gehrig story fool you—Pipp was no slouch. He spent three solid seasons with Cincinnati and closed his career with the International League’s Newark Bears, hauling in more dough than he ever made in the majors. Proving he had a knack for bad timing, Pipp then retired for good—in October 1929.

Pipp played the stock market for a few years and toyed with a writing career, moonlighting as Babe Ruth’s ghostwriter and penning a finance book called Buying Cheap and Selling Dear. According to Sports Illustrated, “He also broadcasted a pregame baseball show for the Detroit Tigers, wrote radio scripts, and dabbled in publishing.”

When World War II rolled around, Pipp worked in a Michigan plant that made B-24 bombers. Afterward, he landed a sales gig with the Rockford Screw Products Corporation. Pipp went from playing first for the Yankees to peddling screws and bolts—and he loved it. Armed with the gift of gab and endless baseball stories, Pipp spent the rest of his life selling wares to Detroit’s auto hotshots. He passed away in 1965.

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Big Questions
How Are Rooms Cleaned at an Ice Hotel?

Cleaning rooms at Sweden’s famous ICEHOTEL is arguably less involved than your typical hotel. The bed, for example, does not have traditional sheets. Instead, it’s essentially an air mattress topped with reindeer fur, which sits on top of a custom-made wooden palette that has a minimum of 60 centimeters of airspace below. On top of those reindeer hides is a sleeping bag, and inside that sleeping bag is a sleep sack. And while it’s always 20ºF inside the room, once guests wrap themselves up for the night, it can get cozy.

And, if they’re wearing too many layers, it can get quite sweaty, too.

“The sleep sack gets washed every day, I promise you that. I know it for a fact because I love to walk behind the laundry, because it’s so warm back there," James McClean, one of the few Americans—if not the only—who have worked at Sweden's ICEHOTEL, tells Mental Floss. (He worked on the construction and maintenance crew for several years.)

There isn’t much else to clean in most guest rooms. The bathrooms and showers are elsewhere in the hotel, and most guests only spend their sleeping hours in the space. But there is the occasional accident—like other hotels, some bodily fluids end up where they shouldn’t be. People puke or get too lazy to walk to the communal restrooms. Unlike other hotels, these bodily fluids, well, they freeze.

“You can only imagine the types of bodily fluids that get, I guess, excreted … or expelled … or purged onto the walls,” McClean says. “At least once a week there’s a yellow stain or a spilled glass of wine or cranberry juice … and it’s not what you want to see splattered everywhere.” Housekeeping fixes these unsightly splotches with an ice pick and shovel, re-patching it with fresh snow from outside.

Every room has a 4-inch vent drilled into the icy wall, which helps prevent CO2 from escalating to harmful levels. Maintenance checks the holes daily to ensure these vents are not plugged with snow. Their tool of choice for clearing the pathway is, according to McClean, “basically a toilet brush on a stick.”

When maintenance isn’t busy unstuffing snow from that vent hole, they’re busy piping snow through it. Every couple days, the floor of each room receives a new coat of fluffy snow, which is piped through the vent and leveled with a garden rake.

“It’s the equivalent of vacuuming the carpet,” McClean says.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Did We Start Wearing Pants?
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It’s a question that has plagued Donald Duck for decades: Who decided pants were necessary? Did the motivation stem purely from modesty, or was there another reason we started climbing into trousers?

Over at Discover, author Sarah Scoles has offered a plausible explanation by describing a 2014 archaeological find in China’s Tarim Basin. Researchers with the German Archaeological Institute excavated what is believed to be the oldest example of pants ever unearthed, made from wool and dating back 3000 years.

The pants themselves held no clue as to why they were made, but their location did. The research team found them buried at the Yanghai cemetery along with a number of other artifacts, including horse-riding gear that was in the same grave: a wooden bit, a bow, and an axe. The pants-wearer was surely someone tasked with galloping around and slaying animals for food—likely necessitating apparel that would allow him to mount a horse without being encumbered by clothing.

A screen shot of Donald Duck near a door
Disney

That idea eventually bled into Greek and Roman culture, where those on horseback sought out a comfortable and practical way of avoiding chafing. (The grave’s proto-pants also appeared to be an early example of being fashion-conscious. While mostly practical, each leg had cross-stitching that appeared to be purely decorative.)

Whether the Yanghai discovery is considered the earliest example of pants depends on how one defines pants. Ötzi, the European iceman first discovered in 1991, lived roughly 5300 years ago and died wearing goatskin leggings. We know a cartoon duck who has a lot of catching up to do.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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