The New Sun

From the book
Damon Runyon: A Life

On the afternoon of June 1, 1925, a Monday, Babe Ruth was back from what was supposed to be a stomach ache, but some said it waa mysterious disease, although not so mysterious to people at the Forrest Hotel, where syphilis was a word that was worn.

It was Ruth's first game of the season, and it was against the Washington Senators, who had Walter Johnson pitching. Johnson walked Ruth in the fourth inning, and when Bob Meusel hit a double behind him, Ruth tried to run from first to home. By now, he had this beer belly heaving and he actually wobbled as he started for home. The throw to the catcher, Muddy Ruel, was ahead of Ruth, who flopped on his stomach like a fat fluke and was tagged out. In the eighth inning, the Yankees sent a reserve first baseman, Lou Gehrig, up to bat for shortstop Pee Wee Wanninger. Gehrig grounded out.

In the dressing room after this game, which the Yankees lost, Miller Huggins, the Yankee manager, had to get angry at someone, so he started picking on Wally Pipp, the veteran first baseman.

"I hit two ninety-five for you last year, don't forget that," Pipp said.
"You're not doing it now," Huggins said. He turned on Pipp and walked off.

Pipp, Runyon, Patrice and Edward Frayne, sports editor of the American, left the stadium and went downtown by cab. When Pipp got out at the Hotel Ansonia at Broadway and 72nd Street, he asked Runyon and Frayne, "Why does he start on me? I delivered last year. He got a whole team to pick on. The hell with him. When I see him tomorrow, I'm going to tell him.

"Why argue?" Runyon said.
Frayne joined his hands in prayer. "Oh, it doesn't pay to argue with those in charge," he said.
"I don't think I feel good, Pipp said. "I'm taking a day off from this."

"My friend, you never leave white space. You always fill it," Runyon said. As Pipp did not quite catch the full meaning, Runyon said, "I am owed many days off at the newspaper. I could just as well get out right here and walk home. But I would be leaving white space. This man here" -- he indicated Frayne -- "has white space blocked out for me in tomorrow's paper. If I do not fill it, he will get somebody to do it. Fella, the thought of that makes me uneasy. So I am now going all the way downtown to sit and write and most likely finish late. But I will finish. Don't ever leave white space."

Pipp sulked on the sidewalk.

"You'll feel better in the morning," Runyon assured him.
Patrice touched his arm, "Can I say something?"
"Sure you can."
"Mr. Pipp, I don't know you. But I know that Mr. Runyon is one of the smartest men in all of New York. I know personally that big generals in a war had respect for him. I wish you would listen to this man."

She touched the arm of her boyfriend, who was so busy glowing that he didn't see Pipp walk off.

The next day, Pipp, a genius, arrived at the stadium. During batting practice, a kid trying out, Charles Caldwell Jr., son of an Ivy League football coach at Princeton, couldn't throw straight and grazed Pipp's head. Immediately, Pipp decided he was mortally wounded. That would fix this freaking Huggins. He told manager Huggins, "I got a bad headache."

"You sure?" Huggins said.
"I got too bad a headache to play baseball," Pipp said.
Huggins sighed. "I guess I'll just have to go with this kid Gehrig."

Two thousand one hundred and thirty games later, and only when he was at death's door, did Gehrig come out. Pipp died pounding his fist into his glove and muttering, through half a coma, "I'm ready to go back in, Miller."

Jimmy Breslin

quintessential newspaperman,
and columnist for Newsday.

He is the author of numerous novels, including:

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight
How the Good Guys Finally Won
Forsaking All Others
World Without End, Amen
The World According To Breslin