Original Iron Man's route wasn't smoothest of rides

September 06, 1995|By John Lowe | John Lowe,Special to The Sun

Before Cal Ripken, before Lou Gehrig, there was Everett Scott. He was baseball's original Iron Man, the first to appear in 1,000 straight games.

And in the early hours of Sept. 13, 1922, while standing next to a disabled train in rural Indiana, he faced a streak-threatening crisis that neither Ripken nor Gehrig ever would.

The previous day, an off-day, Scott had gone home to Auburn, Ind. According to one account, he got off the Yankees' westbound train without permission. The Yankees were headed for Chicago for a doubleheader the next day.

To rejoin them, Scott boarded a train at 4 o'clock that morning. He had just fallen asleep when an explosion awakened him.

The train made several jerks, then stopped. A cylinder head had blown out. The train wouldn't be going anywhere for a while.

Scott was stranded. There would not be another train for hours. Those were the days before airlines and interstates. He had no obvious way to reach Chicago in time for the doubleheader.

In desperation, he improvised. He went to a nearby rural home, awakened the residents, and used the phone to call a garage. He persuaded a driver to come 25 miles to pick him up, then to drive him 56 miles over dirt roads to South Bend.

There, he gave the driver $25 -- a considerable sum in those days, especially for a man known as a small tipper. Then he barely made a westbound trolley. Two hours later, he got off in Gary, Ind., and hired a car to speed him to Comiskey Park.

Scott arrived in the sixth inning and entered the game in the seventh. Thus he continued marching toward his 1,000th straight game.

He had at least two other close calls that likely outdid anything that Ripken or Gehrig encountered.

During batting practice in Philadelphia, teammate Waite Hoyt made a wild toss that hit Scott in the back of the head. He lost consciousness -- for 10 minutes, he said. But he started the game.

In 1920, while with the Red Sox, Scott had boils. He got one in the corner of his eye. The bandage covered his eye.

"Ed Barrow, who was managing the team, said that I was not to play that afternoon," Scott said. "I felt rotten and didn't even go near the ballpark. And say, do you know what happened? It rained! Yes, sir -- rained, and there was no ball game.

"That night the boil broke, and the next day I was back on the job with the record intact. Some luck, eh?"

After overcoming a train breakdown, surviving a knockout and being saved by a rainout, Scott suffered a most mundane end to his streak. In early 1925, Yankees manager Miller Huggins benched him because he was not hitting.

He had played in 1,307 straight games. Who could ever touch that?

The streak began in 1916, when Scott returned from what was hardly a unique injury: He had been spiked by Ty Cobb.

In an interview late in his life, he spoke as Ripken does now:

"I never thought about a record until after the string had reached 700 or 800 games," Scott said. "No one else paid any attention to the streak until it had reached about 900 games. I started game after game because my manager thought I was helping the team, not because I had a consecutive-game streak going."

If in durability he foreshadowed the current Orioles shortstop, then in playing skill he resembled one of Ripken's Orioles predecessors. Scott was something of his day's Mark Belanger. He hit for neither power nor a high average, but he was an exceptional fielder and a contributor on many first-place clubs.

In the first eight years of the streak, he set a big-league record for shortstops by leading the league in fielding each season. The mark still stands, although Luis Aparacio tied it while playing with the White Sox and Orioles in 1959-66.

Scott began his career with the Red Sox in 1914, the same year as Babe Ruth. He played in the World Series for Boston in 1915, 1916 and 1918 (the three most recent World Series the Red Sox have won).

Like Ruth, he became a front-line player that the Red Sox sent to the Yankees because they were short on money. He arrived in New York in 1922, and played in the World Series for the Yankees that season and the next.

On May 2, 1923, his streak reached its most notable milestone: 1,000 games. Sixteen years later on that date -- May 2, 1939 -- Gehrig's streak ended.

In June of 1925, the Washington Senators claimed Scott on waivers from the Yankees. It was more than a month since Huggins had benched Scott.

When the Yankees let Scott go to Washington, one New York writer noted that Scott "ran up a string of 1,307 games without a miss, a mark which will probably never be surpassed in these hustling days of baseball."

It was only common sense.

Yet before Scott left the Yankees in mid-June, he had witnessed the start of the streak that would surpass his.

Lou Gehrig, who had witnessed the end of Scott's streak, started his streak on June 1, 1925. He did so by pinch-hitting for Pee Wee Wanninger -- the man who replaced Scott as the shortstop.

One final coincidence has emerged for Everett Scott.

He died in 1960, the year that Cal Ripken Jr. was born.

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