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The random reliever that might have kickstarted Yankees’ history

He probably didn’t, but it’s a good story either way.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Charlie Caldwell’s Yankees and major league career lasted just 2.2 innings. Those 2.2 innings were pretty bad. Yet, he might (key word: might) have had an impact that went well beyond that.

Not a lot can be found about Caldwell’s baseball career before he showed up on the Yankees in 1925. He presumably played at, and graduated from Princeton, but there’s no easily find-able minor league stats before or after his time in the majors.

Yet, Caldwell made his major league debut as a 23-year-old on July 7, 1925. He came in and cleaned up the final 1.1 innings of a 12-2 blowout loss against the St. Louis Browns. Not a high bar that day, but he was the Yankees’ best pitcher of the game. Caldwell allowed no runs on just one hit and a walk.

Three days later, he again came in with the team losing against the Browns, but he didn’t help things this time around. With the Yankees already down 7-2 in the sixth inning, Caldwell threw one inning, allowing four runs on four hits and two walks. Six days after that, he came in again, and finished off the seventh inning. However, he also gave up a run, two hits, a walk.

Those three appearances would be the extent of Caldwell’s major league career. He finished with a 16.88 ERA in 2.2 innings. More than half of the batters he faced reached base in some fashion. It’s not shocking that his career ended after that.

The far more interesting thing that happened in Caldwell’s time with the Yankees is the possibility that he helped begin a legendary career. During his stint with the team, Caldwell also threw batting practice. What’s not in question is during one of the times he threw BP he accidentally hit Wally Pipp on the head with a pitch.

Some sources claim this incident happened on June 1, 1925. The following day, Pipp was complaining about a headache and was replaced by Lou Gehrig in the lineup. Gehrig famously then played the next 2,130 consecutive games, and Pipp never got his first base job back. So it’s possible that Charlie Caldwell accidentally kickstarted one of the greatest careers in Yankees history.

Other sources (ones which appear to be more accurate, sadly) claim the incident did happen, but it was in July, well after Gehrig got the starting job. While it’s a fun notion to think some random bullpen arm created Yankees history, it’s probably not entirely true. That being said, the beaning wouldn’t have helped Pipp get his job back, no matter when it happened.

After his playing career, Caldwell went on to be a coach of various college sports. The most successful stint he had was as Princeton’s football coach in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s. In the 1950 and ‘51 seasons, his teams went undefeated and finished 6th in the AP Poll both years, which would be the high point of his coaching career. He was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

No matter what his batting practice session with Pipp did or didn’t actually do, Caldwell has far more notoriety than a mediocre 2.2 career innings reliever otherwise would have.

Sources

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/caldwch01.shtml

https://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/coaches/charles-caldwell-1.html

Mayer, Ronald A. The 1923 New York Yankees: a History of Their First World Championship Season. McFarland & Co., 2010.