Monday, March 14, 2016

Remembering Baseball's Only Double No-Hitter

Chicago Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds
May 2, 1917

The weather was cold and windy as the Reds met the Cubs at Weeghman Park in Chicago. Both clubs had finished in the second division the previous year and the game didn't interest many people. Less than 5,000 fans witnessed a piece of history that day.

A tall, powerful right-hander, Fred Toney liked to show off for teammates by taking fifty pound weights in each hand and holding them at arm's length for periods of time. In the minors, he tossed a 17-inning no-hitter. He started his major league career with the Cubs then ended up with the Reds in 1915. He worked 222 innings that year without giving up a single home run. Entering this game, he carried a 4-1 record and 2.30 ERA.

The left-handed Hippo Vaughn received his unfortunate nickname on account of his considerable size. Though he is often listed at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, evidence suggests that he may have weighed closer to 300 near the end of his career. Whatever the case, he was among the best southpaws in the majors for a seven-year span, reaching the 20-win threshold five times for the Cubs between 1914 and 1920. Vaughn had already tossed two no-hitters--one in the South Atlantic League and another in the American Association.

Reds manager Christy Mathewson assembled a lineup consisting entirely of right-handers to face Vaughn. The only Hall of Famer on either roster, Edd Roush, sat out that day due to his left-handedness. Roush would claim the first of two batting crowns that year and one can only speculate how this game might have turned out if he had played.

Vaughn retired the first nine hitters he faced. In the fourth, he issued a walk to Heinie Groh, who was thrown out trying to steal. Gus Getz drew a second walk from Vaughn, but was erased on a double play. Vaughn settled down after that, allowing no further base runners through the ninth. Toney was equally effective, issuing just two walks all day--one in the second and another in the fifth.

Of all the no-hitters thrown in the majors prior to that date, none had occurred on the same day let alone in the same game. According to one source, the odds of a no-hitter being thrown at the big league level are about 13,000 to 1.What Toney and Vaughn accomplished that day was statistically unfeasible though it seems likely that few in the sparse crowd at Weeghman Park realized it at the time.

In the top of the tenth, Reds shortstop Larry Kopf spoiled Vaughn's gem with a single. Cubs outfielder Cy Williams--a fearsome slugger but mediocre defensive player--dropped a two-out fly hit by first baseman Hal Chase (who would later receive a lifetime ban for throwing games). With runners on second and third, former Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe hit a ball back to the mound. Thorpe was known for his blazing speed and Vaughn opted to throw to home instead of first. The relay hit Art Wilson in the chest protector, allowing Kopf to score. Vaughn later swore that Wilson was paralyzed on the play, staring blankly at the mound with his hands at his sides. As Chase rounded third, Vaughn shouted at his dazed catcher: "Are you going to let him score, too?!" The spell was broken and Wilson sprung into action, tagging Chase for the final out of the inning.

In the bottom half of the tenth, Toney retired the side in order, completing his masterpiece. In the clubhouse after the game, Art Wilson allegedly broke down crying. He apologized to Vaughn, admitting: "I just went out on you, Jim. I just went tight." Vaughn held no grudges but Cubs owner Charles Weeghman allegedly swore at his players.

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