It was an extremely chilly day in Chicago at Weegham Park on May 2, 1917. Just around 3,500 fans showed up to watch what would appear to have been just another baseball game. The Cincinnati Reds were in town to play the hometown Cubs.
The Reds put 29-year-old Fred Toney on the mound. Toney had a great fastball and was a solid pitcher who had won 17 and 14 games in the two previous seasons.
For the hometown Cubs, Jim "Hippo" Vaughn (also 29) got the call. Hippo Vaughn was one of baseball's finest pitchers during this period. From 1914 to 1919, he would win 20 games in five of the six seasons. Vaughn's unflattering nickname came about because of a not-really-all-that-bad body form. He stood 6' 4" and weighed 215 pounds. The slightly cruel nickname almost doesn't make sense to us nowadays, as it would seem, by the description to be ill-fitting or in-apt.
One other interesting fact: In 1909, eight years before the game in question, Fred Toney had pitched one of the most incredible games in minor league history. Fred had pitched a 17-inning no-hitter for his Winchester, Kentucky, team in the Bluegrass League. This would appear to be the longest no-hitter in any known baseball league and was definitely an eerie precursor to what was about to take place.
Reds manager Christy Mathewson put an all-right-handed lineup against Hippo Vaughn, hoping to help his team against the tough left-hander. Nonetheless, Hippo got out of the gate in superb fashion, retiring the first nine Reds batters in a row.
The Reds' Heinie Groh led off the fourth inning with a walk, but was thrown out stealing. Gus Getz then walked, but was erased on a double play. These would be the only Reds to reach first base after nine innings.
Fred Toney was even better, issuing just two walks, both to the Cubs' Cy Williams, in the second and fifth innings.
According to the estimated calculations, the odds of a no-hitter being pitched in a Major League baseball game are 13,000 to one. As the small crowd sat agog in the stands, and the Reds and the Cubs chattered away and shook their heads in wonder, everyone present realized that they had watched one of the strangest games in baseball history, something completely unprecedented- a double no-hitter for nine innings.
James "Hippo" Vaughn
In the top of the tenth inning, Hippo Vaughn retired the lead-off hitter, Gus Getz, popping out the catcher. But then things began to unravel. Reds shortstop Larry Kopf hit a single, breaking the spell. Earle "Greasy" Neal hit a fly ball to outfielder Cy Williams for out number two. Then outfielder Cy Williams dropped a fly ball hit by Hal Chase, putting runners on second and third.
The next batter was the immortal athlete Jim Thorpe, who had won gold medals five years previously at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Thorpe hit a ball right back to Hippo Vaughn, who threw the ball to his catcher Art Wilson. (It is often asked, since the ball was hit right back to him, why didn't Hippo just throw the ball to first base to nail Jim Thorpe? But Hippo said he knew "Thorpe ran like a racehorse," so he threw the ball to home instead.)
The ball hit Wilson in the chest protector as Kopf ran across the plate and scored the game's first run. According to Vaughn, "Now some say Wilson wasn't expecting the throw. The truth is that Art just went paralyzed. Just stood there with his hands at his sides staring at me."
Hal Chase saw the frozen catcher and started tearing toward home plate, too. Vaughn said to Wilson, "Are you going to let him score, too?" Wilson snapped out of his daze and tagged Chase out at the plate easily, ending the inning.
In the bottom of the tenth, Fred Toney retired the last three Cubs in order, preserving his own no-hitter. Cy Williams, who had had two walks that day, ended the game, striking out on a 3 and 2 pitch.
Cubs catcher Art Wilson apologized to his pitcher in the Cubs clubhouse. Hippo Vaughn remembered "Wilson cried like a baby after the game. He grabbed my hand and said, 'I just went out on you, Jim, I just went tight.'"
"But I wasn't sore," said Vaughn. "I's just lost another ballgame, that's all."
Catcher Art Wilson
In the clubhouse after their incredible loss "everyone was pretty sore." Cubs owner Charles Weegham popped his head in the clubhouse and said to his team, "You're all a bunch of asses!" (In reality, Weegham may have used a stronger expletive.)
In the almost 100 seasons of Major League baseball that have followed the Hippo Vaughn-Fred Toney "double no-hitter" on May 2, 1917, the event is still unique.