Monday, May 3, 2010

The Double No-Hitter

     The cold, blustery afternoon of Wednesday, May 2, 1917, was not a promising one for baseball, and only about 2,500 fans came to Wrigley Field (then known as Weeghman Park) for the privilege of seeing something unique in baseball history.
     The Cubs and Reds each sent their ace to the mound—lefty Hippo Vaughn for Chicago and righthander Fred Toney for Cincinnati. Vaughn walked Heinie Groh twice, but each time the Cubs turned a double play to end the threat. Toney, a former Cub, walked Cy Williams twice, but allowed no other baserunners. An error by the Cubs put Greasy Neale on base, but he was promptly caught stealing.
     On and on it went, inning after inning, with neither team managing a hit. It was the ultimate pitcher’s duel. When the Reds were retired in the ninth (with Toney fanning for the final out), the sparse crowd cheered lustily, both for Vaughn’s magnificent pitching and for the prospect of a Cub rally in the bottom half of the inning. But the Cubs went down easily. Both Vaughn and Toney had gone a full nine innings without yielding a hit. But only Toney would go into the record books as having pitched an official no-hitter.
     Vaughn got the first batter in the 10th to pop out. Then Larry Kopf drilled the first hit of the game, a single to left center. After Neale flied out to Williams in center, Hal Chase hit another fly to Williams for the apparent third out. But Williams muffed it. Kopf took third on the error, and Chase stole second on the next pitch. Jim Thorpe was at bat (yes, the same Jim Thorpe who'd been the hero of the 1912 Olympic Games and was regarded as the world's greatest athlete). Thorpe swung and tapped a little dribbler down the third-base line. “I knew the minute it was hit,” Vaughn said, “that I couldn’t get Thorpe at first. He was fast as a racehorse. So I went over to the line, fielded the ball, and scooped it toward the plate. Kopf, running in, was right behind me and he stopped when he saw me make the throw to the plate. I didn’t see him or I could have just turned around and tagged him out.” Catcher Art Wilson wasn’t able to handle Vaughn’s throw; it hit his chest protector and bounded away, allowing Kopf to score. When Chase rounded third and tried to score too, Wilson finally recovered the ball and tagged him out. But the damage had been done.
     Toney set the Cubs down one-two-three in the bottom half of the inning to preserve a 1-0 victory and a 10-inning no-hitter. Vaughn went on to win 23 games that year, but there again he came up just shy of Toney, who won 24.
     There have been some 150,000 major-league ballgames in the 93 years since Toney and Vaughn staged their amazing duel, but no pair of opposing pitchers has equaled their feat of tossing nine hitless innings against each other. Given the scarcity of complete games in this day and age, it is safe to say that none ever will.

Adapted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

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