(Editor's Note: Twenty-fifth in a series recalling the 30 greatest moments in Cubs history.)
A gathering of about 3,500 fans turned out at Weeghman Park (now Wrigley Field) on May 2, 1917 and were fortunate enough to witness something that had never happened before in the major leagues and has not happened since.
Cubs left-hander James "Hippo" Vaughn was the losing pitcher despite tossing nine no-hit innings against the Cincinnati Reds on May 2, 1917.
According to Bert Randolph Sugar in Baseball's 50 Greatest Games (Exeter Books, 1986), the law of probability states that a no-hitter occurs about once every 13,000 games. But on that cold and dreary Wednesday afternoon, Cubs pitcher James "Hippo" Vaughn and his Cincinnati counterpart, Fred Toney, each struck gold.
It was once among the most talked about games in baseball history. My great-grandfather, Fred Dold, who once called this house his home, was a Sox fan but I imagine that whenever he and his friends would talk baseball, the ultimate pitching duel was always a topic. The same goes for my neighbor Charlie's father. Charlie's dad was born in the 1890s.
"When I was a kid the double no-hitter was one of the most famous games in baseball history," Bill James wrote in The New Historical Baseball Abstract (The Free Press, 2001). "But you rarely hear about it anymore because baseball history has become the purview of the television people, who aren't interested in anything for which there is no tape."
In a game that lasted just 1 hour, 50 minutes, each pitcher went through the opposing lineup like a hot knife through butter. Through nine innings, neither team managed a hit.
Vaughn, a 29-year-old left-hander, struck out 10 and did not permit a Red to reach second base. Cincinnati's Heinie Groh walked twice. Greasy Neale reached first base on an error, but was caught stealing second. A Neale fly to shallow right to end the top of the first was the only ball put into play by Cincinnati that reached the outfield.
Toney - a 29-year-old former Cubs right-hander who in 1909 pitched an organized baseball record 17-inning no-hitter for Winchester (Ky.) of the Class D Blue Grass League - permitted just one baserunner to reach second. He walked Cy Williams twice. Cubs first baseman Fred Merkle came the closest to hitting safely but his long drive was hauled in on the warning track by Reds left fielder Manuel Cueto.
Larry Kopf followed with a seeing-eye single that rolled between first baseman Merkle and second baseman Larry Doyle into right field.. The next batter, Hal Chase, lifted a lazy fly that was muffed by Cubs right fielder Williams, allowing Chase to reach first safely and Kopf to advance to third. Chase then stole second.
The next Cincinnati batter was Jim Thorpe - the same Jim Thorpe who was the decathlon champion at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, had been a two-time All-American football player at Carlisle College, and went on to become one of the NFL's early stars in the 1920s. He was the Bo Jackson of his time. The muscular Thorpe never made it as a baseball player (he hit just .252 with 7 homers in 6 big league seasons) but I imagine that he was an imposing figure whenever he strode to the plate.
The right-handed hitting Thorpe swung at a Vaughn curve and topped it off the handle of his bat. It bounced high in front of the plate and Vaughn fielded it in on the third-base side of the mound. With the speedy Thorpe busting down the first-base line, Vaughn made a split-second decision to try to nail Kopf at the plate.
"(Kopf) stopped when he saw me make the throw to the plate," Vaughn told a reporter from the Chicago Daily News years later. "I didn't see him or I could have turned around and tagged him out.
"Now some of the writers said that Wilson didn't expect the throw. The truth is that Art just went paralyzed - just stood there with his hands at his sides staring at me. The ball hit him square on the chest protector - I'll never forget - it seemed to roll around there for a moment - and then dropped to the ground. The instant Kopf saw it drop, he streaked for the plate. But Wilson still stood there, paralyzed. I looked over my shoulder and saw Chase round third and start in too. So I said to Art:
"'Are you going to let him score too?'
"He woke up, grabbed he ball, and aged Chase out easily. But it was too late, the one big deciding run was in."
It was scored as an RBI single.
Toney set the Cubs down in order in the bottom of the 10th to complete his feat and made Vaughn, with the exception of Harvey Haddix, the most tough-luck losing pitcher in major league history.
"Wilson cried like a baby after the game," Vaughn said. "He grabbed my hand and said, 'I just went out on you, Jim. I just went tight.'
"In the clubhouse afterward everybody was pretty sore. Charley Weeghman, the boss, stuck his head in the door and yelled, 'You're all a bunch of !@#$%^s.'
"But I wasn't sore. I'd just lost another ballgame, that's all."