Hippo Vaughn’s Disappointing Game.

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Hippo Vaughn lost a no-hitter in 10th after he and rival Fred Toney each gave up no hits in 9.

James Leslie “Hippo” Vaughn of Weatherford, Texas did allright for himself over 13 seasons as a left handed big league pitcher for the New York Yankees (1908, 1910-12), Washington Senators (1912), and Chicago Cubs (1913-21).  He won 20 games or more five times in his eight seasons as a Cub, finishing with a career record of 178 wins, 137 losses, and an outstanding ERA of 2.49. At 6″4″ and 215 pounds, he was one of the really big men of his early 20th century period and he carried his weight and size with the kind of plodding walk that over time earned him the “Hippo” nickname that all but obliterated all public memory of his given first name of James.

Hippo Vaughn also found himself involved in one of the most frustrating losses in baseball history. It happened on May 2, 1917 at Weeghman Park in Chicago in the days before that venerable venue came to be much better known for its “friendly confines” as Wrigley Field. Vaughn drew the starting assignment for the home town Chicago Cubs that day. Right-handed Fred Toney got the pitching nod for the visiting Cincinnati Reds.

The game turned out to be one of the classic pitching duels of all time. For nine innings, neither pitcher gave up a single hit. Both men also hung around to take a double no-hitter duel into the 10th inning. In those days, pitchers arms didn’t fall off after 100 pitches and the macho code of the times stated expectations straight and strong: If you can still do it, stay in there and get the job done.

Both Vaughn and Toney would take the mound for their clubs in the 10th. It was the right thing to do. It was the only thing to do.

Gus Getz, third baseman, was the first batter up for the Reds in the top of the 10th. Getz was a short-time role player in his brief big league career and, even though he batted in the two-hole this day, he only had 14 t bats for the Reds in the 1917 season. The right hand hitting Getz popped a high fly in front of the plate that Cubs  catcher Art Wilson captured easily for the first out of the inning.

Then it happened.

Batting right, the switch-hitting shortstop Larry Kopf laced a Vaughn pitch into right center for the first hit of the game. Vaughn sighed visibly in disappointment, but then quickly settled back into the important business of trying to win the game. With a man on first now and only one out, he had work to do.

Reds center fielder Greasy Neale, a lefty hitter, then lifted a can-of-corn fly ball to Cy Williams in center for the second out of the inning. Hope was floating good, even if the no-no had been lost from the Hippo bandwagon.

Then the wheels started to come off, as they sometimes do, even in the best played baseball games.

Lefty Hal Chase of the Reds followed Neale with a fly ball of his own to Williams in center, but this time, Cy dropped the ball. He got two hands on it. Then he just dropped it. What should have been the safe end of the inning for Vaughn did not happen due to the Williams error. Any runs that scored from here would be unearned, but they would be just as deadly as any earned ones. Kopf advanced from first to third on Williams’ drop of the fly ball by Chase. Prince Hal Chase held at first after the miscue, but he quickly stole second during the next Reds hitter’s time at bat. Now the Reds had runners at second and third with two outs.

The next Reds hitter was a fellow named Jim Thorpe. The great Native American Olympic champion and professional football player was now trying his skills at baseball as a right handed hitting right fielder.

Hippo Vaughn respected Thorpe’s speed and athleticism. He knew he had to bear down on Thorpe. In spite of this awareness, no one could protect Hippo and the Cubs from the damage that’s always possible from a swinging bunt. And a swinging bunt down the third base line is what Thorpe unleashed inadvertently – a high bouncer that Vaughn knew immediately would be good enough for an infield scratch hit for the speedy Thorpe.

Vaughn was the Cubs’ only hope for a play at the plate on Kopf. He raced over to get the ball and he fielded it cleanly and threw it to catcher Wilson, not realizing that Kopf was right behind him on the base path for an easy tag, had Hippo only known to turn around. Instead, Kopf stopped in the baseline and he and Hippo both stared in disbelief at what they saw happening with catcher Wilson and the ball.

The throw from Hippo bounced off catcher Wilson’s chest protector and fell to the ground. Wilson just stood there, frozen from action. Seeing that, Kopf raced in to score as Wilson just continued standing there in a state of mental paralysis.

Noting it all, Chase came tearing around third in an attempt to also score from second on Wilson’s brain freeze. Hippo screamed at Wilson in frustration: “Are you going to let him score too?”

Wilson suddenly  recovered in time to pick up the ball and tag Chase for the third out, but the damage had been done. Toney retired the Cubs with no further damage in the bottom of the 10th to preserve his own 10-inning no-hitter as Hippo Vaughn lost a heartbreaking 1-0 final score, as he recorded a one-hit losing game effort against the Reds.

The Cubs clubhouse was an atmosphere of bitter frustration after the game. Catcher Wilson broke down in tears apologizing to Hippo for his brain lock on the critical play at home. Meanwhile, Hippo bounced back and forth between his own frustration while impossibly trying to console his game-pressure-stupified catcher. Cubs owner Charlie Weeghman didn’t help matters much either by sticking his head into the Cubs clubhouse long enough to yell to the whole team, “You’re all a bunch of asses!”

Sometimes life’s not fair. And sometimes unfairness comes with an extra little twist of the knife. Hippo Vaughn found out about both these truths on May 2, 1917.

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3 Responses to “Hippo Vaughn’s Disappointing Game.”

  1. bob green Says:

    Bill
    You ever cease to amaze me !!!!!!!
    Bob Greenie

  2. Lewis Vaughn Says:

    Hippo Vaughn was (is) my uncle. I have read about that game but never in such detail. My father also told me a few stories about Hippo, but I never realized just how great a pitcher he was. Thanks for for the memories.

  3. Baseball Time-Travel | The Baseball Diaspora Says:

    […] 1917 “Double No-Hitter,” May 2: It would be incredibly difficult for me not to use my one past game voucher on a no-hitter.  It’s pretty well-documented that seeing one is one of my major baseball life goals.  And since every baseball game ever played is on the table, why not go for the most no-hitter of them all, the 1917 “double no-hitter” between Fred Toney of Cincinnati and Hippo Vaughn of Chicago?  Toney & Vaughan both pitched 9 hitless innings before Vaughn lost the no-no and the shutout in the top of the 10th.  Toney closed out the Cubs in the bottom of the 10th – no-hitter in tact – to pick up the win. Fred Toney […]

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