The Greatest Losing Pitching Performance in MLB History: Hippo Vaughn

Every now and then, I like to look through my late grandfather’s old timer baseball cards. Although this set was made in 1992, they display players from the early 1900s. My favorites are the ones that highlight good to great players and their premier moments that have been lost in the long history of the sport. As an example, may I submit for your consideration: “Hippo” Vaughn and his pitching appearance on May 2nd, 1917.

The History:

James Leslie “Hippo” Vaughn started his MLB career in 1908 with the New York Highlanders (who would become the Yankees) at just 20 years old, though he only played two games that year before returning to the ballclub in 1910. That year was a stellar one for Vaughn, with an ERA of 1.83 and a WAR of 5.3. He struggled in his next two years before being sold to the Washington Senators in June 1912. Vaughn played decently before again being sold, this time to the Kansas City Blues of the American Association. He stayed with the Blues through most of the 1913 season before being claimed by the Chicago Cubs, where he exploded in his shortened season, boasting borderline unsustainable stats (1.7 WAR and a 1.45 ERA in 7 appearances). This was the start of a new beginning for Vaughn.

He would remain with the Cubs from then until his awful 1921 season. After an especially disappointing performance on July 9th, he abruptly left the team.  After his disappearance, the Cubs tried to reinstate him but he was instead found to have signed a contract with a semi-pro team in Beloit, Wisconsin. He would spend the next fifteen years bouncing around minor and semi pro leagues before officially retiring from the sport. Despite this, he currently ranks in the top 10 in Cubs history in multiple Wins (8th), Losses (9th), ERA (9th), Wins Above Replacement (7th), Innings Pitched (8th), and Strikeouts (7th).

The Performance:

Now, back to 1917. The Chicago Cubs were poised to face the Cincinnati Reds at the place now known as Wrigley Field. Vaughn was set to match up with the Reds’ Fred Toney on the mound. Vaughn and Toney matched each other pitch for pitch through the game. Not one player on either team could muster a hit. To this day, it is the only occurrence in history where nine innings have gone without a hit. However, in the tenth inning, Vaughn lost his bid on a single. This was followed by an error, and finally Jim Thorpe hit a dribbler in the infield that he beat out, resulting in Larry Kopf scoring. Toney came back out for the Red’s defending half and finished the game, holding onto his own no-hit bid.

Just like his Major League Baseball career, Vaughn didn’t sustain his success long enough to see it through to the end. That being said, he was still able to spend years playing a sport he loved. After his time playing baseball, he worked in a refrigeration products company, before passing in 1966.

Funnily enough, in my baseball card collection I had inadvertently placed the Hippo Vaughn card next to Jim Thorpe’s card. Even in card memorialization, Vaughn cannot escape perhaps one of the greatest pitching performances by a losing pitcher in MLB history.

– Pat Shuman (@PShu1996 on Twitter)

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