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The Top 100 Cubs Of All Time - #24 Jim "Hippo" Vaughn

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Chicago Daily News negatives collection, SDN-061644A. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society. (Note, this is one of the earliest photos of a Cubs player at Wrigley Field, then known as Weeghman Park -- taken in 1917)

Profile by BCB reader cubbiejulie

"Destiny is a good thing to accept when it's going your way. When it isn't, don't call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery, or simple bad luck." -- Joseph Heller

I suppose I could write the typical profile, talk about where James "Hippo" Vaughn was born, where he played minor league ball, where he broke into the majors. Fortunately, there's a lot more to this story than ERA, won/loss records, and playoff appearances, because Hippo Vaughn had some of the worst luck of anyone in Cubs history.

Let's dispense first with the necessary statistics.

Born on April 9, 1888 in Weatherford, Texas, Vaughn was one of eight children born to stonemason Thomas Vaughn and his wife, Josephine. After pitching in both the Texas and North Texas Leagues, Vaughn found his way to the major leagues in 1910 with the New York Highlanders, where he was so impressive that manager George Stallings gave him the honor of starting Opening Day.

Back in the minors in 1913, Vaughn was playing for Kansas City, where he threw a no-hitter against Toledo on June 23. The Cubs like what they saw, took a chance on Vaughn, and brought him to Chicago. He went 5-1 for the remainder of the season, and finished with six complete games, two shutouts, and an ERA of 2.05. It was here that the magic started to happen.

Over the course of the next seven seasons, Vaughn won 21, 20, 17, 23, 22, 21 and 19 games, respectively. His ERA never went over 2.87, and hovered between 1.74 and 2.20 the majority of the time. Vaughn also threw an insane number of complete games, only dipping below 20 CG in 1915 and throwing as many as 27 in 1917 and 1918.

Yet Vaughn is remembered mostly for being the losing pitcher in baseball's only double no-hitter. Both Vaughn and the Reds' Fred Toney allowed no hits through nine innings, but the Reds broke up Vaughn's no-hitter in the top of the 10th and the Cubs went hitless in the bottom of the inning. Though Vaughn had faced the minimum 27 batters through 9 innings, he wound up with the loss. There's justice for ya. Bad luck strikes again.

Vaughn's numbers from 1914-1921 are comparable to Warren Spahn's during any seven year period, yet Vaughn is not in Cooperstown and never will be. The fact is that Vaughn didn't last as long in the majors as Spahn did. Bad luck took care of that. In order to understand the rest of Vaughn's career and why he's never received a vote for the Hall, one has to understand where this whole thing ran off the rails.

After winning 19 games in 1920 and finishing with an ERA of 2.54, Vaughn went 3-11 in 1921 and finished with an ERA over 6.00. After giving up a grand slam to Frank Snyder on July 9 at the Polo Grounds, Cubs manager Johnny Evers yanked Vaughn from the game. No one knew it then, but it was the last time Vaughn would ever pitch in the majors.

And this is where the story gets good, because after Vaughn was pulled from the game on July 9, he disappeared. I mean like on the back of a milk carton disappeared. On July 11, the New York Times reported that no one had seen Vaughn since the game. And to think we got upset about Sammy leaving the park in the 5th inning. The Cubs front office promptly announced that, if and when Vaughn showed up, he would be suspended for violating team rules.

On July 15, Vaughn was back in Chicago, but President Bill Veeck stated that he would trade Vaughn if he could get anything of value for him. Rumors started to fly that Vaughn has lost something off his fastball and was trying to conceal a dead arm. Believing that his days in a Cubs uniform were over, Vaughn signed a three-year deal to pitch for the Beloit, Wisconsin Fairies, a semi-pro team owned by the Fairbanks-Morse Corporation. Incidentally, my dad has worked for Fairbanks-Morse for something like 25 years, and I grew up hearing about the Fairbanks-Morse Fairies. Also, he talked a lot about the baseball team. (rimshot)

At 6'4" and 230 pounds, Vaughn had never been a lightweight; hence the nickname "Hippo." But on August 1, 1921, the Tribune reported that Vaughn had been "indefinitely suspended for failure to keep in fighting trim." Reports surfaced that Hippo had ballooned to nearly 300 pounds. A week later, Evers was fired as Cubs manager, and Veeck was ready to reinstate Vaughn, pending approval from the Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis (no, I did not make that name up). Contrary to the Cubs' wishes, Landis promptly suspended Vaughn for the remainder of the season, arguing that, in signing with Beloit, Vaughn deliberately ignored his contract with the Cubs and aligned himself with an "outlaw team" that harbored ineligible players and played other "outlaw" clubs. I find it ironic that someone whose first two names are "Kenesaw Mountain" would complain about a lack of conformity by others. Then again, it's possible that Commissioner Landis's disproportionate fear of outlaws colored some of the decisions he made in the early 1920s. Kind of like my Polish great-grandmother and the gypsies. But I digress.

In the midst of all the hullabaloo about Vaughn's suspension, the media reported on October 14 that Vaughn's wife had called the police from Kenosha, Wisconsin to say that Vaughn has been mysteriously missing since October 9. Mrs. Vaughn reportedly told the police that their three-year old son, "Little Hippo," had been crying for his father and that she wanted the Chicago police to set out looking for him. The media also reported that a year prior Mrs. Vaughn had filed for divorce from Hippo. This apparently led to an altercation in a Kenosha bar wherein Hippo was stabbed by his father in law. Bad luck or bad family? I can't decide.

The debate continues about what exactly led to the demise of Vaughn's major league career. Some thing he had a dead or sore arm that he tried to hide, while others think he simply had as much of the high-strung Johnny Evers's domineering managing style as he could take. It's hard to believe that Vaughn had arm trouble, considering that he went 11-1 and struck out 99 with the Fairies in 1922. He pitched so well with the Fairies, in fact, that they rewarded him later that year with a three-year contract. Vaughn continued to play with various independent and semi-pro teams until he was 49. Vaughn retired from baseball in 1937, but not before he became one of a very small number of pitchers to win a combined 400 games in the major and minor leagues.

Towards the end of his career, Vaughn considered trying to make a comeback with the Cubs. He never got his chance, though, and earned a living throwing batting practice and later assembling refrigeration products. Hippo Vaughn spent his remaining years in Chicago, dying on May 29, 1966.

Despite his annoying habit of making like a tree and beating it every now and then, Vaughn was the best left-hander the Cubs ever had. No one else even comes close. In fact, he was probably one of the best southpaws ever to play the game. But, like the team he played for, his luck just never held true, making Hippo yet another in a long line of Cubs whose accomplishments have never been fully recognized. But in the end, maybe it was enough for Vaughn to have been a damn fine (though occasionally missing) outlaw Fairy.

Jim "Hippo" Vaughn's career stats at