Spring is finally here, and you know what that means. It’s the time when young men’s fancy turns to thoughts of… pause… baseball! Yes, it’s less than two weeks until opening day. Last year the Reds finally finished a full season above .500, so there is excitement in the air.
If you follow baseball at all and have lived in Winchester very long, you’ve probably heard of Fred Toney. Before he starred as a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, Toney set a record that still stands as professional baseball’s longest no-hitter. On May 10, 1909, playing for the Winchester Hustlers, he threw a complete 17-inning game against the Lexington Colts without allowing a single hit. No one has matched that feat since.
Toney spawned a host of legends regarding his pitching prowess. A local myth has a Winchester man, Henry H. Phillips, discovering Toney in the woods of Clark County. He supposedly came upon Toney throwing rocks, one after the other, into a small squirrel hole in a tree 100 feet away.
In actual fact, Toney was discovered in Bowling Green, pitching for an independent team in 1908. The team disbanded before Winchester could offer him a contract. Someone from here followed Toney home to Nashville and got him to sign with the Hustlers of the Class D Blue Grass League for $60 a month.
Only a handful of fans were in the stands at Garner Park that May afternoon when Toney began his masterpiece. As the string of scoreless innings grew, word got back to town and excited citizens rushed out to the ballpark to witness history in the making.
In the bottom of the 17th inning, the Hustlers got a man to third base and scored him on a squeeze play to win the game. The next day, the Lexington Leader grudgingly admitted that the 21-year-old Toney “twirled a marvelous game during the seventeen innings, allowing nothing resembling a hit.” The previous longest no-hitter had been 10 innings.
The Chicago Cubs purchased Toney from Winchester for $1,000 in August 1910. He disliked his browbeating manager, Johnny Evers, and was little used. The Cincinnati Reds took him on February 22, 1915. That season Toney became one of the best pitchers in the National League. He went 17–9 and placed second in winning percentage and earned run average (1.58). Toney’s record would have been even better if he had pitched for a better team. The Reds finished in 7th place and ranked last in the NL in runs scored.
His finest season with the Reds came in 1917 under their easy-going manager Christy Mathewson, the former Hall of Fame pitcher. Toney won 24 games with a 2.20 ERA, placing second in the NL. In July Toney pitched both ends of a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning each game. His best performance of the season came on May 2 in another record-breaking performance: a double no-hitter. At a game in Chicago, he faced Cubs star pitcher, Hippo Vaughn. Both pitchers had no-hitters through nine innings, an event unprecedented in baseball. The Reds scored in the top of the tenth, and Toney maintained his no-hitter in the bottom of the inning. This was the first no-hitter ever pitched for the Reds and is tied for the longest no-hitter in the major leagues.
Toney still holds several club records for Cincinnati: lowest earned run average in a season (1915) and most shutouts in a season (7 in 1917). He finished his career with the New York Giants, where he achieved another 20-win season.
During his career, Toney was reputed to be the strongest player in baseball. At 6’ 6” and 245 pounds, the Tennessee giant was known for his endurance. He retired from baseball in 1923, returning to his farm near Nashville where he died on March 11, 1958.
Once the talk of the sports world, Fred Toney’s 17-inning no-hitter is little known today except among baseball aficionados. But he put Winchester in the baseball record book. As Casey Stengel used to say, “You could look it up.”
Note: Garner Park was a baseball field maintained by William Garner, located behind his home on East Broadway (present address is Rowland Avenue). He was a brother of Mayor John Garner.