Fred Toney earned his place in MLB history by being a part of the only dual no-hitter in the majors. Before that, on this day in 1909, he had an even more impressive feat on the mound.
Complete games are rare these days, whether in the MLB or in the minors, given the focus on pitch counts and limiting innings on younger arms. Even if a pitcher lasts nine innings, if the game goes into extras, it is exceedingly rare for the starter to last into the tenth inning. The idea of pitching upwards of 17 innings, no matter how well the pitcher is doing, is absurd.
Yet, back in the early days of baseball, that was not the case. Pitchers often threw complete games, even if those contests went into extra innings. In fact, one of the greatest games ever pitched in the history of baseball was such a game, when Fred Toney threw 17 no hit innings in a game in the Blue Grass League in 1909.
Pitching for the Winchester Hustlers, Toney was brilliant, allowing only one walk while striking out 19 in his 17 innings pitched. On the other side of the diamond was a pitcher who was only remembered by his last name, Baker (records were not nearly as meticulously kept back then), who matched him zero for zero. Finally, the Hustlers pushed a run across against the Lexington Colts, using a squeeze play to give Toney the 1-0 victory.
Just the idea of having a pitcher throw 17 innings these days is likely enough to cause a general manager to have night terrors and for Dr. James Andrews to get his scalpel ready. Yet, in the olden days, such a workload was not uncommon. Add in how teams would employ two or three man starting rotations, and it was a wonder that more arms did not completely fall apart.
Fred Toney was a solid major league pitcher, winning twenty or more games twice in his career. But in extra innings, he was something special. This 17 inning no hitter may well have been the greatest performance in baseball history.