|Red Sox pitchers Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore.|
Things went to hell in a hurry for the Boston Red Sox in the first game of a Sunday double header on June 23, 1917. The team’s young phenom Babe Ruth took to the mound against the Washington Senators at Fenway Park. The big baby faced hurler was just 22 years old and in his third full season in the majors. But he was already attracting attention for his blazing fastball that caused American League hitters to whiff futilely more often than not.
First up for the Senators was second baseman Ray Morgan who like Ruth had come up to the Big Leagues from the old Baltimore Orioles of the International League. Either Ruth was a bit wild that day or Morgan had a discerning eye and laid off some pitches that seemed to flirt with the edge of the plate. Home plate umpire Brick Owens sent Morgan to first on a base on balls. Ruth begged to differ. Voraciously.
As Morgan trotted to his base, Ruth and Owens exchanged words. Owens threatened to toss Ruth if he did not “gen down and pitch.” Ruth yelled by, “Toss me and I will break your nose!” That, of course drew the thumb. Ruth charged the plate and clipped Owen with a glancing blow to the head and had to be dragged of the field. Player/manager Jack Barry and a bunch of Boston police had to drag the enraged Ruth off the field. Also ejected was catcher Pinch Thomas.
In those days way before teams carried boat loads of relief pitchers and specialists, Barry had few good options, especially with a second game coming up that afternoon. To keep from completely busting his rotation, he called right hander Ernie Shore to the mound. Shore had come from Baltimore in the same trade with Ruth. And he was even bigger than his team mate, standing 6’4” and tipping the scales at 220. If Ruth was star of the future for the team, Shore was decent journeyman, the kind of hurler modern sportswriters call an inning eater.
Shore had to take the mound with hardly any warm up. At first base Morgan probably felt he could get a leg up on the new battery. But catcher Sam Agnew quickly threw him out trying to steal second. With that out Shore settled into facing the rest of the rotation. And settled he did. He proceeded to retire the remaining 26 Senators without allowing a base runner, earning a 4–0 Red Sox win. He fanned only two and it did not seem as if he was working hard, but he handled a number of bunt attempts and kept hit balls mostly to grounders that his defense ate up.
For some years the official record books credited Shore with a perfect game. But since Ruth coughed up the walk the game is now officially listed as a shared no-hitter. Still it was one of the games epic accomplishments and set a record for a relief appearance that will probably never be matched.
As for Ruth, he was fine $100 and suspended for 10 games. Owner Harry Frazee also ordered him to make a humiliating public apology.
The team went on to a 90 win season, finishing in second place to the Chicago White Sox. Manager Barry and four of his team mates enlisted in the Navy and were called to service at the end of the season and spent the war year of 1918 in a gob’s navy blue instead of baseball flannels.
Shore was another of the team’s Navy enlistees.
The big pitcher was born in East Bend, North Carolina on March 21, 1891. He was scouted for professional ball while pitching for Guilford College, a Quaker liberal arts school in Greensboro. Despite offers, he stayed in school until he graduated in 1913. At a time when most players did not even complete high school he was among a tiny minority of college men.
Shore made a Big League debut with the New York Giants in June of 1912, but he was back in the minors at Baltimore when he got packaged in the deal that featured Ruth. Shore’s best year with the Red Sox was 1915, when he won 18, lost 8 and compiled a 1.64 earned run average. He was 3–1 in World Series action in 1915 and 1916.
After returning from his war service in 1919 Shore became part of owner Frazee’s famous fire sales to the New York Yankees that transferred most of the team’s talent, starting with Ruth, to the Bronx. Shore finished his career with the Yankees in August of 1920.
Over his career he racked up a record of 65 wins and 45 losses, a 2.47 ERA, and 309 strike outs. He was never considered for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He returned to South Carolina where he was Sheriff of Forsyth County for many years. In the 1950’s he led efforts to build a new minor league stadium in Winston-Salem. The ball park was named for him and is still in use as the home field of the Wake Forest University Demon Deacons.
Shore died on September 24, 1980, aged 89.