Shore, Ernie

Primary Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: East Bend

First, Middle Names:  Ernest Grady
Date of Birth:  March 24, 1891           Date and Place of Death: Sept. 24, 1980, Winston-Salem, NC
Burial: Forsyth Memorial Park Cemetery, Winston-Salem, NC

High School: East Bend Graded School
College: Guilford College, Guilford College, NC

Bats: R Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-4, 220
Debut Year: 1912        Final Year: 1920          Years Played: 7
Teams and Years: New York Giants, 1912; Boston Red Sox, 1914-17; New York Yankees, 1919-20

Awards/Honors: N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, 1979; Boys of Summer Top 100

Career Summary
G          W        L          Sv        ERA     IP             SO       WAR
160    65      43        5          2.47     979.1     309      +9.3

Ernie Shore settled down at the end of the Boston bench at Fenway Park for what he expected to be a long afternoon of idleness. His Red Sox were playing the Washington Senators in a doubleheader on that Saturday, June 23, 1917, and Shore wasn’t to start either game.

Babe Ruth got the ball for the opener. He was not yet the feared slugger who would change the face of baseball, but the 22-year-old was fast becoming the best lefthanded pitcher in the American League. He was on his way to winning 24 games, one more than the previous season. With that raw talent, though, came an uneven temperament, which gradually evened out as Ruth got older.

His first pitch to leadoff batter Ray Morgan was called a ball by home plate umpire Brick Owens, himself a man not known for his forbearance. He had started umpiring as a child on the sandlots of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and had become a professional at age 17. He bore the scars of his various altercations with fans and players, including the one on his head from the thrown brick that inspired his nickname.[1] A man brained by a brick wasn’t intimidated by a kid pitcher, no matter how talented. Ruth complained about the call and stomped around the mound and only got angrier after Owens ruled that his second and third offerings were balls as well. He threatened to punch Owens in the nose; the ump told the kid to shut up and keep pitching. After the fourth ball, Ruth rushed towards home plate but was intercepted by his catcher Pinch Thomas. He flailed at Owens as Thomas held him back and later claimed in his autobiography that he struck the umpire on the side of the head. Shore didn’t remember years later that any punches were thrown. No matter. Owens tossed Ruth out of the game. The enraged Babe had to be escorted off the field by several teammates and a police officer.

Manager Jack Berry summoned Shore to the mound. “Try to get out of the inning,” he instructed.[I]

Babe Ruth, left, and Ernie Shore arrived in Boston in 1914. Shore would always play in Ruth’s considerable shadow.

The 26-year-old who took the ball was already a formidable, if underrated, pitcher, having performed superbly in the World Series in 1915 and ’16. He had the misfortune, though, of toiling in the shadow of Ruth. They had arrived in Boston together three years earlier from the minor leagues, and their pitching had led to those back-to-back pennants. Ruth, though, always seemed to grab the bigger headlines. For instance, the renown Shore should have received by winning the opening and deciding games of the 1916 Series was minimized by Ruth’s 13 shutout innings in Game 2. Even on this, Ernie Shore’s biggest day in baseball, Ruth’s personality would overshadow his accomplishment. If fans know about the game, it’s because an angry Babe was thrown out of it.

Shore took his legally allowed five warmup pitches and got to work. He speculated years later that Morgan, the runner on first, tried to steal on his first pitch because he thought Shore would be wild, given his unpreparedness. The pitch, however, was a strike, as was Thomas’ throw to second to nail Morgan. Shore got the next two batters, and Berry sent him to the bullpen between innings to warm up properly. “After that there wasn’t any trouble,” Shore said years later. “It was just one of those days. Only six balls were hit to the outfield.”[II]

Twenty-four more Senators came up to the plate. He retired them all in what remains the best performance of a relief pitcher in baseball history and one of the most distinctive moments of the Deadball Era. The game also sparked a debate that has flared up on sports pages ever since. Though the American League made it clear a month after the game that Shore and Ruth would be credited with a combined no-hitter, a ruling that it reaffirmed in 1991, many have argued that Shore pitched a perfect game. The pitcher was philosophical about it years later. “Practically everyone has heard of me,” said the man who spent his life after baseball as a county sheriff. “If I have to pick up a prisoner in some remote spot, I generally get special treatment I wouldn’t get otherwise. People are always asking me about that game. I can’t say I really mind.”[III]

Ernest Grady Shore was born in 1891 on a farm near East Bend in Yadkin County, North Carolina. He was the second of Henry and Martha’s five sons. The family’s roots dug deep into the red clay soil in which generations of Shores had sunk plows. Shore’s grandfather owned a farm nearby. All the boys worked the fields of tobacco and wheat. Shore didn’t like farming, especially setting tobacco. “It just kills your back,” he said. “It wasn’t for me.”[IV]

Some biographies note that Shores’ career in organized baseball started with the Red Strings, a team of some local fame. That’s unlikely, however, because the team disbanded when he was 12. Shore did pitch for East Bend Graded School and then, starting in 1910, for Guilford College, a private Quaker school in nearby Guilford County, North Carolina, with a burgeoning reputation as an incubator of baseball talent.[2] Called “Legs” by his teammates because if his tall, lanky frame, Shore won 38 games over five seasons at Guilford and helped the school win consecutive conference championships. He graduated in 1914 with a degree in engineering and was among the first inductees to the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1970.

John McGraw, the manager of the New York Giants, persuaded the Guilford coach, Chick Doak, in 1912 to send his star pitcher north for a trial. “The thinnest pitcher in captivity” is how The New York Times described the 6-foot-3-inch, 180-pounder who reported to the Polo Grounds.[v] McGraw used Shore to throw batting practice and finally sent him into a game on June 20 against Boston with a 21-2 lead. The Beaneaters, though, battered the rookie for 10 runs on 10 hits, though only three runs were earned. The Giants won anyway, but that was the only inning Shore would throw for them. He was on the roster until September when McGraw ordered him to a farm club in Indianapolis, Indiana. Suspecting that the pennant-winning Giants were trying to deny him a share of World Series winnings, Shore refused to go. McGraw suspended him, and he returned to East Bend without Series money and “rather sour at baseball on all accounts.”

Jack Dunn plucked Ernie Shore from a last-place team in Greensboro, NC

The feeling didn’t last. He paid $25 to be reinstated and spent the following season in Greensboro, North Carolina, winning 11 games for the last-place Patriots in a Class D league. Jack Dunn, the owner of the minor-league Orioles in Baltimore, Maryland, signed Shore in 1914 along with another promising young pitcher named George Herman Ruth Jr.[3] Considered one of the best assemblages of talent in minor-league history, Dunn’s team would ikely have dominated the International League that season if not for an unforeseen competitor. Dunn feared that the Terrapins, Baltimore’s entry in the renegade Federal League,[4] would eat into his attendance and profits. He broke up the team by selling off its players, including his two star pitchers to the Red Sox.

Shore arrived in Boston as the better of the two. Four years older than Ruth, he was more mature and had more pitching experience. He won his debut 2-1 on July 14, limiting the Cleveland Naps to two hits while showing a dazzling assortment of pitches. Joe Birmingham, Cleveland’s manager, said he was “the greatest young pitcher who has broken into the big show since Walter Johnson.”[VI] Shore won four games in less than a month and stuck with the club while Ruth was sent to the minors in Providence, Rhode Island, for seasoning. Shore ended 10-5 in just half a season.

Ruth rejoined the Red Sox in 1915 and roomed with Shore when the team was on the road. In a story told for decades as an example of the youngster’s crudeness, Ruth once used Shore toothbrush without telling him. When Shore protested, Ruth replied, “That’s all right, Ernie. I’m not particular.”[VII] Shore admitted years later that it was a shaving brush that Ruth had forgotten to rinse.

Shore won 19 games that season for the pennant-winning Red Sox. It’s a testament to the trust that Manager Bill Carrigan had in him that he sent Shore out to start the important World Series Games 1 and 4. He had less faith that the still erratic Ruth could safely negotiate the tough, righty lineup of his opponent, the Philadelphia Phillies. Ruth was limited to one pinch-hit at bat. In the first game, Shore faced Grover Cleveland Alexander, the best pitcher in the National League that season with 31 victories. Shore pitched well but lost 3-1. He won the fourth game 2-1, and Boston wrapped up the series the next day with a 5-4 victory.

Ernie Shore, left, and Grover Cleveland Alexander meet before the 1915 World Series.

Behind a strong pitching staff led by Ruth’s 23 wins, the Red Sox won another pennant in 1916. Shore, who won 16 games, again got the Game 1 start in the World Series. Facing the Brooklyn Robins’ talented lefty, Rube Marquard, he had a 6-1 lead in the ninth, but the Robins scored three times on a combination of walks, bobbles, and screaming singles. Shore was pulled with two outs for Carl Mays, who preserved the 6-5 win. Shore pitched much better in deciding Game 5, winning 4-1. Brooklyn scored its only run on a passed ball. “Shore has the best fastball I ever saw,” Robins’ outfielder Zach Wheat said after the game.[VIII] Ruth, though, dominated the sports pages after allowing a run in the first inning of Game 2 and then shutting out the Robins for 13 innings, in a 2-1 victory.

With America at war, Shore joined the Naval Reserve when the 1917 season ended and spent the following year pitching for the base team at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston while attending officers’ school at nearby Harvard University. He was discharged at the end of 1918 as an ensign, the only baseball player to become a Naval officer during World War I.

Shore restarted his career in New York. He was the first of a dozen Red Sox players who owner Harry Frazee, a theater producer, sold or traded to the Yankees over the next five years to finance his plays. Shore had a miserable 5-8 season in 1919. Many players who had come back from military service that year didn’t play well, he explained to a sportswriter after the season. “The only thing I can attribute it to is that the hard army or navy drilling trained other muscles that those used in ball playing tightened up some of the baseball muscles,” he said. “That would apply particularly to pitchers.” He said he fully expected to have “one of my old-time Boston seasons.” Many years later, he acknowledged, “My arm was shot by that time.”[IX]

Ruth joined Shore on the Yankees in 1920, Frazee’s biggest gift to his league rival. The Babe was about to turn baseball on its ear, while launching the first Yankees’ dynasty and transforming himself into an American icon. His old roommate, however, struggled to win two games in his last major-league season. Years later, after World War II, Ruth said Shore was destined to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. “He went away to the last war and came back a year later with a dead arm,” he said.[X]

Though he only pitched seven years in the majors, Shore had a commendable career. His lifetime 2.47 earned-run average is the best among North Carolinians who pitched at least 500 innings in the major-leagues. He is 64th among the Boys of Summer Top 100 players.

Ernie Shore holds the plaque for the field named in his honor.

Shore pitched a season for two teams in the Class AA Pacific Coast League and then retired in 1921 to work in his family’s car dealership in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The seat of Forsyth County isn’t far from his home in East Bend. Deeply in debt during the Depression, Shore ran for county sheriff in 1936. “I don’t mind telling you,” he said years later, “that I needed the job.”[XI] He won in a runoff election and remained in office for 34 years.

He had just six deputies when he took over the department. He brought the first patrol cars and equipped them with two-way radios, one of the first sheriffs in the state to do so. He retired in 1970 from a modern police force with 70 deputies.

Shore had married Lucille Harrelson, a farmer’s daughter from Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1926. They would raise three children in Winston-Salem.

The city’s baseball fans in 1955 recruited the popular sheriff to head a committee to build a modern home for its minor-league team. Its old place had been severely damaged by a storm and then a fire. The committee raised $125,000, and Ernie Shore Field opened for the Carolina League’s 1956 season.[5]

Shore died in September 1980, three months after his wife of 54 years passed away. He had been inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame a year earlier.

[1] The game in question occurred in 1905 in Pittsburg, KS, where fans showered the field with bricks after an Owens’ call that displeased them. One hit him on the head. Owens cleaned up the blood, bandaged the wound, and continued with the game. An admiring player gave him the nickname that Owens considered better than the other things he had been called. He umpired in the major leagues for 22 years, a career that included five World Series and the second All-Star Game in 1934. He was a salesman for a wholesale meat distributor in Chicago, IL, after he retired. He died in 1964 of a heart attack.
[2] Twelve players from Guilford College have made it to the majors, according to Baseball Reference. Here they are with their years in the majors: Bill Lindsay (1911), Ernie Shore (1912-20), Tim Murchison (1917, 1920), Tom Zachary (1918-36), Luke Stuart (1921), Rufus Smith (1927), Rick Ferrell (1929-47), Bob Garbark (1934-45), Stu Martin (1936-43), Boyd Perry (1941), Bill Bell (1952, 1955), and Tony Womack (1993-2006).
[3] The Orioles held their spring training in Fayetteville, North Carolina, that year. It didn’t take long for Ruth to make his mark with the team. He pitched well against major league competition and played solid defense at shortstop. He also hit long home runs and belted the longest homer ever recorded in the city. It was during those Oriole practice sessions in North Carolina that Ruth, 19, was christened as “Dunn’s baby,” later shortened to Babe.
[4] The league started as a minor league but declared war on baseball in 1913 by actively recruiting players from the two established leagues. It offered  higher salaries and freedom from the contract restrictions that tied a player to a major-league team for life.  Many made the switch. The league lasted until 1915. See the Ducky Yount profile for a more thorough examination of the Federal League.
[5] Minor-league baseball was played in the park until 2010, when it was replaced by a new stadium. Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem now owns the park, which it renamed David F. Couch Ballpark, and uses for collegiate game.

[I] Leeke, Jim. “Ernie Shore.” Society for American Baseball Research, Dec. 30, 2010.
[II] Mallette, Mal and Lee Allen, “’No More Perfect Games,’ Shore Predicted. Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), Oct. 17, 1956.
[III] McMurray, John. “100 Years Later. Looking Back at Ernie Shore’s ‘Perfect Game.’” Society of American Baseball Research, Feb. 2017.
[IV] Leeke.
[V] Ibid.
[VI] Ibid.
[VII] Ibid.
[VIII] Ibid.
[IX] Ibid.
[X] Ibid.
[XI] Ibid.