Sunday, February 18, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox >> #75 Ernie Shore

Ernie Shore, SP, (1914-1918)

58 wins, 33 losses, 125 G, 103 GS, 51 CG, 839 IP, 2.12 ERA, 1.12 WHIP

Perhaps no pitcher was more tied to the early story of Babe Ruth than Ernest Grady Shore. The two were traded together, were ace starters for the World Champion Red Sox together. And without Ruth’s outrageous temper, Ernie Shore would not have carved out a slice of fame as the answer to a trivia question:

Who is the only pitcher to throw a perfect game – in relief?

Shore was born March 24, 1891 in East Bend, N.C. He came to baseball through the New York Giants organization. Starting early in his apparent affinity for bizarre pitching performances, Shore gave up 10 runs (three earned) in his major league debut – a ninth-inning relief appearance for the Giants in June 1912 – yet was credited with the save. The game still holds the NL record for most runs scored in the ninth by two teams (17).

From the Giants, he moved to the Baltimore Orioles, where he was a teammate of George Herman Ruth. The pair were sold – arguably one of the best transactions in the history of the franchise – to the Red Sox in the summer of 1914 for $25,000. A week later, July 14, Shore made his American League debut and fared much better, pitching a two-hitter and beating the Indians, 2-1.

Despite starting the season late, Shore undoubtedly would have been a Rookie of the Year candidate, had the award existed in 1914, going10-5 with a 2.00 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. It was merely a warm-up, however, for his 1915 campaign.

Shore went 19-8 in his first full season, posting a sterling 1.64 ERA, good for third in the league, and a 170 ERA+. He stamped an exclamation point on the pennant-winning season by hurling a 12-inning, 1-0 shutout against Detroit in September. With five 15-game winners, the 1915 Red Sox were a dominant pitching club, even for the dead-ball era. They won 101 games and faced Philadelphia in the World Series, where Shore made up for a Game 1 loss by winning a 2-1 squeaker in Game 4. The Red Sox won in five games.

Shore returned to earth a bit in 1916, his ERA jumping a run to just better than league average. He still managed to win 16 games. Again, the Sox went to the World Series – this time against the Brooklyn Robins. Shore cruised through the Robin lineup in Game 1 before running into trouble in the ninth, needing Carl Mays to close the game out. In the clinching Game 5, however, he was masterful, hurling a complete game three-hitter, giving up a lone unearned run to give the Sox their fourth World Series win in 14 years and second in a row.

Although he only managed 13 wins in 1917, Shore threw his second-best season, lowering his WHIP to 1.13, his ERA to 2.22 and finishing third in shutouts, with seven. Despite his two World Series rings and his three consecutive seasons as one of the AL’s best starters, Ernie Shore would forever be known for what happened June 23, 1917, when he wasn’t even scheduled to pitch.

Old teammate Ruth was on the mound for the Red Sox, and Ruth promptly walked the Senators’ leadoff hitter, Ray Morgan. Unhappy with the calls, Ruth complained to home plate umpire Brick Owens, who ejected him. Enraged, Ruth slugged Owens before being taken from the field. Shore was called from the bullpen. With the catcher also ejected during the row, Morgan decided to attempt a steal off the new battery, to no avail. With the baserunner retired, Shore went to work, not allowing a single man to reach as the Red Sox won, 4-0. For 74 years, the feat stood as a perfect game – after all, Shore was on the mound for all 27 outs of a nine-inning game. But a 1991 rules committee refined the qualifications for no-hitters and perfect games and downgraded Shore’s performance to a shared no-hitter with Ruth.

Although winning two rings with the Sox, Shore missed a third in 1918 when he fought in World War I. Upon his return, Harry Frazee was breaking up one of 20th century baseball’s first dynasties, and Shore was among the casualties – shipped with Dutch Leonard and Duffy Lewis for four no-names and $15,000. The Boston Post summed up the trade this way: “It will take a lot to convince Boston fans that they got the best of this one.”

Despite being just 27 when he began pitching for the Yankees in 1919, Shore never pitched well again. He started just 13 games that season and posted a 4.17 ERA, nearly a full run above the league average. He appeared in just 13 games in 1920 – when he was once again a teammate of Ruth’s. It would be his last season. At age 30, Ernie Shore was out of baseball.

What caused Shore’s difficulty? The Sporting News, quoted in Jim Reisler’s Launching the Legend, intimated he was having trouble regaining his control upon returning from the war. If he was unable to control his pitches, Shore at least helped to maintain control of the volatile Ruth, who in 1920 was nearly knifed by a heckler after Ruth charged him in the stands. According to Reisler, Shore stood between the men and cooled the situation down.

With baseball behind him, Shore returned to North Carolina, where he became Forsyth County sheriff. He later led the push to build a minor-league ballpark in Winstom-Salem. The Winston-Salem Warthogs, a Class high-A White Sox affiliate, now play at Ernie Shore Field – and have done so for 51 years.

Shore died Sept. 24, 1980, at age 89, in Winston-Salem. At the time of his death, he still received credit for pitching a perfect game in 1917 – a distinction he kept for 11 more years.

Paul is a comoderator for Yanksfan vs. Soxfan, a blog dedicated to all things Sox-, Yanks- and rivalry-related.


Wooden U. Lykteneau said...

Actually, Shore's effort -- impressive as it was -- was NOT a perfect game. Baseball clarified the rules for no-hitters and perfect games in 1991, stating that a perfect game officially required that the pitcher to face no less than 27 batters without any reaching base.

Paul and/or Jen said...

Thanks, Wooden. The summary mentions that pretty clearly.

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