By Glen Sparks
Boston Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth walked Washington Senators lead-off batter Ray Morgan on four pitches in the first game of a doubleheader on June 23, 1917, at Fenway Park. That’s how the brouhaha, and a spectacular pitching effort, began.
The fiery Ruth started barking at home plate umpire “Brick” Owens, a short-tempered guy just like the Babe. Ruth charged off the mound, still yelling, getting more and more steamed. Then what happened probably surprised everyone. The pitcher belted Owens in the neck.
Ruth, the future home-run king, didn’t get arrested for his assault and battery. He did get tossed out of the game (and later fined $100 and suspended nine games). Boston player-manager Jack Barry brought in Ernie Shore, who was granted five warm-up pitches.
Shore, a 26-year-old right-hander, went on to enjoy the game of his life. He tossed a perfect game. Or, did he? The game remains muddled with some baseball-style controversy.
First off, Morgan tried to steal on Shore’s opening pitch. Red Sox catcher Sam Agnew, though, fired the pitch to second and nailed him for out No. 1. The next two Washington batters also made outs.
Shore, born March 24, 1891, in East Bend, N.C., retired the final 24 Senators in order. The Red Sox won the game 4-0.
Boston hailed Shore’s effort. The 6-foot-4 inch hurler (Some people called him “Long” Shore.) had enjoyed some success in the big league but nothing like this. He broke in with the New York Giants in 1912, got into one game, had a miserable time of it (one inning, eight hits, 10 runs, three earned, 27.00 ERA) and never made it into another one for impatient manager John McGraw.
The skipper sent the kid down to the minors. Shore told McGraw that it was a bad move, his own crummy performance notwithstanding. McGraw suspended Shore and let him go.
Shore pitched in 1913 for Greensboro of the North Carolina State League. He hoped for a second change at the majors. The Baltimore Orioles, a minor-league team then, acquired him for the 1914 season. The O’s quickly sold him, along with Ruth (yes, that Ruth) and Ben Egan to the Red Sox.
Boston sent Ruth to the minors and kept Shore. The big guy (220 pounds on that 6-4 frame) enjoyed a solid first season with the Red Sox. He went 10-5 with a 2.00 ERA (135 ERA+) in 139.2 innings. Naps Manager Joe Birmingham came away impressed. He said, “Shore’s fastball is just as fast as was (Walter) Johnson’s.” Whew. That was quite a compliment. As fast as the Big Train?
Well, it never worked out that way. But, Shore did put together a few solid seasons. He finished 19-8 and posted a 1.64 ERA (170 ERA+) in 1915. Shore went a combined 29-10 in 1916 and 1917 with ERAs of 2.63 (105 ERA+) and 2.22 (116 ERA+), respectively.
The Great War, a.k.a., World War I, ended Shore’s 1918 campaign. As a member of the Naval Reserves, he pitched for a team based at the Charleston, S.C., Naval Yard. The Yankees traded for him for 1919. A bad case of the mumps ruined his first season in pinstripes. He posted a 5-8 mark and didn’t get any better in 1920. He went 2-2 and quit with a lifetime mark of 65-43 and 2.47 ERA (114 ERA+ in the Deadball era).
Shore retired to his North Carolina home. He worked in various businesses and later served as sheriff of Forsyth County. He was a popular guy.
But the arguments kept going. Did Shore, in fact, pitch the third perfect game of the 20th century? Opinions were split. (Red Sox legend Cy Young tossed the first perfect game of the 1900s, on May 5, 1904, against the Philadelphia A’s at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston. Cleveland’s Addie Joss hurled the second. He beat the Chicago White Sox 1-0 on Oct. 2, 1908, at the Naps’ League Park.)
In a sense, American League Secretary (basically, the league president) William Harridge had put a quick end to any debate about perfecto/not a perfecto. Soon after the final out, Harridge declared the game to be simply a no-hitter. But, not every baseball person, or even every baseball record book, agreed with this pronouncement.
Was it a perfect game or not? Not surprisingly, Shore voted on the side of perfection. “No other pitcher retired a single batter,” he reasoned, according to an article on the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) web site.
An eight-member committee of baseball experts (Commissioner Fay Vincent and others) voted down Shore in 1991, 11 years after the pitcher’s death on Sept. 24, 1980. The group said Shore had, in fact, tossed a combined no-hitter with Ruth.
Not perfect? Well, maybe not. Just about perfect? Certainly.