March 24 – Happy Birthday Ernie Shore
If first impressions meant everything, Ernie Shore would have never pitched a second big league game and he almost didn’t. Shore was a North Carolina farm boy who hated working his Daddy’s fields so he took the opportunity to attend college and become a mechanical engineer. The school, Guilford College, had a baseball team and Shore became that team’s ace pitcher, winning a total of 38 games during his collegiate career. He was a tall six foot four inch right-hander, who was thin as a rail but he could evidently generate lots of arm speed from that frame because he was known for his fastball.
His success in college got him noticed by the great John McGraw, who sent Shore a ticket to come to New York and pitch for the Giants. McGraw inserted his skinny rookie into a game against the Boston Braves in which the Giants had a 19-run lead. When the kid was finished pitching, that lead had shrunk to nine and he never pitched another inning for a McGraw managed team.
A year later, Shore was pitching for the International League’s Baltimore Orioles, where he was part of the same rotation as a young and promising southpaw named George Ruth. That July, the Boston Red Sox purchased the dynamic duo. It was Shore, who at that time was 23-years-old and 4-years-older than Ruth, who would make the bigger immediate impact on the Boston pitching staff. He went 10-5 during the second half of the 1914 season, while the nineteen-year-old Babe was just 2-1. The following season, Ruth won 19 and Shore won 18 leading the Red Sox to the AL Pennant. But it was again the older more mature Shore that Boston turned to in the 1915 World Series against the Phillies. Ernie got two starts in that Fall Classic and Ruth none, as Boston captured the Fall Classic in five games.
The following year, Ruth won 23 and Shore 16, helping the Red Sox defend their AL title. Shore then won two games in Boston’s five game victory over Brooklyn in the 1916 World Series, while Babe got one of the other two wins.
The Red Sox did not get back to the Series the following year. Ruth won 23 games in 1917 and Shore went 13-10. But in July of that 1917 season, another episode involving the two pitchers once again exemplified the quiet confident nature of Shore versus the much more undisciplined personality of the younger cruder Ruth. Babe had started a game against the Senators and after walking the first hitter on four straight pitches, became so irate at the umpire he actually punched the guy. Shore was inserted to the game and on his first pitch, the runner on first was thrown out trying to steal. Ernie then retired the next 26 hitters he faced, recording one of the most famous two-man no-hitters in baseball history.
That 1917 season was Shore’s last year in Boston. The following season, with the US fully engaged in WWI, he enlisted in the US Navy. When he returned to the game in 1919, it was as a member of the New York Yankees. He had been sold to the Yanks by the Red Sox with teammates Dutch Leonard and Duffy Lewis, the previous December. Unfortunately for both Shore and the Yankees, he caught a very bad case of the mumps at the team’s 1919 spring training camp and blamed the disease for disrupting his training regimen and spoiling his entire season. He would go only 5-8 during his first year in New York.
In January of 1920, the Yankees reunited Ruth and Shore when they purchased Babe’s contract from Boston. The Bambino definitely generated more excitement in the New York sports press that winter but there was still plenty of buzz about how a now-healthy Shore would once again be blazing his fastball by AL hitters.
Turns out, that case of the Mumps was simply hiding the real reason Shore didn’t pitch well in 1919. His right arm was dead. No one was sure how or when it happened but in 1920, it became very clear that Ernie had lost his trademark fastball. He appeared in just 14 games for manager Miller Huggins’ team that year, making just 5 starts and finishing with a 2-2 victory and an ERA of 4.87 runs.
After attempting to pitch his way back to the big leagues via the Pacific Coast League in 1921, Shore retired back to his native North Carolina, where he eventually became a well-known sheriff for Forsyth County.
Most of the information for this post was derived from this excellent article about Shore published by SABR. He shares his March 24th birthday with this former Yankee first baseman, this former starting pitcher and this former reliever.