Ernie Shore’s Near-Perfect Game

Ernie Shore’s Near-Perfect Game

June 23, 1917

It seemed as if Ernie Shore and Babe Ruth were destined to share something. Though never the best of friends, the two of them were sent from Baltimore to the Boston Red Sox along with catcher Ben Egan in a 1914 deal. When they arrived in Boston, Shore was the one who jumped right to the majors. The more heralded Ruth was sent back down for another year in the minors.

While Ruth had more potential, Shore was the one producing. He won the opening game of the World Series in 1915 against star hurler Grover Cleveland Alexander. Meanwhile, Ruth appeared just once in that entire series, and it was as a pinch-hitter.

The pair had roomed together during the spring of 1915 and that was where the tension started to show. Shore requested that he be paired with someone other than Ruth, citing the Babe’s sanitary habits, or lack thereof. To wit: Ruth would often use Shore’s toothbrush instead of his own, and it was rumored that Ruth had a bad habit of not flushing the toilet. Either way, Shore wanted out and that’s what he got.

Ruth and Shore were both dominant pitchers during their careers, but the similarities ended there. While Ruth had come straight from reform school to the pros, Shore had taken postgraduate courses the winter before his first season with the Red Sox. He had even taught at a local Boston school. While they were both great players on the field, they had little in common off it.

But on a summer day at Fenway Park in 1917, the two were forever etched together in history.

Babe Ruth took the mound on June 23 against the Washington Senators. He was coming off a complete-game victory three days earlier, one in which he hadn’t walked a single batter. But despite Babe’s confidence, his first pitch to leadoff man Ray Morgan was called a ball. The second pitch — ball two. The third pitch — ball three. Fuming at umpire Brick Owens, Ruth tossed his fourth pitch of the night.

Ball four.

Ruth rushed at Owens, screaming, “Keep your eyes open!” Owens threatened that he’d eject Ruth if he continued his tirade, and Ruth responded that if he got kicked out of the game he would punch Owens on the way out. Sure enough, Owens tossed Ruth and sure enough, the Sultan of Swat delivered a right-handed blow that nailed Owens on the side of the head.

With twenty-seven outs left to go and Boston’s best player out of the game, the Sox turned to Ernie Shore, who was coming off two days of rest. As soon as Shore took the mound Morgan took off for second. He was gunned down by the Red Sox catcher, and Shore retired the next two batters to end the inning.

The short layoff clearly hadn’t affected Shore, who retired the Senators three up, three down in the second and then again in the third. Incredibly, Shore proceeded to reel off six more perfect innings, becoming the only reliever in major league history to ever pitch a perfect game.