A towering Southern farm boy with the mind of an engineer, pitcher Ernie Shore is forever linked with Babe Ruth. Teammates on three clubs and in two World Series, they together tossed what many fans and some historians long considered a perfect game, albeit an odd one, in which the Babe faced the first batter and Shore the final twenty-six.

The second of Henry and Martha Shore’s five sons, Ernest Grady Shore was born on April 24, 1891, in rural Yadkin County, North Carolina. His family raised tobacco, wheat, peas and other crops near the hamlet of East Bend, twenty-three miles northwest of Winston-Salem. Henry’s father also had a farm nearby.

Tall, rangy, and awkward, young Ernie never liked farming. As a teenager he occasionally played outfield for a local team called the Red Strings. In 1910 he enrolled in the preparatory department at Guilford College in Greensboro, N. C., the only Quaker college south of Philadelphia. Shore hoped to become a civil engineer. He would teach mathematics at Guilford in the off-seasons after graduating in 1914.

Shore pitched on the college’s baseball squad for five seasons, including two years after he had turned pro. Shore’s college record was 38-8-2. New York Giants Manager John McGraw, a famous judge of young talent, asked his scouts to have Shore come out for a trial in 1912.

McGraw used the raw right-hander almost exclusively to pitch batting practice. On June 20th, however, he dispatched Shore to relieve George Wiltse in the ninth inning of a 21-2 blowout at Boston. The outing went badly. Shore got an unmerciful pounding, and on ten hits the Braves scored ten runs.

This inning was the only one Shore ever threw for the Giants. McGraw ordered him down to Indianapolis in September. The move looked to Shore like an attempt to deprive him of all rights to the World Series receipts. He told McGraw that hr should not go. Suspended by his irascible skipper, Shore went home to East Bend, lost his share of the series money, and felt rather sour at baseball on all accounts.

Shore paid a $25 fine the following January to gain reinstatement by the National Commission. He played in 1913 at Greensboro in the North Carolina State League. He posted a respectable 11-12 record for the tail-end club. Jack Dunn of Baltimore in the International League then drafted him for $400.

Dunn’s 1914 Orioles were considered one of the best minor-league clubs ever assembled. He had two wonderful pitchers in Babe Ruth and Shore. But a new Federal League team in Baltimore siphoned off his fan base, so Dunn quickly sold Shore, Ruth, and catcher Ben Egan to the majors. Many expected them to land with Mack’s Athletics, but instead they all went to the Boston Red Sox.

Shore made his Boston debut on July 14th at home against the Indians. It went much better than his inning in the same city against the Braves. Shore was cool and deliberate in the box, and he showed the Cleveland Club a dazzling assortment of fast balls, curves and change of pace and held them to two hits, winning his game, 2 to 1. 

The big right-hander won four games in less than a month and stayed with the big club while Ruth went back down to the minors in Providence. Shore posted a remarkable 10-5 record in just half a season.

In 1915, Ruth and Shore assembled matching 18-8 records for the season. Shore had the better ERA, 1.64 to the Babe’s 2.44. Shore had such good movement on his pitches that managers Clark Griffith of Washington and Hugh Jennings of Detroit both accused him of doctoring balls. Shore attributed his remarkable break to the size of his hands and fingers.

Shore and his former Baltimore teammates roomed together on the road, but man-child Ruth was a poor match for the mild-mannered Southerner. A story circulated for years that Shore had asked for a new roomie after the Babe had used his toothbrush without asking and then said innocently, “That’s all right, Ernie, I’m not particular.” Ruth actually used his shaving brush, Shore said, but it made a better story the other way. The Babe was soon paired with the next in a long succession of roommates. While in Boston, Shore lived in the home of legendary Mayor John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald.

The Red Sox met the Philadelphia Phillies in the 1915 World Series. Ruth didn’t take the mound at all during the series and batted only once as a pinch-hitter. Shore started Games #1 and #5.

Shore faced Grover Cleveland Alexander in the opening game. He pitched well but Alex got all the breaks in a 3-1 Philadelphia victory. Even as an elderly man, Shore recalled that if the Phillies’ hits were lined up end-to-end, they still wouldn’t reach the outfield grass.

The Sox took the next two games, each a 2-1 squeaker. Shore then faced George Chalmers in Game #4. This time the luck was all on his side. Sensational fielding and pure luck saved him several times.  The Red Sox wrapped up the series in Game# 5 with a 5-4 victory, the fourth consecutive one-run decision.

Shore had another decent season the following year. He finished 1916 at 15-10, but Ruth was much better at 23-12. Shore nonetheless was again assigned to Game #1 of the World Series with Brooklyn. Facing Rube Marquard in Boston, he was shaky but leading 6-1 entering the ninth inning. Then walks, bobbles, and screaming singles quickly brought in three Dodger runs. He was lifted for Carl Mays with two outs, which he found rather tough. Mays gave up another run to make the score 6-5 before getting the final out.

Shore rebounded to conclude the Series with a 4-1 win over Jeff Pfeffer in Game #5. He subdued the Dodgers with three scattered hits, one of them an infield scratch. He had Brooklyn hypnotized. Its only run drifted in on a passed ball.

Despite the North Carolinian’s star turn in the series, Ruth continued to eclipse Shore in 1917. Shore’s greatest moment on a ball field was ahead. The Babe took the mound at Fenway Park for the first game of a Red Sox-Washington doubleheader on June 23, 1917. Umpire Brick Owens called the first three pitches to leadoff batter Ray Morgan all balls. After heated jawing, Ruth blew up on Owens’ ball four call and charged with fists flying. Shore loyally maintained decades later that Ruth hadn’t actually struck Owens, but the Bambino admitted in his autobiography, “I really socked him right on the jaw…They’d put you in jail today for hitting an umpire.” Teammates had to drag the ejected hurler off the diamond.

Player-manager Jack Barry summoned Shore from the bench for an emergency start. “Try to get through this inning,” he said. Shore tossed his five allotted warm-up pitches and began. Morgan tried stealing on the first pitch but Boston catcher Sam Agnew gunned him down. Shore then retired two batters with five more pitches and returned to the dugout. The big right-hander said he felt fine, so Barry sent him to the bullpen to warm up properly while Boston batted.

Shore came back out and retired the next 23 consecutive batters. Then Mike Menosky stepped up to the plate, the last chance for the Senators. The speedy outfielder laid down a bunt ordered by manager Griffith. The bunt was pretty good, Shore recalled, but Jack Barry rushed in from second for a bare-hand grab and flip to first for the out. Shore had retired each of the 26 batters he’d faced, plus the man left on base by Ruth. Modest Ernie Shore took a place in the Hall of Fame as a no-hit, no-run, no-man-reached-first base pitcher, the Boston Globe later proclaimed of the Washington game. But whether it constituted a perfect game or simply a unique no-hitter would be debated for decades. The only clarity in 1917 came from William Harridge, secretary of the American League. He wired a sportswriter a month afterward: “Ernie Shore is credited with a no-hit game in the official scores of June 23rd.”

America was meanwhile fighting World War I in Europe. Enlistments and the military draft began depleting big-league rosters that summer as Shore joined Barry and teammates Chick ShortenDuffy Lewis, and Mike McNally in enlisting in the Naval Reserves. Shore ended the season at 13-10 with one save as the Red Sox finished second to Chicago. The Sox volunteers then reported for duty in November.

Barry assembled a powerhouse First Naval District ballclub at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Unofficially called the Wild Waves, the team played Harvard, other local colleges, and various military teams. Shore pitched while assigned as a yeoman in the district paymaster’s office.

The North Carolinian took the mound on May 5th as Barry’s Navy nine faced an Army team from Camp Devens skippered by Red Sox teammate Harold Janvrin. The free game before 40,000 fans at Braves Field was high grade, declared the Globe, with Shore “pitching in world championship form” in a 5-1 victory. But Barry’s team soon became an embarrassment of riches for the Navy, which began shipping out players. It eventually would disband the team altogether, citing “exigencies of the service.” Several teammates left for sea duty, but Shore remained in Boston. He pitched another gem against Camp Devens at Fitchburg, Massachusetts, on June 9th, defeating Braves’ prospect Rube Rube Cram 2-1 in ten innings.

Shore was then assigned to officers’ school at Harvard. He received an ensign’s gold stripe in December 1918, becoming the only big-leaguer to earn a Navy commission during the war (although five weeks after the Armistice). Ensign Shore was traded to the Yankees the next day, sent to New York with Leonard and Lewis for pitchers Slim Love and Ray Caldwell, catcher Al Walters, and outfielder Frank Gilhooley. This exchange was the first of the blockbuster deals that would dismantle the heart of the Red Sox team and reassemble it in New York.

Whatever Shore’s hopes about going to sea, the Navy didn’t need another newly minted one-striper after the war. He exchanged his dress blues for pinstripes in time for 1919 spring training.

The Yankees dispatched him with pitcher Bob McGraw, catcher Truck Hannah, and first baseman Ham Hyatt to the minor-league Vernon Tigers for shortstop Johnny Mitchell in January 1921. (The Vernon club played outside Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League.) Some time during that year in the service he lost the smoke on his fast ball. He went away to the last war and came back a year later with a dead arm.

His career ended quietly in 1922. Shore asked for and received his release in July, without having pitched an inning for anyone that year.

He hoped to run a ballclub in New England, but instead returned to Winston-Salem to open a car dealership. Shore thus began his life outside baseball. Five years later he opened an insurance agency after car sales fell during the Depression. In 1936, deeply in debt, Shore was pressed by a group of friends to run for sheriff of Forsyth County. He ran hard, won a runoff election, and remained in office 34 years.

Often wearing a civilian suit with his badge clipped to the belt, Shore had a lasting effect as a lawman. By the time he retired in 1970, Shore headed a modern department with 70 deputies.

In 1956, Sheriff Shore helped raise funds to build a new minor-league ballpark in Winston-Salem. (Ernie Shore Field remained in professional use until 2009, when it was replaced by a new facility, sold to Wake Forest University, and renamed.)

The long debate over Shore’s amazing 1917 relief performance continued. Some record books listed it as a perfect game, others didn’t. The debate was finally settled in 1991 when an eight-man “committee of statistical accuracy” headed by Commissioner Fay Vincent dropped Shore’s game from the list of perfect games. It instead became a combined no-hitter with Ruth. The committee also removed the asterisk from Maris’ home run record (the main issue it was created to address).

Shore wasn’t alive to hear the verdict. The retired sheriff had been in poor health after a stroke in 1975. He died three months following the death of his wife of 54 years, passing away at home in Winston-Salem on September 24, 1980. An old friend in the sheriff’s department remembered Shore not as a ballplayer but as a law enforcement officer, a leader in our community and a friend to our county.