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Yankees history: The pitcher who saved Babe Ruth’s life


A day at Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Ernie Shore’s baseball career related back to Babe Ruth at nearly every turn. They played together in Boston. They played together in New York. Shore’s most notable performance came after something Ruth did. Oh, and he might have saved Ruth’s life.

Shore played collegiate baseball at Guilford College in North Carolina. The Giants signed him in 1912 and he made his debut on June 20th of that year. He pitched just one inning that season as Giants manager John McGraw used him mostly as a batting practice pitcher. That inning didn’t go as planned, as he allowed three earned runs and 10 in total. The right-hander was sent down later in the season, which he saw as a way to keep him from getting a World Series bonus. He would not play for the Giants again.

After a season with the Greensboro Patriots in the minors, Shore ended up playing for the International League versions of the Baltimore Orioles. Ruth was one of his teammates. It wasn’t long into that season before both were sold to the Boston Red Sox.

Ruth made his major league debut on July 11th, and Shore played his first game for Boston three days later. Shore’s outing was actually slightly better as he allowed one run in a complete game. Ruth’s was good too, but he gave up two runs in seven innings.

The two were teammates for four years in Boston, winning two World Series titles. The pair’s pitching stats across those four years was fairly comparable. Shore was also the starting pitcher in Game Five of the 1916 World Series, in which he tossed a complete game shutout to clinch the championship.

On June 23, 1917, Ruth started a game against the Washington Senators. He walked the first batter of the game and got into an argument with the home plate umpire. Ruth reportedly punched the umpire during the incident. Not shockingly, he was ejected.

Shore was brought in to replace Ruth for what had in essence become a start. The baserunner was thrown out trying to steal second on the first pitch Shore threw. He then proceeded to retire the next 26 hitters, completing one of the strangest no-hitters in baseball history.

The 1917 season would be Shore’s final with Boston. Earlier that year, he had enlisted in the Naval reserves and was shipped out after the season had ended. He would completely miss the Red Sox World Series-winning 1918 season while serving. In December 1918, he was traded to the Yankees as Boston began to dismantle the team that had won three World Series.

During spring training with the Yankees, Shore became sick. He was bedridden for several days, and his season would end up being one of the worst in his career. He threw just 95 innings that year, and finished with a 4.17 ERA, which was not especially good in 1919.

The Yankees brought back Shore for 1920, while also acquiring Ruth in that offseason. During spring training, Ruth went into the stands after a heckler during a game. The fan is reported to have called Ruth “a piece of cheese.” This might have been some grave insult in 1920, but that seems a little over the top. The heckler then produced a knife in response to Ruth. Shore was one of two people who then stepped between them. It may be a little much to say that this move saved his life, but that situation probably wasn’t going anywhere good.

If you’re wondering if Ruth learned anything from this incident, the answer is no, not really. In May 1922, he again went into the stands to pursue an argument with a fan. That one, combined with him throwing dirt in an umpire’s face, resulted in Ruth being stripped of the Yankee captaincy. He had been given the role less than a week before that.

Getting in between Ruth and the fan was about the most valuable thing Shore did for the Yankees. He again struggled in 1920, putting up a 4.87 ERA. After the season, he was traded to a minor league team. Shore didn’t play for the Yankees or any other major league team again.

Ernie Shore was a really good major league pitcher for a four-year stretch. However, his two most famous moments are having to clean up after some dumb stuff that Babe Ruth did.