Obit of the Day: The Handshake That Shook Baseball
On April 8, 1946, as Jackie Robinson stepped to the plate for the Montreal Royals history was made. He became the first black man to play professional baseball with white teammates and opponents in over 60 years*. The color barrier was broken.
But that did not mean that the baseball world was ready to move on. During his career Mr. Robinson would suffer the jeers, taunts, and insults from fans and players alike. Their racist vitriol poured over him as he traveled from city to city.
But on that April afternoon in Jersey City, NJ, there was a glimpse of teamwork and kindness. In the third inning, Mr. Robinson stepped up to the plate with two men on and crushed a three-run home run. As he came around to score, George Shuba, the player on deck, walked to home plate, and shook Mr. Robinson’s hand. The image was captured by an Associated Press photographer and went national. Mr. Shuba’s decision to shake Mr. Robinson’s hand showed that at least some players weren’t just going to tolerate black teammates but celebrate them.^
Mr. Shuba would later join Mr. Robinson in Brooklyn, playing parts of seven seasons for the Dodgers. His highlight, like the rest of Brooklyn’s players and fandom, was the team’s lone World Series championship in 1955. Mr. Shuba retired from baseball after winning it all.
He returned to his home in Youngstown, where he played baseball with black children growing up, and worked for the US Postal Service. He kept only one piece of memorabilia from his baseball career - a framed copy of the April 8, 1946 photo.
George Shuba died on September 29, 2014 at the age of 89.
Sources: NY Times, LA Times, baseball-reference.com
(Image of George Shuba shaking hands with Jackie Robinson as he crosses the plate after hitting a three-run home run in his first professional game on April 8, 1946. The image is copyright of the Associated Press and courtesy of the NY Times.)
* Moses Fleetwood Walker played one season with the Toledo Bluestockings of the American Association in 1884, and was later joined by his brother Weldy Walker. Five years later after complaints from white players led by future Hall of Famer Cap Anson, major and minor league officials voted to stop offering professional contracts to black players.
^ The next season a similar moment occurred when Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, a noted Southerner, put his arm on Mr. Robinson’s shoulder (or his hand, there is no photograph of the moment) during some of the worst of the verbal attacks in Cincinnati. There is a statue commemorating the moment outside of the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league park.