The Man Who Is Immortalized by a Simple Handshake

George Shuba died on Sept 29, 2014 at the age of 89. He was the last living Brooklyn Dodger who appeared in the final game of the 1955 World Series, the only one won by the Dodgers in their Brooklyn history. In that game he pinch-hit for Don Zimmer and grounded out. This game was also his final game in baseball.

George “Shotgun” Shuba joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948 and was a utility outfielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers. His career with the Dodgers spanned seven years from 1948 to 1955. His best year was 1952 when he batted .305 in 94 games hitting 9 home runs, driving in 40 runs, and finishing 31st in the MVP balloting. He had a .259 career BA with 24 homers and 125 RBIs in 355 games. Shuba did not play in the 1949 World Series but did play in the 1952, 1953, and 1955 World Series for the Dodgers. For the three World Series he had 12 at bats with 1 homer and 2 RBIs. His one homer was special because it was the first pinch-hit homer by a National Leaguer in a World Series. The Dodgers said Shuba earned his nickname after someone compared his line drives to the sound of buckshot.

Clearly, his career baseball statistics were nothing to write home about. So, what was his major contribution to the history of baseball? His contribution actually occurred in 1946, two years before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. At that time he was in the minor leagues playing for the Montreal Royals an affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Enter Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson signed his contract with the Dodger organization on Oct. 28, 1945 and spent spring training in Daytona, Fl. with the Montreal Royals. The two men became teammates on the Montreal Royals in 1946.

George Shuba grew up in Youngstown, Ohio and often played with black youngsters. He quickly developed a friendship with Jackie. “It didn’t make any difference to me that Jack was black,” he said, “I was glad to have him on the team.”

The Jersey City Giants hosted the Montreal Royals on opening-day April 18, 1946 before a sellout crowd of 25,000 at Roosevelt Stadium. This was the 27-year-old Robinson’s debut as the first African-American to shatter organized baseball’s color barrier. There were several reporters there to witness Jackie’s first game. Jackie was the Royals second basemen and George Shuba played the outfield for the Royals. In the third inning, with two on, the Jersey City pitcher threw a waist high fastball that Robinson slammed over the left-field fence. On deck was George Shuba holding two bats. As Jackie rounded third base heading toward home-plate, George still holding his two bats was there waiting for him with his right-hand extended. The black and white hands clasped and the photographers clicked. I am thrilled that I have on my wall at home this famous picture signed by George Shuba. This photograph was called “A Handshake for the Century.” It’s known as the first interracial handshake in a professional baseball game – not a barnstorming game or other exhibition.

Jackie Robinson went on to break Major League baseball’s color barrier when he started at first base for Brooklyn on April 15, 1947. In 1948 the two men again became teammates. This time it was with the Brooklyn Dodgers. They remained teammates for the next seven years.  Shuba appeared at Dodger Stadium in 2005 when the club marked the 50th anniversary of its only championship in Brooklyn. In George Shula’s living room there is only one momento of his baseball career. It’s the photo of him with Jackie Robinson which hung over his recliner for over 50 years.

A Handshake for the Century

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