From a simple gesture can come compelling history, and so it was
with a handshake on a dusty baseball diamond in New Jersey 60 years ago
On April 18, 1946, Jackie Robinson broke the colour
barrier of pro baseball's modern era, playing his first game with the
Triple-A International League Montreal Royals, the top farm club of the
major-league Brooklyn Dodgers.
It was a dream debut for the
gifted 27-year-old from Cairo, Ga., the grandson of a slave and one of
five children fathered by a sharecropper who abandoned his family.
Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, before an overflow opening-day crowd
of 25,000, Robinson hit safely in four of his five at-bats, including a
majestic third-inning home run.
Robinson also stole two bases and
scored four times, twice on balks by pitchers he rattled with his
basepath daring, to lead the Royals to a 14-1 victory over Jersey City,
a farm team of the major-league New York Giants.
Today, a photograph taken that afternoon hangs in the home of George (Shotgun) Shuba, 81.
The native of Youngstown, Ohio, is nicknamed for the line drives that sprayed off his Louis-ville Slugger.
photo is of Shuba, a 21-year-old outfielder for the Royals, squeezing
the hand of a beaming Robinson as the former U.S. army lieutenant
crosses the plate after his dramatic 335-foot home run.
the first known photograph of black and white ballplayers shaking hands
on a field of play, and one Shuba still uses to teach youngsters the
lessons of tolerance, of doing right and of respecting yourself and
your fellow human beings.
"I couldn't care less if Jackie was
Technicolor," Shuba said. "We'd spent 30 days at spring training, and
we all knew that Jackie had been a great athlete at UCLA (in baseball,
basketball, football and track). As far as I was concerned, he was a
great ballplayer - our best.
"I had no problem going to the plate to shake his hand instead of waiting for him to come by me in the on-deck circle."
and books have been written, plays staged and movies filmed about the
courageous role in baseball and society of Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the
subject of Dodgers president Branch Rickey's "great experiment" to
desegregate the sport.
Robinson endured enormous mental anguish
and physical abuse to blaze a trail from Montreal's Delorimier Stadium
through the major leagues and into the Hall of Fame.
He wasn't the first black athlete in pro baseball, a handful having played in the late 19th century.
they would be driven out of organized ball for six decades by racial
hatred, bigoted owners and Jim Crow laws, named for a song performed by
blackface minstrels, that trampled the rights of blacks in the
post-Civil War U.S. South.
Robinson's highly anticipated and, in some corners, bitterly opposed debut with the Royals opened a long-locked door.
season in racially tolerant Montreal was a revelation to all, as he
batted a league-leading .349, stole 40 bases, had 65 runs batted in and
led the Royals to victory in the Little World Series.
All accomplished while abuse and death threats rained on him during every Royals road trip.
seeing Robinson swallowed whole by jubilant fans and chased three
blocks from Delorimier Stadium, the Montreal Herald's Sam Maltin wrote:
"It was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a
white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind."
Shuba, the youngest of 10 children born to Czechoslovakian immigrants,
was up from Ohio on a fishing trip near Peterborough, Ont., in 1945
when he first heard that the Dodgers had signed Robinson, a fine black
"I held my breath, then said, 'I hope he's not an
outfielder, because if they've signed him to be the first black (of the
modern era), he's got to be something special," Shuba said.
"When they said Jackie was a second baseman, I felt a lot better."
had travelled a remarkable path of his own to pro baseball, scouted by
the Dodgers in 1943 when he took a few hours away from sandlot ball to
attend a tryout camp in Youngstown.
He signed his first contract
with the organization in winter 1944 for $150 a month, with a $150
bonus should he stick until July.
Shuba was assigned to the
Royals for the 1946 season, a team managed by Clay Hopper that was
stacked with good talent for obvious reasons.
"The Dodgers didn't want Jackie to be on a last-place club," Shuba said.
"They wanted the experiment to succeed."
Royals won the pennant by 131/2 games, rolled to the International
League's Governors' Cup, then defeated the Louisville Colonels four
games to two to capture the Little World Series.
Shuba played 20
games with Montreal in 1946, clubbing seven of his 11 hits for homers
before he was shipped to Mobile in the Southern Association.
left-handed pull hitter, he said, "I felt like I was in heaven" when he
saw the right-field fence at Delorimier, only 293 feet from the plate,
the Knit-To-Fit clothing factory a fat target beyond the wall and
Shuba was shuffled through the Dodgers system,
playing 39 games in a Royals uniform in 1950 and then 92 in 1951, when
Montreal again won the Governors' Cup.
Future Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was on that club.
adored Montreal, and vividly recalls to this day rooming with the Fox
family at 112 Willowdale Ave. in Outremont during his final season.
rattles off the names of entire Royals rosters and speaks of columnists
from three newspapers, two of them defunct, as though he'd read them
"Montreal was a beautiful city," said Shuba, who last visited with his son, Mike, about 30 years ago.
"I'd look down on the city from Mount Royal, and I loved St. Joseph's Oratory."
made the most of his chance in 1952, batting a career-high .305 in 94
games with Brooklyn when at last he was called up to the majors.
stuck with the Dodgers for four seasons and is the oldest surviving
member of the so-called "Boys of Summer," World Series champions in
1955 and the only Brooklyn team to win the championship.
played his 355 big-league games over seven seasons with Robinson, who
joined the Dodgers in 1947, and remains in awe of the way Robinson and
his wife, Rachel, handled the stresses they endured on their path.
A diabetic, Robinson died of a heart attack at age 53 in 1972.
courage and convictions are things Shuba has not forgotten, and he
preaches this tolerance and honour to anyone who has the time to listen.
asks: "What were the odds that a kid like me, playing sandlot ball in
1943, would in three short years be shaking the hand of the first black
player in modern times to integrate baseball? I'd say a million to one."
framed print - Handshake of the Century, as it's known in the game -
has hung for nearly 50 years above Shotgun Shuba's easy chair.
He needs no other reminder of a baseball career that he's proud to link to the strong grip of a pioneer.
- - -
Shuba's 1955 World Series ring one of 31 pieces of memorabilia up for Internet auction
(Shotgun) Shuba's distaste for wearing a ring soon will be to his
benefit, and that of a deep-pocketed sports memorabilia collector with
a taste for history.
Shuba is the oldest living member of the
so-called Boys of Summer - the 1955 World Series-champion Brooklyn
Dodgers - and among 31 pieces of magnificent sports memorabilia he has
up for Internet auction is his mint-condition, almost-never-worn '55
World Series ring.
A 151-game veteran of the Triple-A
International League's Montreal Royals in 1946, '50 and '51, Shuba also
is selling his pristine Governors' Cup ring, presented to the league
champions in '51, and two 11-by-14-inch team photos.
As of last
evening, the Dodgers ring had attracted a top bid of $30,597 U.S. The
Royals pieces, offered in a single lot, were at $477. Bidding ends on
Shuba's decades-long care for the items he is selling
through Mastro Auctions - www.mastronet.com - will earn him a princely
"The (Dodgers) ring already is at more than I probably made
in my entire career," said Shuba, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, who
played 355 major-league games, all with Brooklyn.
He hasn't worn
either ring more than a few times in 60 years, and plans to put the
proceeds toward the education of six grandchildren.
Shuba has an impressive collection of carefully mothballed uniforms, including two worn with the Dodgers, as well as bomber
pennants, jewellery, bats, a sweater vest and tie given him by the
legendary Jackie Robinson, and 47 autographed baseballs that have been
wrapped and stored in the dark, leaving Hall of Fame signatures in
One of the balls was hit by Shuba himself for
a home run in the 1953 World Series and later retrieved from the
sure-handed fan, the first Fall Classic pinch-hit homer by a National