The famous Associated Press photograph as George Shuba greets Montreal teammate Jackie Robinson at home plate with a handshake. Robinson had just hit a three-run homer in his debut in Organized Baseball on April 18, 1946, at Roosevelt Stadium against the Jersey City Giants.
George Thomas (Shotgun) Shuba
Born: December 13, 1924 (Youngstown, Ohio)
Died: September 29, 2014 (Youngstown, Ohio)
It was a simple gesture, a handshake at home plate shared by a player waiting to bat and a teammate who had just hit a home run.
Yet it was called “A Handshake for the Century” and has been embedded in memories for decades owing to a famous photograph. The two baseball players were George Shuba and Jackie Robinson; one white, the other black; one destined to be a journeyman, the other a legend both for his great athleticism and for his fearless confrontation of America’s ugly racial legacy.
The two men were teammates on the Montreal Royals and, on April 18, 1946, they appeared in the lineup as the Royals opened the season with a game against the Jersey City Giants. The game marked Robinson’s debut in Organized Baseball and marks the moment when baseball’s odious colour barrier was breached.
In the third inning, Robinson hit a three-run homer. As he came home after rounding the bases, Shuba, the next batter in the order, shook his hand as he crossed home plate, a gesture of acceptance. The image, captured in an Associated Press photograph that was widely distributed, came to be seen as an an image of racial harmony.
“I couldn’t care less if Jackie was Technicolor,” Shuba told Dave Stubbs of The Gazette of Montreal on the 60th anniversary of the handshake. “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.
The Royals went on that season to win the Little World Series. Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers the following season on his way to a Baseball Hall of Fame career. Shuba got to the parent Dodgers in 1948. He hit .305 in 1952 as the Dodgers won the National League pennant. In 1953, he became the first National league player to hit a pinch-hit home run in the World Series. In 1955, Shuba joined Robinson in celebrating Brooklyn’s first — and only — World Series victory.
George Thomas Shuba was born in Youngstown, Ohio, where his father, a Slovakian immigrant from Austria-Hungary, worked at a steel mill.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound outfielder spent two seasons in the minor leagues with the Olean (N.Y.) Oilers, Mobile (Ala.) Bears and New Orleans Pelicans before coming to Canada to play for the Royals in 1946.
Shuba, who batted left, got the nickname Shotgun for the sound his bat made when he struck a line drive. He spent hours at practice every night swinging at a rope hung from the ceiling.
Shuba spent parts of four seasons in Montreal, playing 55 games in 1946, 39 in 1950, 92 in 1951, and 113 games in 1956. He was an early fan favourite at Delormier Stadium in east-end Montreal after hitting seven home runs in 11 days early in the 1946 season. He had his best campaign with the Royals in 1951 when he batted .310 with 25 doubles, two triples and 20 home runs.
The outfielder played in 355 games for Brooklyn, hitting .259 with 24 homers over parts of seven seasons. He played an important utility and fill-in role for the Dodgers, although he mostly was unable to crack an outfield lineup including Carl Furillo, Duke Snider and, for some seasons, the versatile Robinson.
He was celebrated alongside teammates with the ’55 Dodgers and was the subject of a chapter in Roger Kahn’s popular book, “The Boys of Summer.”
After leaving baseball, he worked as a postal clerk in his hometown.
Shuba displayed a photograph of the famous handshake in his living room, the only memento of his baseball career on display in his home.