By Elise Franco
Austintown students meet one of baseball’s living legends
AUSTINTOWN — Students at Frank Ohl Intermediate School were buzzing with excitement at the thought of meeting a man who shook hands with the legendary Jackie Robinson.
George “Shotgun” Shuba created history when he shook Robinson’s hand after the Hall of Famer hit his first professional home run and Shuba became the first white professional baseball player to shake the hand of the man who broke baseball’s color barrier.
For years, professional baseball banned blacks from playing. That changed when Robinson became a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.
Phyllis Messuri, fourth-grade teacher, said she brought in Shuba, 84, of Austintown, and Ted Toles, in his early 80s, of Warren, who played in the Negro League, after students read a book called “Teammates” by Peter Golenbock.
The Negro League baseball teams were created to allow black ball players a chance to play the game professionally. The first successful Negro League was formed in 1920, according to the Web site negroleaguebaseball.com.
Messuri said the book is about the day white Brooklyn Dodgers player Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Robinson during a game to let the crowd know color didn’t matter.
“The story blew the kids’ minds,” she said. “It says two things — they don’t like the color barrier, and it’s something they’ve never really lived through.”
Messuri said she contacted Shuba’s son Michael and made arrangements for the former baseball greats to speak to the fourth-grade class.
“It’s important for them to learn about accepting people no matter what color they are,” she said. “These kids were so excited to meet ‘Shotgun.’ They’ve been waiting for 2 1‚Ñ2 weeks.”
During the Friday afternoon assembly Shuba and Toles talked of their days as baseball players. They recounted stories of playing with and against some of the greatest players of their day.
Shuba spoke fondly of Robinson, describing him as a great ballplayer and an even greater man.
“He was a man strong enough to face breaking the color barrier,” Shuba said.
Shuba said he didn’t think twice about shaking Robinson’s hand at home plate after Robinson hit the home run.
“I was very fortunate to be able to do that,” he said. “I couldn’t care less if he was technicolor, because he was my teammate.”
Katie O’Brien, 10, said she was happy to meet both Shuba and Toles.
“I was surprised about how it was back then,” she said. “I’m glad it’s better today because I don’t think black people should be treated badly because of their skin.”