Handshake for the ages
1946 baseball photo serves as apt learning tool for family, nation
An ESPN video about the handshakeAn ESPEN video clip about the handshake.
An ESPN video clip about the handshake.
YOUNGSTOWN — For 75 years to this day, and beyond, Youngstown and professional baseball are entwined thanks to one image.
The historic photo first served as a learning tool for a local family, and now a nation.
Youngstown native George “Shotgun” Shuba on April 18, 1946, became a part of arguably the most significant photo to begin the integration process in Major League Baseball. Today, Shuba is forever remembered for that groundbreaking moment with Baseball hall of famer Jackie Robinson.
Robinson breaking MLB’s color barrier a year later is touted as one of the most important moments in sports history — paving the way for other black athletes across baseball and all other major sports.
George’s son, Mike Shuba of Austintown, said his dad “didn’t think it would be such a big moment like it is today. He always said it was Jackie’s moment, not his. He was used to playing with and against black athletes from high school so it was a normal thing for him to go up and shake Jackie’s hand at the plate.”
That handshake “had all to do with his upbringing and what he was taught as a kid, an altar boy and at school, specifically how he interacted with other players at Chaney High School,” Mike said. “At Chaney, he was playing amongst and against black athletes all the time and it was no big deal to celebrate a home run.”
The original photograph of that 1946 moment can’t be found in museums or at Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, because Mike has it safely stored, he said.
It’s the same picture that proudly hung in the living room of their home on Brentwillow Lane.
TEACHING AND LEARNING
Mike said, above all else, the picture served as a learning opportunity for the Shuba family — an opportunity he hopes to share nationally.
“When I was young, the only momento he had in our living room was the handshake photo,” Mike said. “It was something he could utilize when raising his family and children.”
Mike shared the story of when he truly learned the significance of the picture . His dad used it for a teaching moment when Mike was disciplined at school for making fun of another student.
“He explained what the picture meant and what it represented. He told me to treat all people equally,” Mike said.
To commemorate that moment in national and Youngstown history, the picture will be immortalized by a larger-than-life statue to be placed in Wean Park downtown. Announced in 2019, the original date of dedication was slated for today, but was postponed due to the pandemic. A new date will be announced in May.
Mike wants the statue of that moment to be a teaching opportunity for people to learn to do what’s right.
“Knowing that (the statue) will be here long after I’m gone and we’re all gone, it’s very gratifying to know that people will remember that moment, and it will inspire kids long after,” Mike said. “This is a very wonderful thing for the city and community of Youngstown. I’m very proud it’s going on, and I’m very grateful for the team who accomplished this … It was no simple task.”
This month, developers of the Robinson-Shuba Commemorative Statue ( https://robinsonshuba.org/ ) hired a contractor and broke ground at the statue site. North Lima-based Brock & Associates Builders Inc. will serve as general contractor for the project, which includes a set of concrete walkways, a concrete base and seating to support programming at the memorial. The statue project co-chairs are Ernie Brown, Greg Gulas and Herb Washington.
Ten donors who provided the lion’s share of support for the statue will be recognized on a plaque at the site. Led by the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation, the Youngstown Foundation and the McDonald’s Restaurants of the Mahoning Valley and Western Pennsylvania, these 10 donors collectively provided $380,000 of the $414,000 the committee raised, as well as critical in-kind services.
The idea for the handshake statue originated when Eric Planey, a Youngstown native and former Regional Chamber vice president who now works as a New York finance executive, was visiting family four years ago in Alexandria, Virginia. He said he had been attending his niece’s softball practice when he met a coach who, coincidentally, also hailed from Youngstown. and told the handshake story.
The nationally known sculptor is Marc Mellon, who has crafted dozens of high-profile memorial statues, including those of Pope John Paul II, President George H.W. Bush, President Barack Obama and athletes Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle, Arthur Ashe and Cal Ripken.
While Robinson’s breaking the color barrier is well known, the handshake at first was not as well known nationally. It gained more recognition on its 50-year anniversary and again when George died in 2014.
People are still learning about, and from, the moment — such as a family in Lubbock, Texas.
Craig Cox and his 7-year-old daughter, Aubrey, were putting together what they call a “man/girl cave” dedicated to their love for baseball. Before the pandemic, the Cox family would travel to MLB stadiums, but that was put on hold because of COVID-19.
To fill the “man/girl cave,” Craig and Aubrey wanted to include memorabilia and iconic sports moments as decorations. They came across the picture of the handshake and realized they needed to include it.
“As we talked about the picture, we knew of pictures of certain moments, but there will never be another moment like this. There was a great story behind it,” Craig said. “You had two courageous men in that moment in time shaking hands.”
Craig added that both men were brave in their own regard, but compared to other moments, this image happened at a time where people were against what Robinson was doing.
“George Shuba was brave because he was one of those people who embraced him,” Craig said.
One of the driving factors for why this picture is the centerpiece in their collection is because George Shuba’s character came out in the moment. Craig said George Shuba did what was right in front of a small crowd.
To Craig, that shows George Shuba was a good man — because he didn’t need thousands of people to see what he did; it was genuine.
Both Craig and Aubrey realize the significance of the picture as a reminder to do what is right — something Mike Shuba wants the picture to represent.
“It means for people to do what’s right and treat everyone equally,” Aubrey said. “I like sharing kindness to other people and this picture shows kindness.”
In the first game of the 1946 season for the Montreal Royals, the farm team for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Robinson blasted a three-run home run to left field. As he approached home plate, the on-deck batter, Shuba, greeted him with an extended hand after both base runners did not.
“When he saw Jackie coming toward the plate and no one was there, he quickly got up there. That’s why you only see him in the photo — no one else,” Mike explained.
This game was the first time a black man took the field in professional baseball, and this handshake was the first interracial handshake in professional ball.
After that day, “Jackie said both northerners and southerners showed him acceptance. It was known that day he was welcomed by his teammates in Montreal,” Mike said.
Mike is calling it a “Handshake for the Century.”
“The day I found out the (statue) project was in motion was a great surprise for me,” Mike said. “It was overwhelming to see this happen after all my efforts for years trying to immortalize the moment. My father’s boyhood dream was to be a baseball player and my boyhood dream was to immortalize him to the best of my ability. He was a better father than he was a baseball player.”