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Moment worth memorializing in our Valley

It was a quiet moment in baseball history, yet it’s been called the handshake of the century. And now the Mahoning Valley could be home to this symbolic sign of racial equality and respect.

A larger-than-life bronze statue will commemorate the inspiring 1946 handshake of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American Major League Baseball player, and George “Shotgun” Shuba, his white teammate from Youngstown. The 7-foot-tall piece of art showcasing the two men, in a friendly handshake, is to be erected in Wean Park near the new Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre in time to dedicate it at the April 18, 2021, 75th anniversary of the handshake.

The moment had been captured in a landmark photograph now owned by Mike Shuba of Youngstown, George’s son.

Here’s how the historic moment unfolded.

Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson began his mainstream baseball career with minor league affiliate Montreal Royals after playing in the Negro Leagues. Robinson’s first game with the Royals was a major media event in New Jersey against the Jersey City Giants, with a huge crowd in the stands and the city’s schools ordered closed to mark the occasion.

In his second at-bat, with two other Royals on base, Robinson hit a home run. Both teammates who scored on the homer went into the dugout without waiting for Robinson to congratulate him.

Shuba, who was on deck, stepped up to shake Robinson’s hand just as the future Hall of Famer crossed home plate. The photo captured that moment — the first handshake of black and white players on a professional baseball diamond.

“A handshake at home plate by players of different races is no big deal in America today, but in 1946 it was a historic moment,” said Herb Washington, a local businessman, former Major League Baseball player and one of the co-chairs of the committee.

He went on with great eloquence to explain the importance of commemorating the event.

“We want to memorialize that moment in a way that inspires people to relate more respectfully to those of other races. We need more Americans to follow the examples of Jackie Robinson and George Shuba.”

After that moment, George later said he didn’t think shaking a black player’s hand was a big deal.

Greg Gulas, retired Youngstown State University sports information director and another committee co-chair, explained how George’s roots in Youngstown helped him to ignore skin color long before that was commonplace in America.

“He had played with black and white guys at Chaney High School and in sandlot games in Youngstown for years. He shook Jackie’s hand because he had just hit a three-run homer. George was proud to be Jackie’s teammate for the Royals and the Dodgers, not because Jackie was black but because he was an incredible baseball player,” Gulas said.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, George Shuba and his son Mike, who now serves as a special adviser to the committee, toured schools and youth centers nationwide discussing the handshake and race relations in sports.

Mike recently described that handshake with Jackie Robinson as among the highlights of his father’s life.

We are proud to see the moment being commemorated here in our Valley, and we are proud to say that Shuba called the Valley home.

We hope it will inspire better relations among all who live or visit here, regardless of ethnic or racial backgrounds.

We encourage support of this project and what it represents, both emotionally and financially, from folks who share in that belief.

The Economic Action Group, a downtown development advocate and the newly formed Robinson-Shuba Commemorative Statue Committee aim to raise $400,000 to complete the statue and dedicate it.

Donations may be made by visiting www.robinsonshuba.org.

editorial@tribtoday.com