George "Shotgun" Shuba, a Brooklyn Dodgers teammate of Jackie Robinson whose congratulatory gesture after a Robinson home run in 1946 was captured in a photograph that signaled a changing society, has died. He was 89.
Shuba, who played alongside Robinson with the Dodgers' minor league affiliate in Montreal and with the big-league club in Brooklyn, died Monday in Youngstown, Ohio. The Los Angeles Dodgers announced his death but did not disclose the cause.
The image of Shuba and Robinson shaking hands at home plate after Robinson hit a home run for the Montreal Royals against the Jersey City Giants in his first professional baseball game lasted long after the moment came and went. It endures as the first known photograph of black and white players congratulating each other on a baseball diamond.
One year later, Robinson became the first African American player in major league baseball's modern era when he made his debut with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947. Despite being subjected to racial epithets and threats from the public and opposing players, he excelled, was named National League rookie of the year and went on to a 10-year Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers franchise, which moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
Shuba, a left-handed-hitting outfielder and pinch-hitting specialist, played parts of seven seasons with Brooklyn and was on the roster for three World Series, including the 1955 championship team known as the Boys of Summer. In 1953 he gained the distinction of hitting the first pinch-hit home run for a National League team in the World Series.
Born Dec. 13, 1924, in Youngstown, Ohio, George Thomas Shuba was the youngest of 10 children of Czechoslovakian immigrants. His father was a millworker. Shuba was called Shotgun because of the sound his line-drive hits made.
A sandlot baseball player in Ohio, Shuba signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers in 1944. He was assigned to the Class AAA Montreal Royals of the International League in 1946. On opening day, April 18, at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J., Shuba was batting behind Robinson, who was playing second base. In the third inning, Robinson hammered a three-run home run off pitcher Warren Sandell over the left-field fence. Shuba, on deck awaiting his turn at bat, approached his teammate as he finished circling the bases.
"I got lined up with Jackie, he came toward the plate and he had a big smile on his face. I did too," Shuba said in a 2006 interview with the Akron Beacon Journal. "I didn't have a problem with Jackie at all. We were ballplayers. It didn't matter what color he was. Shaking his hand and congratulating him was just the right thing to do."
Robinson, who died in 1972, recalled in his autobiography, "I Never Had It Made," how his teammates responded that day. "Northerners and Southerners alike, they let me know how much they appreciated the way I had come through for them."
Shuba was called up to the Brooklyn Dodgers in July 1948. In 355 games he compiled a .259 overall batting average with 24 home runs and 125 runs batted in.
He retired after the 1955 season and returned to Youngstown, where he worked for the U.S. Postal Service.
Shuba, who displayed in his home a framed picture of the famous handshake with Robinson, is survived by his wife, Kathryn; their three children; a sister and grandchildren.