Happy Birthday to Shotgun Shuba!
There were two choices for this Birthday Story of the Month. One birthday is that of a superstar that every baseball fan of the ’50s and ’60s knows, a Hall of Fame catcher named…Roy Campanella. The other December birthday boy is far less known as a ball player than Campanella, but he did something that came naturally and what he did become memorialized for eternity. That was George “Shotgun” Shuba, born Dec. 13, 1924, threw right, hit left utility outfielder who gained his nickname from his ability to spray line drives to any part of the park. Batting .500 in college, he caught the eye of the team’s play-by-play guy who gave him the nickname that stuck with him forever, but it’s not for Shuba the player that I’ve chosen him, it’s for Shuba the man.
But player he was, so let’s review his career. Shuba played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1946 to 1958, with two years given to Uncle Sam. Shuba was with the Dodgers during the sweet spot of their Brooklyn days. In his seven seasons, Wikipedia recounts, he played in three World Series, won one, and became the first ballplayer in history to hit a pinch-hit home run in a World Series.
Related Article: George Shuba, former Brooklyn Dodger, dead at 89
He was 5’11 and 180, pretty solid. He batted .285 according to SABR.com (Society for American Baseball Research), and was a very popular teammate and a favorite of the fans. SABR quotes him as saying, “I wasn’t a great player, but I played with some of the greatest…in history.” His stats bear out that humble self-assessment. Over his career Shuba, as recorded by Baseball Reference.com, hit 24 home runs, had 211 hits in 814 plate appearances, and knocked in 125 runs. He was a good clutch hitter with an on-base percentage of .357 and a slugging percentage of .413. Carl Erskine said, “You could wake up George at 2 am, throw a ball at him, and he’d hit a line drive before his first foot hit the floor.”
Unlike today’s professional athletes who played for as long as Shuba did, if they husband their money, they never really have to work after retirement. For the boys of summer, playing ball was a part-time profession. George Shuba spent more years being a post-career postman than he did being a ball player. (citation)
But it was “doin’ a what comes natural” that made Shula an eternal note in history. The following is excerpted from the Salem, Ohio News. It was April 18, 1946, Shuba and Jackie Robinson were playing for the Dodgers top farm team, The Montreal Royals. Shuba batted 3rd behind Robinson. The Royals were down by two when Robinson came up. He promptly put the Royals up with a three-run blast. The two men on base touched home and went directly to the dugout, not waiting to greet and shake hands with Robinson. Shuba was on deck. As Robinson rounded third and trotted home, Shuba went to the plate, congratulated him, and said, ‘That’s the way to hit that ball, Jackie. That’s the old ballgame right there.’ He shook my hand,“ Robinson wrote in his 1948 autobiography, “Jackie Robinson: My Own Story.”
It was called “The Handshake for the Century” and became the subject of a seven-foot-high, 2,000 lb. statue depicting the two ball players at the moment that made history. Unveiled July 17, 2021, in Wean Park, downtown Youngstown, Ohio, the statue’s implicit call for racial equality also records for posterity the first interracial handshake in major league baseball.
The next game Shuba hit three home runs. He said, tongue in cheek, that he saved them for that game because he didn’t want to overshadow Jackie Robinson’s big day.
Baseball Insider on April 15, 2021 quoted Bob Kendrick, Director of the Negro Leagues Museum: “the handshake in 1946 is “one of those moments that should be etched in time, as Jackie was seemingly embraced by a white man, likely for the first time in our sport. George Shuba had the fortitude and decency to do what was the right thing to do.”
And that’s why I salute George Shotgun Shuba as December’s Birthday boy. May his ethics be a guide for us all.
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