Obit of the Day: The Handshake That Shook Baseball
On April 8, 1946, as Jackie Robinson stepped to the plate for the Montreal Royals history was made. He became the first black man to play professional baseball with white teammates and opponents in over 60 years*. The color barrier was broken.
But that did not mean that the baseball world was ready to move on. During his career Mr. Robinson would suffer the jeers, taunts, and insults from fans and players alike. Their racist vitriol poured over him as he traveled from city to city.
But on that April afternoon in Jersey City, NJ, there was a glimpse of teamwork and kindness. In the third inning, Mr. Robinson stepped up to the plate with two men on and crushed a three-run home run. As he came around to score, George Shuba, the player on deck, walked to home plate, and shook Mr. Robinson’s hand. The image was captured by an Associated Press photographer and went national. Mr. Shuba’s decision to shake Mr. Robinson’s hand showed that at least some players weren’t just going to tolerate black teammates but celebrate them.^
Mr. Shuba would later join Mr. Robinson in Brooklyn, playing parts of seven seasons for the Dodgers. His highlight, like the rest of Brooklyn’s players and fandom, was the team’s lone World Series championship in 1955. Mr. Shuba retired from baseball after winning it all.
He returned to his home in Youngstown, where he played baseball with black children growing up, and worked for the US Postal Service. He kept only one piece of memorabilia from his baseball career - a framed copy of the April 8, 1946 photo.
George Shuba died on September 29, 2014 at the age of 89.
(Image of George Shuba shaking hands with Jackie Robinson as he crosses the plate after hitting a three-run home run in his first professional game on April 8, 1946. The image is copyright of the Associated Press and courtesy of the NY Times.)
* Moses Fleetwood Walker played one season with the Toledo Bluestockings of the American Association in 1884, and was later joined by his brother Weldy Walker. Five years later after complaints from white players led by future Hall of Famer Cap Anson, major and minor league officials voted to stop offering professional contracts to black players.
^ The next season a similar moment occurred when Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, a noted Southerner, put his arm on Mr. Robinson’s shoulder (or his hand, there is no photograph of the moment) during some of the worst of the verbal attacks in Cincinnati. There is a statue commemorating the moment outside of the Brooklyn Cyclones minor league park.
First sitting president to ever visit the Baseball Hall of Fame. It opened in 1939.
baseballhall, also on tumblr
For the first time since Jackie Robinson’s number was retired by Major League Baseball on April 15, 1997 no player will wear the number on Opening Day.
It’s Jackie Robinson Day! The 66th anniversary of the breaking of baseball’s color barrier by the Brooklyn Dodgers’ rookie. (Jackie went 1-3 with 11 putouts at first base against the Boston Braves.) For today’s WTW I will rank the games, per usual, and where relevant I will list a team’s first black player and the date they played their first game:
1) Rays at Red Sox, 11:05 EDT - Not a typo, it’s Patriots’ Day in Boston so it’s an early start time. (Embarrassingly the Sox were the last to integrate when Pumpsie Green took the field on July 21, 1959 - 12 years after the Dodgers.)
2) Mets at Rockies, 6:40 MDT - Before you scoff, the Mets are 7-4 and the Rockies are 8-4. All expansion teams were integrated when they entered the league.
3) Padres at Dodgers, 7:10 PDT - Because the Dodgers are Robinson’s team they get top three billing. (Although they should be forced to play a day game.)
4) Cardinals at Pirates, 7:05 EDT - The Pirates have won five of their last six including a sweep of the Reds. They are one game behind the first place Cardinals. (In a great coincidence the Cards and Bucs integrated on the same date, April 13, 1954, against different teams. The Pirates had second baseman Curt Roberts. The Cardinals had first baseman Tom Alston.)
5) Astros at A’s, 7:05 PDT - The A’s lost two of three to the Tigers but still have nine wins. The surprising Astros lost two of three to the Angels. (The A’s, then in Philadelphia, integrated on September 13, 1953 when Bob Trice was their starting pitcher.)
6) White Sox at Blue Jays, 7:07 EDT - The White Sox narrowly avoided a sweep against the Indians but are still 1-5 on their current road trip. They face Mark Buehrle who has not pitched well with the Jays. (The first black player on the White Sox was Minnie Minoso who first took the field on May 1, 1951.)
Phillies at Reds, 7:10 EDT - A decent matchup improved by having Cliff Lee throwing for the Phillies. (The Phils were the last NL team to integrate - which if you know their history with Robinson is not a surprise. John Kennedy donned a Phillies uniform for the first time on April 22, 1957. The Reds had two players of color take the field for the first time on April 17, 1954: Nino Escalara and Chuck Harmon.)
Nationals at Marlins, 7:10 EDT - The Nats were swept by the Braves over the weekend. But like a refreshing sorbet during the middle of a fine meal, they face the Marlins to cleanse the palate. (Both teams were integrated upon their formation.)
9) Angels at Twins, 7:10 CDT - Someone had to be last on a mediocre schedule. (The Twins, who were originally the first Washington franchise, integrated with Carlos Paula on September 6, 1954.)
I will do the other franchises tomorrow as Jackie Robinson Day actually extends to Tuesday this year.
Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. This decision would not only integrate baseball, but would help the country work to achieve equal rights for all. Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., once commented to baseball pitcher Don Newcombe, “Don, you and Jackie will never know how easy you made my job, through what you went through on the baseball field.”
Before becoming famous, Lt. Jack R. Robinson was court-martialed at Camp Hood, Texas, because he refused to move to the back of the bus after being told to do so by a bus driver and disobeying an order from a superior officer. Robinson was acquitted of all charges and received an honorable discharge, but this was not the only experience he would have in fighting discrimination.
After retiring from baseball, Robinson turned much of his attention to civil rights issues. He wrote to several Presidents about the cause, and even attended the March on Washington.
Many of these milestone events from Robinson’s life are documented in primary sources from the National Archives.
FJP: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives,” Robinson wrote in his autobiography. “I cannot possibly believe I have it made while so many of my black brothers and sisters are hungry, inadequately housed, insufficiently clothed, denied their dignity as they live in slums or barely exist on welfare.”
This morning at 9:42 AM EST, join us on twitter in commemorating Jackie Robinson Day with a worldwide Twitter thank you.
You can choose to do the twitter part, but thanking the man is a great idea.
In this exclusive for Memories & Dreams subscribers, the Hall of Fame digs into its vast film and video archive to show you an excerpt from an interview with Clyde Sukeforth. Sukeforth was the Brooklyn Dodgers scout sent by Branch Rickey to see Jackie Robinson and bring him back to New York to meet with Rickey.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is the best museum ever.
“If I had to choose between baseball’s Hall of Fame and first class citizenship for all of my people. I would say first-class citizenship.”
“The most luxurious possession, the richest treasure anybody has, is his personal dignity.”
“At the beginning of the World Series of 1947, I experienced a completely new emotion when the National Anthem was played. This time, I thought, it is being played for me, as much as for anyone else.”
“We ask for nothing special. We ask only to be permitted to live as you live, and as our nation’s constitution provides.”
“Money is America’s god and businesspeople can dig black power if it coincides with green power.”
“How much more effective our demands for a piece of the action would be if we were negotiating from the strength or our own self-reliance rather than stating our case in the role of beggar or someone crying out for charity.”
“Next time I go to a movie and see a picture of a little ordinary girl become a great star… I’ll believe it. And whenever I hear my wife read fairy tales to my little boy, I’ll listen. I know now that dreams do come true.”
“I remember even as a small boy, having a lot of pride in my mother. I thought she must have had some kid of magic to be able to do all the things she did, to work so hard and never complain and to make us all feel happy. We had our family squabbles and spats, but we were a well-knit unit.”
“It hadn’t been easy. Some of my own teammates refused to accept me because I was black. I had been forced to live with snubs and rebuffs and rejections.”
“[On Branch Rickey] In a way I feel I was the son he had lost and he was the father I had lost.”
“I don’t owe any living person my soul, my integrity, my freedom of thought and speech.”
“I’m not buying anti-white attitudes. Too many people who are not black have proven to me that being real isn’t qualified by skin color but by character.”
Exclusive: Legendary gives an exclusive behind the scenes look at the making of “42”.
April 10, 1947: Jackie Robinson Signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers
On this day in 1947, Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson was signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play for Major League Baseball. He smashed records and knocked down major social barriers on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
Test your knowledge of Jackie Robinson and his contributions off the field with PBS Black Culture Connection’s Jackie Robinson quiz.
Photo Credit: National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, NY.