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.
Original design for Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City, 1973.
That’s a rolling roof that could cover either stadium.
When this lady was born, the Giants were in New York, their leading hitter was Fred Snodgrass (.321) and Christy Mathewson went 27-6. The team finished second to the Chicago Cubs who won 104 games, coincidentally.
(Baseball Reference for stats)
Rare footage of the 1919 World Series. Discovered from a cache of film that was buried under a public pool for nearly 50 years. (Full awesome story) It’s a British Pathe newsreel and includes an overhead shot of Comiskey Park taken by airplane.
Obit of the Day: The Oldest Living Major League Baseball Player
Conrado “Connie” Marrero played all of five seasons of major league baseball. Pitching for the woeful Washington Senators, Mr. Marrero compiled a 39-40 career won-loss record, but earned a spot on the 1951 American League All-Star team and even a 1952 MVP vote.
Unusual for baseball, Mr. Marrero was a 39-year-old rookie in 1950 having coming up from the Havana Cubans where he won the Florida International League MVP going 25-8 and pitching a league-record 44 scoreless innings.
He was proud of his rural upbringing and was nicknamed “El Guajiro de Laberinto,” “The Peasant from Leberinto” during his years playing in Cuban amateur and professional leagues. Squat, stading at only five feet, five inches tall and weighing 158 pounds, Mr. Marrero was known for his mix of sliders and curves.
Mr. Marrero’s major league career ended after the 1954 season when he was the oldest active player at age 43. He returned to Cuba where he managed the Havana Sugar Kings of the Cuban League. When Fidel Castro took control in 1959, Mr. Marrero remained in Cuba and lived out the remainder of his life there.
In 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles came to Cuba for an exhibition series against the Cuban national team, Mr. Marrero threw out the first pitch.
Conrado Marrero died on April 23, 2014 at the age of 102 - two days shy of his 103rd birthday. Upon Mr. Marrero’s death, veteran infielder Mike Sandlock is now the oldest living ex-major leaguer at 98.
Sources: CBSSports.com, Wikipedia, and Baseball-Reference.com
(Image 1953 Topps card of Conrado “Connie” Marrero is copyright of Topps, Inc. and courtesy of goldenagebaseballcards.com)
William M. Vander Weyde, a photographer working in New York, made these images of baseball players mid-swing, -run, -hit, or -throw in 1904.
That center photo.
Weeghman Park, April 23, 1914
Kansas City Federals (Packers) vs. Chicago Federals (Whales)
Final score: Chicago - 9, Kansas City - 1
Winning pitcher: Claude Hendrix, 9 IP, 1 R, 5 H, 3 BB, 3 SO
Losing pitcher: Chief Johnson, 2 IP, 4 R, 5 H, 1 BB, 1 SO
First batter: Chet Chadbourne, left field, Kansas City
First home run: Art Wilson, catcher, Chicago, 2nd inning
Time of game: 1:55
Top, outside of Weeghman Park, May 1914, courtesy chicagonow.com
Middle, Weeghman Park interior, May 1914, courtesy of wikimedia.org
Bottom, panoramic photo take from the left field corner on April 23, 1914, Weeghman Park opening day, courtesy of touyou.com
Game notes are courtesy of retrosheet.org
Obit of the Day: Chasing Hank Aaron
On April 8, 1974 Hank Aaron knocked an Al Downing fastball into the Atlanta Braves’ bullpen for home run number 715, making him the all-time leader, passing Babe Ruth. After he came around second base two young men ran up behind him, patted him on the back and fled the frame. The two 17-year-olds are now as connected with that home run as Aaron, Downing, announcer Vin Scully, and Braves pitcher Tom House, who caught the ball.
The boys, Britt Gaston (brown jacket) and Cliff Courtenay (navy sweater), were arrested and were bailed out by Gaston’s dad, who was at the game with them. It may be the best $100 ever spent.
The boys were lucky they were only arrested. The previous season and into April 1974 Aaron had received numerous death threats from those who felt a black man had no right to surpass the achievements of a white man. Aaron had even hired a bodyguard. Britton and Courtenay may just as easily been beaten to a pulp. But Aaron, after what appears to be a slight moment of panic, shrugged them off.
Britt Gaston, who passed away at the age of 55 on September 3, 2011, reunited with Courtenay and Aaron in 2010 for the first time in 36 years.
(Video of Aaron’s home run is courtesy of beefweef on YouTube.com and copyright of the Atlanta Braves and Major League Baseball.)
[Originally posted in 2011 and re-posted in honor of the 40th anniversary of Mr. Aaron’s home run.]