A famous moment will soon be memorialized as a bronze statue. Jackie Robinson hit a three-run home run in his debut game 75 years ago with the Montreal Royals in Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. Then Youngstown, Ohio, minor league baseball player George Shuba offered Robinson his hand to shake in celebration.
Other white baseball players refused to associate with Robinson, the first black Major League Baseball player, let alone shake his hand. Later, Robinson and Shuba became Dodgers teammates.
The photo of the iconic handshake between Robinson and Shuba was printed in newspapers across North America. The first handshake between black and white players on a professional baseball diamond, called a “simple act of decency,” is now being immortalized as a bronze statue, which will be located in Youngstown’s Wean Park.
The 7-foot-tall statue will be unveiled July 17 at 9 a.m., as part of the Youngstown State University Summer Festival of the Arts in Wean Park. The dedication was originally planned for April 18, 2021, the 75th anniversary of the handshake, but was pushed back due to COVID-19.
“We’re excited about unveiling and dedicating this memorial to the historic handshake of Jackie Robinson and George ‘Shotgun’ Shuba,” said Ernie Brown, co-chair of the committee that developed the statue in an April press release on the project’s website. “This beautiful statue will remind generations of people from the Mahoning Valley and beyond that race should never divide us on the baseball field or anywhere else.”
“Everyone wants to tear down statues to forget our history, but you can’t forget it,” said Jim Burgham, business manager for the IBEW Local 64, which was heavily involved in the fundraising and electrical work for the statue and park. “It’s nice to see statues going up that really represent history, instead of coming down.”
The IBEW Local 64’s Labor Management Cooperative Committee (LMCC) viewed this as an ideal project to get involved with and “get our name on the next part of history that this statue will help create,” Burgham said. “IBEW and NECA will get recognition for the donation we’re making. With labor and material and lighting, I'd say it's getting close to a $40,000 to $50,000 donation.”
The National Labor-Management Cooperation Committee of the Electrical Construction Industry (NLMCC) and the Mahoning Valley Chapter/Local 64 LMCC also paid for statue materials and subsidized the electrical work on the project.
IBEW Local 64 reached out to the NLMCC, which provided a grant to help pay for some project materials.
“We have a member who’s a contractor, Dan Santon, and was neighbors with the Shuba family,” Burgham said. “He was well aware of the whole story.”
Shuba’s son Mike has been working to immortalize the moment for 25 years.
“From George Shuba’s own words,” Mike Shuba said in a video featuring the statue from ESPN’s The Undefeated, “‘I consider myself the fortunate one to shake his hand after his first ever hit, a home run, was an honor that I will never forget. As that was the day that professional baseball changed forever.’”
The framed picture of the handshake was the only piece of baseball memorabilia George Shuba ever displayed, according to the Robinson-Shuba Commemorative Statue website.
“Jackie Robinson is an inspiration for me,” said Herb Washington, co-chair of the Robinson-Shuba Statue Committee. Washington is a former major leaguer himself. “When times are tough being an athlete in business. Everything he did he excelled at it in spite of the odds.”
Brooklyn artist Marc Mellon is sculpting the statue. He has created art depicting world leaders, athletes and more. The same art foundry that produced the Iwo Jima Memorial will cast Mellon’s statue in bronze.
“It’s a teaching moment for our kids and our grandkids—the decent thing to do when your teammate who’s not of your religion or color or background does something right, is to extend your hand,” Mellon said in The Undefeated video.
Addendum: The following photos show the completed statue of the Robinson-Shuba handshake from the July 17 unveiling.