George Shuba wasn’t much of a big leaguer. He was a backup, mostly, playing parts of seven seasons for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But he was significant enough that the New York Times has a big obituary for him today, following his death at age 89.
He was part of a moment — a small one, but a significant all the same — that helped form Jackie Robinson’s legacy and history. From the Times:
On the afternoon of April 18, 1946, Robinson became the first black player in modern organized baseball when he made his debut with the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals farm team in their International League opener against the Jersey City Giants.
In the third inning, Robinson hit a three-run homer over the left-field fence. When he completed his trip around the bases, Shuba, the Royals’ left fielder and their next batter, shook his hand.
That was Shuba. And a famous photograph of that handshake was taken (it’s reproduced over at the Times obit). Which seems so small today, but it was pretty darn big in 1940s America. Not that Shuba’s life can be reduced to a handshake. The Times, in fact, has a lot of interesting stuff about Shuba’s life in and after baseball.
He was the kind of person most people forget but whose stories, however small they were, help make up baseball’s rich fabric.