Glen sent me a notice that George Shuba died. I’d missed that in the paper and on the internet, so thanks, Glen. Shuba was one of the players featured in Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer, and thus became one of the more famous Brooklyn Dodgers players. With his death, only Carl Erskine remains of the players Kahn interviewed for his book (although there are other 1950s Dodgers still alive).
Shuba was essentially the fourth outfielder on the team. With Carl Furillo in right and Duke Snider in center, the Dodgers rotated through a series of left fielders from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. Shuba didn’t do a lot of starting but became the team’s premier pinch hitter.
He came up in 1948 and stayed through 1955 (missing 1951 and getting only one at bat in 1949). He played 355 games, but only 216 in the field. He hit .259 with 24 home runs, 106 runs scored, and 125 RBIs. His OPS+ is actually 104 but his Baseball Reference.com WAR is only 3 (you see how the modern stats sometimes confuse as much as the clarify). Not a bad career, but nothing special.
Of course he became very special for one moment. In 1946, Jackie Robinson hit his first ever home run for Montreal. As he touched home, the next batter, Shuba, reached out to shake his hand. It was a simple, a normal, an off-hand gesture, but it meant a new world in American race relations. White guy Shuba was shaking hands with black guy Robinson as if it was simply the most normal thing he ever did. Shuba later explained that he never considered not doing it. It was how you treated a teammate and the color of the teammate’s face or hand didn’t matter. They got a picture of it and in 1946 that shot became a sensation. Now it’s normal.
So we all owe Shuba just a little bit, some as a ball player, more as a man. Thanks, George, and rest in peace.