This Sunday is the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first minor league game, playing for the Montreal Royals in the International League on April 18, 1946.
Robinson had a magnificent debut in the Dodgers farm system, with four hits, two stolen bases, four runs scored, and four RBI at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey against the Giants, Robinson homered in his second at-bat, and when he arrived at the plate, the next batter, outfielder George Shuba, greeted Robinson with a handshake at home plate.
In a video for ESPN, Clinton Yates described the handshake between Shuba and Robinson as “a simple act of decency,” and one that will be commemorated with a statue of both men in Shuba’s hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
The moment was captured in a photo which was relatively unknown for years, except in the Shuba household. Shuba, who played parts of seven seasons for the Dodgers from 1948-1955, and was 4-for-12 in parts of three World Series for Brooklyn, didn’t advertise the photo much until about 2004, when his son Mike finally convinced him to share that picture, which he did in various speeches at schools and ballparks around the country. William Weinbaum at The Undefeated wrote about the legacy of the moment, which is being immortalized as “A Handshake for the Century”:
“For that brief moment, mankind was one,” said retired newspaper editor Ernie Brown, a co-chair of the Robinson-Shuba statue committee formed in 2019. Co-chair Herb Washington, a former player with the Oakland Athletics, said, “What he [Robinson] and Shuba did together was something that made us all stop in our tracks and say, ‘We can be better as people and this is how it starts.’ ”
Robinson was 27 years old in 1946, and in his first year in the previously all-white minors was excellent, hitting .349/.468/.462 with 25 doubles, eight triples, three home runs, 40 stolen bases, and an league-leading 113 runs scored while winning the battle title.
Thanks to Jackie, the Royals established a new attendance record in Montreal, and his impact on the road was even greater, as attendance at Royals games in other International League cities almost tripled over the previous year. More than a million people came to watch Robinson and the Royals perform that year, an amazing figure for the minor leagues at the time.
Almost a year to the day later after the handshake, Robinson made his major league debut with the Dodgers, the anniversary of which will be celebrated before Tuesday’s game against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium. This handshake from a year earlier is less heralded, but incredible in its own right, and should be fondly remembered.
Links & news
On Thursday, the first leg of a Dodgers Dreamfields project at Gonzales Park in Compton will be unveiled, featuring “three fields with new playing surfaces, fencing, dugouts, irrigation upgrades, lighting, paint, and scoreboards,” including among other things Rachel Robinson Field, Jackie Robinson Stadium, and Kershaw’s Challenge Training and Fitness Zone.
Old friend Ross Stripling has a new podcast project called GOATS: On the bump, in which he talks with current major league pitchers about legendary pitchers. The first episode is out, featuring Clayton Kershaw talking about Sandy Koufax, and Stripling talked to Andy McCullough at The Athletic about the podcast.
Stripling was also interviewed by David Laurila at FanGraphs, and said, “I wouldn’t have had the success that I’ve had in the big leagues if it wasn’t for Clayton’s mentorship.”
J.P. Hoornstra at the Orange County Register wrote about the Dodgers’ prolific 2016 draft, and also reminded us that a pair of players in that draft have moved on to other things: James Turlington (nee Carter) is a fashion model, and Saige Jenco recently released a hip-hop song.