Statue commemorates Jackie Robinson’s first professional baseball game in Jersey City 75 years ago
Sunday will mark the 75th anniversary of the game in which Jackie Robinson broke professional baseball’s color barrier.
Robinson played in the Minor League for the Montreal Royals against the Jersey City Giants on April 18, 1946. A photo from that game shows Robinson’s teammate and on-deck batter George Shuba extending his hand to congratulate him.
“Many times in my life, he went back to that photo and said, ‘This is the way you need to treat people,” Shuba’s son Michael Shuba says.
Shuba’s life lesson has been called the “handshake of the century.” It was Robinson’s first game in the profession that was dominated by white players. Spring training had been a gauntlet of racial taunts and opposing teams protesting. Robinson was still not sure if his Montreal Royals team would accept him.
With a dominating four-for-five performance against the Jersey City Giants, and of course that handshake, Robinson would later write in his autobiography, “This was the day the dam burst between me and my teammates.”
“[My father] was 21 years old when he shook Jackie’s hand. He saw that no one else was going to the plate at the time,” Michael Shuba says.
Soon that handshake will go from figurately monumental to literally. A group of community leaders in Shuba’s hometown of Youngstown, Ohio, led by former track star and Major Leaguer Herb Washington, commissioned renowned sculptor Marc Mellon to create a bronze monument of that moment.
“What I want people to see, beyond the sports excitement, is the smile that they’re sharing. This engagement, this human engagement,” says Mellon.
The sculpture stands 75 feet fall and will be a permanent structure in the new public park. An unveiling had been slated to coincide with the anniversary but has been delayed until later this year because of the pandemic.