George “Shotgun” Shuba, a member of the Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship team, was back in Brooklyn on Sunday — and, of course, the conversation centered around Jackie Robinson.
Shuba was on hand for a signing of his book, “My Memories as a Brooklyn Dodger,” but one of those memories was a single, natural act of humanity that came in a crucial time for race relations in the United States.
Yes, Shuba was featured in Roger Kahn’s epic, “The Boys of Summer.” And, yes, the 83-year-old was the first National Leaguer to hit a pinch hit home run in the World Series, connecting in the first game of the 1953 Series against Yankee hurler Allie Reynolds.
But arguably his greatest moment came with his teammate Robinson on the Dodgers’ top farm club, the Montreal Royals, at the start of the 1946 season.
Robinson had been signed by the Dodgers as the first African-American player in modern baseball, and was about to play in his first minor-league game in Jersey City’s Roosevelt Stadium on April 18 against the New York Giants’ farm team.
In the third inning, Robinson hit a two-run homer to left field, and as he crossed the plate, Shuba shook his hand. It was a natural gesture for Shuba, but the warmth that Shuba exhibited was a great symbol of Robinson’s acceptance.
“It didn’t make any difference to me,” Shuba said. “He was the best ballplayer on that club anyhow. I could care less if he was Technicolor as long as he helped us beat the other team.”
Shuba was brought up among various ethnic groups that respected each other.
“In Youngstown, Ohio, at Chaney High School, we had black football players, and in amateur [baseball] ball where blacks and whites played.”
He got the nickname “Shotgun” for the way he sprayed line drives while he was in the Dodgers’ farm system, but his smooth left-handed swing was the result of a tenacious practice regimen when he was a teenager.
“I got a bat and drilled a hole in it about six inches in the barrel,” said Shuba.
“I put lead in it. Then in my basement I had a ball of string hanging, and I would swing in 25-swing increments until I had 600 swings for the day.
“Sometimes I would do 400 swings in the day, go out on a date, and come back at 12:30 in the morning [night] and do 200 more.”
Shuba was a key pinch hitter and back-up outfielder for the Dodgers from 1948 through 1955, and he hit .259 lifetime with the Dodgers, with 24 homers and 125 RBI in 355 games.
Including Shuba, there are only nine Dodgers surviving from the 1955 team, the only Brooklyn Dodger team to win the World Series: Don Zimmer, Roger Craig, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe, Billy Loes, Ed Roebuck, Sandy Koufax, and Duke Snider.