George Shuba, a Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder who grasped the hand of African American ballplayer Jackie Robinson in a memorable gesture of interracial solidarity while they were minor league teammates in 1946, died Sept. 29 at his home in Youngstown, Ohio. He was 89.
His son, Michael Shuba, confirmed the death but declined to specify a cause.
Mr. Shuba, who was nicknamed “Shotgun” for the way he hit line drives all over the field like buckshot, was a part-time player with the Dodgers for seven seasons in the 1940s and 1950s.
He was featured in writer Roger Kahn’s classic 1972 book “The Boys of Summer,” which chronicled the Dodgers during the era of Robinson, who in 1947 became the first African American major league player of the century.
One year earlier, Robinson had broken another color barrier when he appeared in the minor leagues with the Dodgers’ Class AAA affiliate, the Montreal Royals. Mr. Shuba was his teammate.
In spring training, several Southern teams kept the gates to their fields locked to prevent Robinson from playing in an integrated game.
On April 18, 1946, the Royals were in Jersey City, N.J., for opening day of the minor league season. In the third inning, Robinson hit a three-run home run and began to circle the bases. Mr. Shuba, the next hitter, was waiting on deck.
“When he hit the home run,” Mr. Shuba told the Associated Press in 1996, “everybody was looking to see if a white guy was going to shake his hand.”
The Royals’ Mississippi-born manager, Clay Hopper, slapped Robinson on the back as he rounded third base. The two runners who crossed the plate ahead of Robinson did not wait to congratulate him. It was up to Mr. Shuba, then 21, to extend his hand to a jubilant Robinson in a moment captured by photographers and witnessed by more than 25,000 spectators.
“It didn’t make any difference to me that Jack was black,” Mr. Shuba told the New York Times in 2006. “I was glad to have him on our team.”
The handshake was seen as a gesture of acceptance, perhaps the first time on a professional baseball diamond that white and black teammates joined hands in solidarity. Robinson went on to lead the International League in hitting with Montreal and, the next season, took his historic place in the Dodgers’ lineup.
Mr. Shuba played only 20 games with Robinson in 1946 before being sent to another minor league team in Alabama. They were reunited in 1948 and would play together off and on through 1955, when the Dodgers won their only World Series title in Brooklyn.
Mr. Shuba excelled as a part-time outfielder and left-handed pinch hitter, “with a swing so compact and so fluid that it appeared as natural as a smile,” Kahn wrote in “The Boys of Summer.” In the 1953 World Series, Mr. Shuba drilled a pinch-hit home run off Allie Reynolds of the New York Yankees.
Robinson, in the meantime, developed into a Hall of Fame player, in addition to being one of the country’s most prominent symbols of racial integration before his death in 1972.
“Most of us players could not comprehend that he was able to perform so magnificently under such tremendous pressure,” Mr. Shuba said in 1996. “He certainly had a great first year in Montreal, and I think it was almost more important than the one in ’47, his first in the majors.”
George Thomas Shuba was born Dec. 13, 1924, in Youngstown, the youngest of 10 children. His father, who was born in Slovakia, worked in an industrial plant.
Mr. Shuba often played baseball and football with African American athletes in Youngstown before signing his first professional baseball contract at 17. He was exempt from military service during World War II because of a broken eardrum, sustained when he was slapped by a nun in class at a Catholic school.
Mr. Shuba had his best big-league season in 1952, when he hit .305 with 9 home runs. But a knee injury curtailed his effectiveness, and his final season came in 1955. He played two more years in the minors before returning to Youngstown, where he spent 25 years working in the office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. He often spoke to school groups and appeared at Brooklyn Dodger reunions.
Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Kathryn Forde Shuba of Youngstown; three children, Michael Shuba of Youngstown, Marlene Delfraino of Poland, Ohio, and Marykay McNeely of Elyria, Ohio; a sister; and eight grandchildren.
During the off-seasons throughout his playing career, Mr. Shuba would practice his swing 600 times a night, using a weighted bat to hit a ball of string suspended from his basement ceiling.
When Kahn visited Mr. Shuba in Youngstown while working on “The Boys of Summer,” they went into the basement, where the ball of string was still hanging. It was more than 15 years since his major league career had ended, but Mr. Shuba grabbed a bat.
“It was the old swing yet, right before me in a cellar,” Kahn wrote. “The swing was beautiful, and grunting softly he whipped the bat into the clumped string. Level and swift, the bat parted the air and made a whining sound. Again Shuba swung and again, controlled and terribly hard. It was the hardest swing I ever saw that close.”