Youngstown, Ohio, Local 64 members lit up a new statue commemorating the historic handshake between baseball players Jackie Robinson and George Shuba.
Photo credit: Mike Shuba

The "handshake for the century" has a new statue in Youngstown, Ohio, and Local 64 members helped make it happen.

When baseball legend Jackie Robinson hit a home run in his debut minor league game with the Montreal Royals in 1946, he prompted what ESPN called "a simple act of decency" — a handshake from his white teammate George "Shotgun" Shuba. While that might not sound like much today, it was nothing short of historic 75 years ago. The next year, Robinson broke the color barrier by becoming major league baseball's first Black player. In this pre-Civil Rights era, interracial handshakes simply didn't happen — until George Shuba made it happen when he reached out his hand to congratulate his teammate and Robinson accepted it, both of them smiling.

"It was a huge moment at the time," said Local 64 Business Manager Jim Burgham. "With everything going on in the country right now, that handshake still carries a lot of meaning."

That game took place in New Jersey, but it's Shuba's hometown of Youngstown that commissioned the seven-foot-tall bronze statue, unveiled on July 17, to commemorate the moment that changed baseball forever. And Local 64 members, working for signatory contractor Dan Santon, installed the lights, including four pole lights to highlight the statue from above and linear LED lighting at the base to provide light from below. Over 30 LED lights were also installed in the face of the concrete seating area surrounding the sculpture.

Those seats are something that Shuba's son Mike said were important to him, so children would have a place to sit on future field trips to learn about their hometown hero.

"The grounds are absolutely incredible. It's one of the nicest areas for teaching children that we're all on the same team in life," Mike Shuba said. "My dad always said that he didn't care if Jackie was technicolor, he was on our team."

Local 64 members also installed LED lights to highlight the names of those who provided funding or in-kind donations.

"It's definitely something we wanted to be involved in," Burgham said. "It's going to be there for a long time and we wanted do our part."

When Santon first heard of the project, he brought it to the Labor Management Cooperative Committee and they agreed to help fund it through a grant as well as with donated materials and labor. All told, the LMCC gave around $50,000 to the effort, which cost around $400,000 total.

"The LMCC likes to do things like this. We're kind of proud of that," Santon said. "Plus, we didn't want the work to be nonunion. Not for something like this."

The statue's unveiling, which was originally scheduled for April but got postponed due to the coronavirus, was part of the Youngstown State University's Festival of the Arts and now sits in Wean Park in the city's downtown area.

"It was a nice ceremony," said Santon, who attended on the rainy Saturday. "It was quite reflective."

Santon grew up in the same town as the Shubas. He remembers when George played, but realized that the younger generations may not and he didn't want that part of his neighbor's legacy lost to history.

"I remember Mike telling me that his dad took all his mementos from his years of playing and put them in two Maytag washing machine boxes. All except for one — the photo of the handshake. That one he kept framed on the wall." Santon said. "That's the kind of person George was."

For Santon and many others in Youngstown, Shuba's gesture that day embodies some of the best of their town.

"Everyone else did not do it. He stood up because that's the way he was raised in the city of Youngstown," said Mayor Jamael Tito Brown.

The statue, which was cast in Brooklyn in the same place as the Iwo Jima memorial, is the eighth one of Robinson and the only piece to feature another person with the baseball great, Brown said.

"It's nice to be part of a memorial to something so historic, and ultimately about doing what is right," Burgham said.

That so many people helped make the statue a reality is not lost on the younger Shuba.

"It's quite amazing to see all these people coming together. It was a real team effort," he said. "And it's gratifying to know that it'll carry on long after we're gone."