YOUNGSTOWN – A segment on the next CBS “Sunday Morning” show could give a financial boost to the Jackie Robinson-George Shuba statue project in Youngstown.
The venerable TV newsmagazine, which airs at 9 a.m. Sundays on WKBN, will feature a profile of the project Sept. 27.
“I hope it would be a springboard for our fundraising efforts,” said Ernie Brown of Youngstown, a co-chairman of the statue project committee.
A crew from “CBS Sunday Morning” was in town Aug. 3 and 4 to shoot the segment. The statue is slated to be unveiled in Wean Park on April 18, to mark the 75th anniversary of the historic moment. Renowned sculptor Marc Mellon is currently creating it at his Connecticut studio. The project committee has raised $191,000 toward its $400,000 goal, said Brown.
The statue is based on a famous photo of the moment when Robinson, about to touch home base after hitting a home run, shakes the outstretched hand of teammate George “Shotgun” Shuba.
Robinson became the first black player in organized professional baseball during that game, played April 18, 1946. Both Robinson and Shuba were playing for the Montreal Royals, a Brooklyn Dodgers minor league affiliate, in a game in Jersey City, N.J., against the Jersey City Giants. Just over a year later, Robinson would break Major League Baseball’s racial barrier. Though he was named Rookie of the Year in 1947 and was an All-Star six times, Robinson had to deal with open racism throughout his 10-year career. He died in 1972.
While the two teammates who were on base did not pause to shake Robinson’s hand as he crossed home, Shuba – who was the next batter – reached out to Robinson.
The CBS crew, led by producer Amiel Weisfogel, and with reporter Susan Spencer, interviewed two Youngstown residents involved in the statue project: Mike Shuba, son of the late George Shuba, and Herb Washington, a former professional baseball player whose company owns several McDonald’s franchises. The interview took place in the showroom of Steelite International in downtown Youngstown’s Commerce Building.
The crew also shot footage at Wean Park, the riverfront area between Covelli Centre and the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, where the statue will be located.
Shuba played seven seasons for Brooklyn. After his playing days were over, he returned home to Youngstown where he raised his family. He died in 2014.
In his later years, Shuba and his son would travel the country for appearances. Mike served as his agent and manager and still owns all rights to the iconic photo, which has been dubbed “The Handshake of the Century.”
While the project has taken on heightened meaning in light of the calls for racial justice this summer, the origins of the statue project began five years ago when Eric Planey, a Youngstown native and New York businessman, approached Mike Shuba with the idea.
With a goal of promoting racial harmony, and touting a Youngstowner’s role in it, the project began to take shape when Planey contacted Mellon, the sculptor.
“When I got the call from Eric [Planey], I knew I had to do the best I could,” Shuba said. “It will be great for the city of Youngstown, great for America and great for baseball.”
To donate, send a check to the Economic Action Group, 100 E. Federal St., Suite 422, Youngstown, OH 44503, or go to the project’s GoFundMe page.
Major donors to the project so far include $50,000 from McDonald’s of Mahoning Valley and Western Pennsylvania; $50,000 from the Youngstown Foundation; $25,000 from the J. Ford Crandall Foundation; $15,000 from Mahoning Valley Sports Charities; $10,000 from Rotary of Youngstown; and $8,614 from the families of Shuba’s sisters, Mary Kay Shuba and Marlene Del Fraino.
The handshake was a major element in a June article in Sports Illustrated about how the gesture, long a sign of sportsmanship, could be fading forever because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the article, by Steve Rushin, Mike Shuba talks about the photo, which his father had mounted on a wall at their Youngstown home. The photo became a daily reminder in the Shuba household to treat all people equally.
“Dad didn’t ask to be the next batter up,” Mike Shuba said in the Sports Illustrated article. “Nobody knew Jackie would hit a home run. But as Dad always said, ‘if you’re put on the spot, do the right thing and everything will work out fine.’”
Pictured: Mike Shuba is interviewed by a crew from CBS Sunday Morning for a segment on the statue depicting his father shaking the hand of Jackie Robinson.
Posted Sept. 21, 2020.
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