George Shuba – now there’s a name that doesn’t ring a bell for many baseball fans. However, mention George “Shotgun” Shuba around any old-time Dodger fan and you’re sure to get a smile.
Shuba did not have an especially notable career, one that was cut short by injury, but his career was not without significance to the Dodger organization and the history of the game itself. He was never a regular player but was a key pinch hitter and back-up outfielder for the Dodgers from 1948 through 1955. He hit .259 lifetime with the Dodgers, with 24 homers and 125 RBI in 355 games. There are suggestions he did not become a regular following a stellar year in the minor leagues in Mobile (21 HR, 110 RBI) either because Branch Rickey felt he did not have enough power or because he was not a strong defensive player.
“Shotgun” got his nickname for the way he sprayed line drives while he was in the Dodgers’ farm system, but his smooth left-handed swing wasn’t a fluke, it was the result of a tenacious practice regimen when he was a teenager. He explains: “I got a bat and drilled a hole in it about six inches in the barrel. 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 and do 200 more.”
He used that swing in 1953 to become the first National Leaguer to hit a pinch hit home run in a World Series game. And though that may seem hard to believe, what was even more unbelievably is that he hit that two-run shot off of Yankee great Allie Reynolds. At the time of his pinch hit home run, Shotgun was completely unaware that it had etched his name into baseball history forever.
“Shotgun” Shuba’s final AB in the major leagues was in the 1955 World Series, again as a pinch hitter. Manager Walter Alston used him to pinch hit for second baseman Don Zimmer. A hit at that time would have scored at least two runs in a tight final game that was eventually won by the Dodgers 2-0; but it wasn’t to be. Shotgun’s pinch hit at bat did, however, become part of the famous Sandy Amoros catch. With Don Zimmer now out of the game (having been pinch hit for by Shuba), Jim Gilliam was moved to second base and Sandy Amoros entered the game in left field. A short while later, Amoros made his impossible and historic catch which he turned it into a double play. Most agree that because Gilliam was not as fast as Amoros and unlike Amoros wore his glove on his left hand instead of his right, Gilliam would not have made that catch in the left field corner and thus, no double play.
Shuba played seven seasons in the majors, all with Brooklyn; and like many others, he was known to have been outfoxed by Branch Rickey at contract negotiation time. Shuba wanted a salary increase to $23,000 and during his meeting with Rickey, the Dodger general manager was summoned to another office for an important phone call. As he waited, Shotgun noticed a contract with Jackie Robinson’s name on it for $21,000 sitting on Rickey’s desk. When Rickey returned, Shuba immediately agreed to take $20,000. Like many before him, he found out later that Jackie’s contract was a phony and that the important phone call had been a setup.
George “Shotgun” Shuba was rewarded by Roger Kahn with his own chapter in Kahn’s 1972 bestselling book ‘The Boys Of Summer’, a book that was later selected by a Sports Illustrated panel as the greatest baseball book ever written. Kahn notes that even though Shuba hit that first-ever National League pinch hit homer in a World Series game, he is best remembered for a truly remarkable moment in baseball history that occurred while Shuba was still in the minor leagues – he was the first person to congratulate Jackie Robinson with a handshake on Jackie’s first home run in an all white man’s league. As Jackie reached home plate at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City on April 18, 1946, Shuba extended his hand and shook Robinson’s hand, accepting Jackie as a respected teammate. The famous photo, ‘Handshake for the Century’ records a pivotal moment in Jackie’s career and marked the beginning of integration in professional baseball.
In a subsequent interview, Shuba answered a question about that historic moment: “It didn’t matter that Jackie was black, he was the best guy on the team and he was my teammate. He could have been Technicolor, it didn’t matter to me.”
On July 20, 2008 at age 83, George “Shotgun” Shuba returned to Brooklyn and appeared at KeySpan Park (now called MCU Stadium) to greet fans and sign copies of his own book ‘My Memories as a Brooklyn Dodger’. Prior to that evening’s Brooklyn Cyclones game, Shuba participated in a reenactment of the ’Handshake for the Century’ to commemorate the historic event. It was truly an emotional night for Shuba and for all in attendance.
(Re-posted from December 31, 2012)