PICTURED: ON HAND FOR DEDICATION CEREMONIES of a Handshake For A Century statue last Saturday at Wean Park in downtown Youngstown were from left, County Court Judge Joe Schiavoni, First Ward Councilman Julius Oliver, and legendary Youngstown Vindicator reporter Ernie Brown Jr. and noted local sports writer and former Youngstown State University sports information director Greg Gulas. Brown, Gulas and Herb Washington, all from Boardman, served as tri-chairs of the campaign to erect the statue.
For the past 23 months, I had the golden opportunity to serve as one of the chairs for the Shuba-Robinson statue project, watching everything unfold beginning in August 2019 then coming to fruition last Saturday when this marvelous “A Handshake for the Century” statue was dedicated in Wean Park, adjacent to the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown.
Serving as a tri-chair with two other Boardman residents, legendary local reporter Ernie Brown Jr. and former Major League baseball player Herb Washington of the Oakland Athletics, was both a learning and teaching experience for all of us.
We continually imparted our mission to anyone who would listen, not only talking about the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson, professional baseball’s first black player, but also the significance of Youngstown’s native son, George ‘Shotgun’ Shuba, the on-deck batter for the Montreal Royals who extended his hand at home plate to shake Jackie’s after his first professional hit, a home run against the Jersey City Giants on April 18, 1946.
The driving force behind the commemorative statue was Youngstown native and Cardinal Mooney High School graduate, Eric Planey. It was during a visit to Washington, D.C. for work in 2014 when Planey had just enough time to visit his brother, Michael, at his niece Violet’s softball practice, which was located not too far from Reagan Airport in Virginia.
That was when Violet’s pitching coach, a Youngstown native who grew up just a few doors down from Shuba, informed Planey of the important role that Shotgun Shuba played in professional baseball. When he returned that evening to his apartment in Brooklyn, Planey learned from the internet about the great ‘Handshake Moment’ and it was then that a multi-year journey began to honor the Shotgun. With the help of friends Julius Oliver, Mike Garvey and Dr. Lou Zona, work began to build this statue.
A committee, known as ‘The Bullpen,’ was formed with everyone’s role to help fundraise, impart the word about the importance of the handshake moment and hopefully the lofty $450,000 goal would be achieved..
In addition to the chairs, the committee included Patricia Brozik, Mark Butta, Tim Callion, Nick Chretian, Ray Klempay, Derrick McDowell, Julius Oliver, Tony Paglia, Dan Pecchia, Planey, Judge Joseph Schiavoni, Kate Spires and Dr. Robin Woodberry.
Special advisors included Storm Kirschenbaum, Shuba’s son, Michael and Dr. Zona, the highly regarded executive director of the Butler Institute of American Art and Museum, who recommended noted sculpture artist, Marc Mellon of Connecticut as the commissioned artist. The general contractor, who worked hand in hand with other area contractors, was Brock Construction Co. The first donation was $10 with the second $50,000 from the Youngstown Foundation.
Despite negotiating a once in a lifetime pandemic, platinum donations arrived from the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation in Oregon, gold donations came from the Youngstown Foundation and Washington’s McDonald’s of Mahoning Valley and Western Pennsylvania while silver donations were accepted from the J. Ford Crandall Memorial Foundation, Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, Mahoning Valley Sports Charities, the Family of George Shuba, Rotary Club of Youngstown, Premier Bank Foundation, John D. Finnegan Foundation, Pecchia Communications LLC, BSHM Architects, Inc. and IBEW Locals 64 & 573, MV NECA.
The statue Mellon crafted weighed approximately 2,000 pounds, was cast in bronze with internal stainless steel supports and was cast at Bedi-Makky Art Foundry in Brooklyn, New York.
The statue site was designed by Kate Spires of BSHM Architects and was meant to pay homage to the small baseball stadiums everyone visited as kids. Seating was constructed with the intention of promoting conversation and dialogue on issues of equality.
Shuba, who was also the very first National League player ever to hit a home run in the World Series – Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees was the first to do so, that coming on October 2, 1947, Johnny Mize of the Yankees was second on October 3, 1952 with Shuba’s coming on September 30, 1953 off the Yankees’ Allie Reynolds – passed away on September 29, 2014 at age 89.
A humble man who along with wife, Kathryn, raised three children on the city’s West Side – in addition to son Michael, there are daughters Mary Kay and Marlene and their families – Shuba would probably never have wanted a statue erected on his behalf, whether it was with Robinson or just by himself.
The ultimate takeaway from George’s handshake with Robinson 75 years ago is that we are all on the same team, whether it is baseball or in life and when you do the right thing for your teammate or fellow man, good things tend to happen.
This article was republished here with permission from the Boardman News.