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'A FOCAL POINT TO THE FUTURE' | Robinson-Shuba statue unveiled in Youngstown

"A Handshake for a Century" statue is the ninth statue of Jackie Robinson worldwide. The $450,000 statue was unveiled at Wean Park on Saturday.

YOUNGSTOWN — The historic moment between George Shuba and Jackie Robinson will be marked forever with a 7-foot-tall, bronze statue in Wean Park. 

“A Handshake for a Century” statue was unveiled Saturday and commemorates the handshake between Robinson and Youngstown native George Shuba after Robinson, a veteran of the Negro Leagues, hit his first home run in 1946 when they were teammates with the Montreal Royals of the International League. 

Other players did not wait at home plate to shake his hand, but George Shuba extended his hand.

The Royals were the top farm club of the National League's Brooklyn Dodgers. One season later, Robinson broke Major League Baseball's color barrier when he debuted with the Dodgers, becoming the first black player in the majors during baseball's modern era.

Mike Shuba, George Shuba’s son, said a photo of the handshake hung in the living room of his home in Youngstown. He said his father boxed up the rest of his baseball memorabilia but wanted his family to remember and learn from that moment.

“He taught me as a young kid, if you are ever put on the spot, just do the right thing and everything will work out fine,” Mike Shuba said. 

This is the ninth statue of Robinson worldwide.

Herb Washington, one of the chairs for the Robinson-Shuba Commemorative Statue Committee, said this gesture transformed not only baseball but society in 1946.

“In an era marked by incredible racism and intolerance ... it was the right thing to do and it reflected George's upbringing here in Youngstown,” said Washington, a member of the 1974 world-champion Oakland A's . 

Washington presented the statue to the city of Youngstown during the ceremony. 

“We hope that the statue and the site can become a focal point to the future of racial equality and inclusion efforts here in Youngstown,” Washington said. 

Eric Planey, statue committee member, said he got the idea for the statue during a trip to Washington, D.C. in 2014. 

He was at his niece’s softball game when he met her pitching coach, who was a native of Youngstown and grew up a few doors down from George Shuba. The pitching coach told Planey about the handshake. 

Planey started to research about the handshake moment and got the idea to create the Robinson-Shuba statue in Youngstown. He started reaching out to city officials in Youngstown to get the project started. 

“Not one person that I call to either be involved or to help us get to this day said no,” Planey said. “That is why my heart will always be in Youngstown, in the Mahoning Valley.”

Planey said the statue is meant to be a “living statue” that will honor Robinson and Shuba for their humanity that day, but also be a gathering place for education regarding equality and inclusion. 

Councilman Julius Oliver, 1st ward, accepted the statue on the city’s behalf and was part of the committee that helped bring the statue to Wean Park over the past four years.

Plans for the statue began before the death of George Floyd and the COVID-19 pandemic. Oliver said the statue came at a time of the most timorous time of race relations that he has seen in his life. 

“After all of these things transpired, to be able to send that message out to Youngstowners [and] in the world to say ‘hey we all need to come together,’” Oliver said. “The timing couldn't have been more perfect.”

He said it was emotional to see all the people brought together who were impacted by this historic moment. People traveled from across the country to see the statue be unveiled. 

“We need all the girls and boys to be able to see that they are all a part of the human race,” Oliver said. “We all need each other. We all need each other to win.”

The statue was created by Marc Melon, who has crafted statues for Pope John Paul II and former President Barack Obama. 

The $450,000 statue was funded by donors, including the Youngstown Foundation, the family of George Shuba and more. 

The committee for the statue, nicknamed “The Bullpen,” included Planey, Oliver, Greg Gulas, Ernie Brown Jr., Patricia Brozik, Nick Cretien, Mark Butta, Ray Klempay, Tony Paglia, Joe Schiavoni, Robin Woodberry, Tim Callion, Derrick McDowell, Dan Pecchia and Katie Spires. 

Sally Bany, co-founder of the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation, donated the remainder of the funds needed to bring the statue to Youngstown. Bany was presented a key to the city by Mayor Jamael Tito Brown during the ceremony. 

Bany and Jan Strasfeld, retired Youngstown Foundation president, pulled the strings to unveil the statue on Saturday.

Brown said the statue will show the humanity and true character that can be witnessed in the city.

“Youngstown will be a place that they’ll be talking about a handshake … that took us from one part of the world to another,” Brown said as the statue was unveiled. 

Ellen Wagner

About the Author: Ellen Wagner

Ellen Wagner reports on municipal services and budget cuts in Youngstown. She is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
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