|William A. Shea|
Shea in a 1959 photo.
June 21, 1907|
New York City, New York
|Died||October 2, 1991
New York City, New York
|Occupation||Lawyer; co-founder of Continental League|
William Alfred "Bill" Shea (June 21, 1907 – October 2, 1991) was an American lawyer and a name partner of the prominent law firm of Shea & Gould. He is probably better known as the founder of the Continental League, which was instrumental in bringing National League baseball back to New York City with the New York Mets, and for being the namesake of the stadium where that team played for 45 years.
Early life and career
Shea began undergraduate work at New York University, where he was admitted to the Zeta Psi fraternity, and later graduated from Georgetown University and the Georgetown University Law Center. He was a member of the Georgetown Hoyas men's basketball team.
After graduating from law school, Shea worked for two state insurance bureaucracies before entering private practice in 1940. He accumulated political contacts through volunteer work on influential boards such as the Brooklyn Democratic Club and the Brooklyn Public Library. As one account put it: "Shea was neither a litigator nor a legal scholar. Rather, he was the sort of lawyer whom powerful men trusted with their secrets and whom they could rely upon as a go-between. ... [H]e earned a reputation as a man who could get things done."
Major League Baseball
In 1958, one year after the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants left for Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, New York mayor Robert Wagner asked him to chair a committee to return the National League to New York. Shea first tried to bring an existing franchise to New York, but the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, and Pittsburgh Pirates all refused his overtures. When requests for expansion were declined, Shea proposed a new league, the Continental League, and travelled to a farm outside Philadelphia to talk Branch Rickey out of retirement to help him. The formation of the Continental League was announced by Rickey in 1959. The Continental League would have been a third major league and would have begun play in 1961.
The threat of a third major league forced Major League Baseball to discuss expansion. Two teams would be added to the American League in 1961 (the Los Angeles Angels and the replacement Washington Senators), and two more to the National League in 1962 (the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s—now the Houston Astros). With New York virtually assured of one of the new teams, Shea abandoned the idea of the Continental League. The New York Mets played their first game on April 11, 1962. In 1964, the Mets played their first game in their new stadium in Queens, named Shea Stadium after the man most responsible for the existence of the franchise.
National Hockey League
National Football League
Aside from his baseball involvement, Shea was a one time owner of the Boston Yanks and a partial owner with life-long friend Jack Kent Cooke of the Washington Redskins, each of the NFL. Legend has it that he further persuaded Harry Wismer to sell the New York Jets, and Sonny Werblin to buy the New York Jets, and was integral to the creation and administration of the initial annual competitions between the AFL and the NFL, now known as the Superbowl.
- On April 8, 2008, the New York Mets retired the name "Shea" alongside other retired numbers in honor of William Shea and the closing of Shea Stadium.
- On November 21, 2009, the Mets announced that the pedestrian bridge located in the outfield section of Citi Field, Shea Stadium's successor, would be named "Shea Bridge" in honor of William Shea.
- To honor Bill’s many contributions, commencing in 1987 and continuing today, on an annual basis during the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the William A. “Bill” Shea – Distinguished Little League Graduate Award is presented to a former little leaguer in Major League Baseball who best exemplifies the spirit of Little League Baseball. Consideration for selection includes both the individual’s ability and accomplishments and the individual’s status as a positive role model.
- The Bill Shea Harlem Little League Friendship Field located in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, New York is a flagship Little League baseball field and the home of Little League in Harlem. Bill had initiated efforts to convert a dilapidated lot that was shared with municipal leagues into a new grass field upon which Little League in Harlem could play. Fortunately, through the dedication of others, the field was realized, however, such did not occur until 1998, seven years after Bill’s death. Today, Little League is the largest organized youth sports program in the world.
- Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones named his second son Shea after Jones' success in Shea Stadium against the Mets; he hit 19 home runs there, more than any other road park.
- Former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin named his eldest daughter Brielle D'Shea, as he enjoyed playing at Shea Stadium.
- Shapiro, Michael (2009). Bottom of the Ninth: Branch Rickey, Casey Stengel, and the Daring Scheme to Save Baseball from Itself. New York: Times Books. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-8050-8247-0.
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- ESPN news services (August 31, 2004). "Jones has 17 home runs at Shea Stadium". ESPN.com. Retrieved 01-09-2009.