|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 Bill to chair a committee to return the National League to New York. He 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 Texas Rangers/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.
Few people have had more of an overall impact on Major League Baseball than Bill Shea; the man in whose honor, while living, Shea Stadium was named, and the man to whom credit is given for being the driving force behind National League Baseball’s return to the City of New York. Bill Shea’s baseball legacy, however, reaches far beyond the New York Metropolitan Tri-State area. Truly, his legacy is that of having significantly and effectively helped to establish the game of baseball as the National Pastime, as well as a sport enjoyed by millions of individuals globally, not only through his having successfully spearheaded baseball’s early expansion years in the United States and Canada, but also by his continuous service to Major League Baseball and Little League Baseball throughout his life, and even posthumously. Truly, he is one of the fathers and grandfathers of territorial expansion, and in such of modern baseball, for while uncompromisingly devoting years to bring baseball back to New York, he simultaneously possessed the determination and foresight, as well as the business and legal acumen, to foster competition within the leagues by also brokering a deal that ultimately has led to Major League Baseball having a presence in the United States and Canada in each of the cities of Anaheim, Houston, Minneapolis, San Diego, Kansas City, Montreal, Toronto, Denver, Miami, Phoenix and Tampa Bay.
The growth and expansion of the game, and the business of baseball, as we know it today as a result of Bill’s dedication and commitment is unfathomable and probably unquantifiable. The statistical data supporting the direct and indirect impacts of his service to the promotion of the game is so voluminous that it is seemingly not possible to attach it hereto, not only because of how long this proposal would become, but because statisticians can’t cost-effectively compile the vast information in an efficient and useful format.
Overall, since Bill formulated, organized, engineered and successfully brought to fruition the mitigation of the barriers to entry to Major League Baseball participation for those in the United States and Canada, fourteen teams have been admitted to the major leagues (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (1961); Minnesota Twins (1961); New York Mets (1962); Houston Colt .45s/Astros (1962); San Diego Padres (1969); Kansas City Royals (1969); Seattle Pilots/Milwaukee Brewers (1969); Montreal Expos (now Washington Nationals)(1969); Toronto Blue Jays (1977); Seattle Mariners (1977); Colorado Rockies (1993); Florida Marlins (1993); Arizona Diamondbacks (1998); Tampa Bay Devil Rays (1998)). Of the 8 cities in which Bill proposed franchises be granted, 7 of the fourteen teams are located in the same cities in which Bill proposed (New York; Denver; Houston; Minneapolis; Toronto; Atlanta (ultimate transfer from Milwaukee); Dallas/Ft. Worth (ultimate transfer from the 1960 Washington franchise)). The eighth city originally proposed by Bill to have a franchise—Buffalo—currently has the Buffalo Bison, a successful and admired AAA International League franchise. The original 7 teams admitted to the league between 1960 and 1969 are undeniably a direct result of Bill’s work on behalf of the initially proposed teams. The additional 7 teams admitted to the league between 1970 and 1998 are undeniably a direct result of Bill’s successful efforts on behalf of the first 8 teams originally proposed. On average, as of 2008, of the teams that are in contention for post-season play each year, and of those that make it to the post-season each year, half are expansion teams. Of the fourteen expansion teams, 11 have competed in the World Series (New York Mets; Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; San Diego Padres; Florida Marlins; Toronto Blue Jays; Minnesota Twins; Colorado Rockies; Arizona Diamondbacks; Houston Astros; Kansas City Royals; Milwaukee Brewers) and 7 have won the World Series (many more than once)(New York Mets (2); Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (1); Florida Marlins (2); Toronto Blue Jays (2); Minnesota Twins (2); Arizona Diamondbacks (1); Kansas City Royals (1)). Additionally, each of the expansion teams has produced Hall of Famers and potential Hall of Famers and ambassadors of the game.
Bill chaired, and participated in, innumerable major league and little league boards, commissions, and panels, and served as esteemed counsel, advisor, friend and colleague to many a franchise owner, player, manager, baseball executive, municipality, and Major League Baseball itself. Bill’s dedication and commitment to the advancement of Little League Baseball came in several forms, including his as President of the Little League Foundation and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. 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. Additionally, 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, this did not occur until 1998, seven years after Bill’s death. Today, Little League is the largest organized youth sports program in the world.
In 1964, the City of New York named the stadium in which the Met’s were to play in Bill’s honor — William A Shea Honorary Stadium. In 2008, the New York Mets retired the name “Shea” on the outfield wall of Shea Stadium alongside the other elite players and managers whom the Mets have deemed worthy of such an honor over the years (Tom Seaver, Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel, and Jackie Robinson (retired by all teams at the request of Major League Baseball)). The honor was carried over to Citi Field, the new home of the Mets, with the other players’ and managers’ numbers. It is doubtful that in the history of organized major league sports that an individual’s name, as opposed to team jersey number, who was not a player or manager or owner, but an executive and a pioneer of the game, has ever been retired by any team in any arena or stadium.
To calculate the increase in job creation and cash flow of the additional fourteen expansion teams is near impossible as one must take into account all monies exchanged on account each teams’ respective stadium construction, renovation and deconstruction; lease revenue paid to the various municipalities; ticket sales; concession sales; parking revenues; public transportation revenues; merchandising revenues; television revenues; taxes; salaries paid, not only to players, but to team employees, ticket takers, concessionaires; and the like. Such a calculation should not only consider the major leagues, but also the minor league farm teams and little league. It should suffice to say that Major League Baseball attendance from 1957–1984 tripled, which in turn produced lucrative television, licensing and merchandising contracts, which in turn produced greater attendance and greater television, licensing and merchandising contracts, which in turn produced greater attendance, and so on. Further, as evidence of baseball’s growth and resurgence as a result of expansion, following a twenty years hiatus after the removal of baseball from the Summer Olympic Games in 1964, in 1984, baseball was reinstated in the games as an exhibition sport and then granted medal status in 1992. Additionally, from 1959 to 2008, participation in the International Baseball Federation has ballooned to 112 countries and the federation, together with Major League Baseball, created the World Baseball Classic in 2006 as a tribute to the growth and internationalization of the game.
To aggregate the increase in youth participation and all of the additional fans of the game created would require an organization the size of the census bureau of the United States. Conservatively, it would not be a stretch to state that 10% of the United States of America - a mere additional 30 million people - now avidly consider themselves baseball fans. It would be less of a stretch to state that an additional 30 million people internationally, now avidly consider themselves baseball fans.
Currently, there are approximately 39 individuals who have been admitted to the Executives & Pioneers Division of the Hall of Fame. Of the 15 honored individuals admitted to the Executives & Pioneers Division of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame post World War II, Bill served as a friend, an advisor, a peer, and as counsel to no less that two-thirds thereof (Happy Chandler; Ford Frick; Warren Giles; Clark Griffith; William Harridge; Bowie Kuhn; Leland MacPhail, Sr.; Leland MacPhail, Jr.; Walter O’Malley; Alejandro Pompez; Branch Rickey; Bill Veeck; George Weiss; J. Leslie “J.L.” Wilkinson; Tom Yawkey).
National Football League
Shea was a one time owner of the Boston Yanks, the Long Island Indians, and a partial owner, with lifelong friend Jack Kent Cooke, of the Washington Redskins of the NFL. 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 Super Bowl.
National Hockey League
National Basketball Association
Shea was integral to bringing the New Jersey Americans of the American Basketball Association to Long Island in 1968 and arranging for them to play as the Nets in the Nassau County, as well as the integration of the American Basketball Association into the National Basketball Association.
- 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.
- In the Spring of 2014, Shea was inducted into the [Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame].
- 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.
- "Mets expand club presence at Citi Field". mets.com. November 21, 2009.
- ESPN news services (August 31, 2004). "Jones has 17 home runs at Shea Stadium". ESPN.com. Retrieved 1 September 2009.