William Shea

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William A. Shea
William Shea.jpg
Shea in a 1959 photo.
Born (1907-06-21)June 21, 1907
New York City, New York
Died October 2, 1991(1991-10-02) (aged 84)
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[edit]

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."[1]

Major League Baseball[edit]

William Shea was honored alongside the retired numbers of the New York Mets in 2008.

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 Shea 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: the Washington Senators (1961–71) - (now the Texas Rangers) and the Los Angeles Angels (now in Anaheim), 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 City of New York named the stadium in which the Mets were to play in Shea’s honor — Shea 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.

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, Shea 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).

Shea was also a counsel to, and a confidant of, lifelong friend, George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees.

National Football League[edit]

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[edit]

Shea was also hired by Nassau County to persuade the NHL to grant a team to the then new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, resulting in the New York Islanders, who began play in 1972.

National Basketball Association[edit]

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.


Shea Stadium was the Mets' home from 1964 to 2008.
  • 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.[2]
  • 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.[3]
  • Former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin named his eldest daughter Brielle D'Shea, as he enjoyed playing at Shea Stadium.[3]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ "Mets expand club presence at Citi Field". mets.com. November 21, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b ESPN news services (August 31, 2004). "Jones has 17 home runs at Shea Stadium". ESPN.com. Retrieved 1 September 2009. 

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