Today, Opening Day 2010, in the sophomore year of Citi Field, the New York Mets dedicated the “bridge” walkway behind right-center field as Shea Bridge. Prior to last season, the Mets made Shea Stadium their home. There can be no doubt that more than one inquisitive child holding a ticket for today’s game was told by their parent that the bridge was named after the recently dismantled ballpark. An accurate response of course, but one that is woefully incomplete.
From its opening day in 1964 until the closing ceremonies following the final game of the 2008 season, Shea Stadium, by its mere existence, preserved the memory of the man in whose honor it was named. Today’s gesture will assure that the name of William “Bill” Shea will continue to be associated with New York Mets history.
Why should New Yorkers remember Bill Shea? After the 1957 season, both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants deserted the city for the greener pastures of California. The exodus ripped the heart out of many diehard New York National League sports fans and essentially stole the soul of Brooklyn. Decades of Yankee hating would not allow these fans to adopt the only remaining New York team.
Bill Shea was an attorney who dedicated four years of his life working tirelessly to bring National League baseball back to New York. It was a difficult battle against powerful entrenched owners fighting desperately to maintain the status quo. Along with the help of baseball legend Branch Rickey, Shea announced the formation of a competitive third major league called the Continental League. Conceding to pressure, the reluctant owners agreed to the first expansion of the Major Leagues since the acrimonious and slow forming recognition of the American League by the senior circuit in the early days of the 20th century.
In 1961 the American League added two teams, the Los Angeles Angels and the “new” Washington Senators as the Washington Senators of 1960 moved to the Twin Cities to become the Minnesota Twins. The National League followed suit in 1962 with the Houston Colt.45s and the lovably inept New York Mets. For the scarred Dodger and Giant fans, the Mets filled a void, regardless of the won-loss record between 1962-1968, and within eight seasons the 1969 Amazing Mets stunned the world with an improbable but glorious championship.
Bill Shea passed away in 1991 at the age of 84. His son, Bill Shea, Jr. was present at today’s dedication as was his three-and-a-half year old great-grandson Hatcher. As it does for so many families, the aftermath of Bill Shea’s tireless efforts transcend multiple generations.
For Met fans and their children, bonding through shared memories of the Mets past and present, and the incredible experience that is baseball, it is Bill Shea that made it all possible. In today’s corporate dominated sports scene it is regrettable but understandable that the new Citi Field could not be named the “new” Shea Stadium. Citibank’s money killed that possibility. Today’s dedication of Shea Bridge was an admirable effort to keep the name of the William Alfred “Bill” Shea, the man who brought National League baseball back to New York City, on people’s lips and in their memories.