City Fights To Get National League Team
New York is baseball town.
When the Giants packed their bags for San Francisco and the Dodgers
headed just down the coast to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, the
For those who grew up despising the Yankees, there was no use trying
to convert. The City knew it had to do all in its power for a second
chance and a second franchise.
The politics of baseball were a hotbed and symbolic of the end of
the 50s. The Giants and Dodgers entered in to talks with the west
coast each being offered what they wanted, and weren’t getting
from New York.
the Giants, their field at the Polo Grounds was dilapidated and interest
in building a new stadium to replace the Polo Grounds for the floundering
franchise were distant. At first, Minneapolis-St. Paul seemed most
appealing. In the Twin Cities, the Giants had their farm team, the
Minneapolis Millers. But soon an offer from George Christopher, San
Francisco’s mayor, landed on the table with the help of Dodger’s
manager Walter O’Malley.
O’Malley had been in talks with the the City for sometime, hoping
to work out a deal with then Mayor Robert Wagner and legendary power
broker Robert Moses.
O’Malley wanted a new stadium too, but he wanted to own it.
He wanted the revenue from everything – from parking to tickets
to concessions. In return he would front the cost for the entire project.
O’Malley was convinced that the ideal spot for a new stadium
was on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues in Brooklyn.
But Moses said no. He wanted the City to rent the stadium to O’Malley
and back the bonds needed to build the stadium from the revenue. Secondly,
Moses wanted the stadium to be built in Flushing Meadows Park, which
would host the World’s Fair in 1964. The stadium would be Moses’
So O’Malley began to search outside of New York for a city that
would offer him what he wanted. Los Angeles came calling and offered
him the deal he was looking for. However, LA would only sign under
the condition that a second team followed them to the Golden State.
At the time there was no Major League Baseball west of Missouri.
the start of the 1958 season, New York had lost both the Giants and
“New York was never going to be a National League town,”
said Bob Mandt, a long-time Mets employee and consultant.
After losing two teams in one season, New York was not on baseball’s
good side. The bourgeoning business at first refused to offer an expansion
team to the City, still without a decent stadium.
But the City was in need of National League baseball. Up for reelection,
Mayor Wagner vowed to bring National League play back to New York.
He created a four-man task force and reached out to a local lawyer
named William Alfred “Bill” Shea to be on the committee.
Shea was Harvard educated and in 1957 one of the City’s best
lawyers, he was asked to champion the cause of bringing the National
League back to the Big Apple.
At first he tried the exact same tactics that California was employing.
He approached the Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh
Pirates but no team would uproot.
Shea then decided to uproot Major League Baseball by making the announcement
that a third league would begin playing, the Continental League.
The threat forced MLB to add four expansion teams; two for the American
League and two for the National League.
In 1961, the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators began
batting and fielding in the American League and a year later, in 1962,
the New York Metropolitans and the Houston Colt .45s were uniformed.
The Mets began their first season in 1962 at the Polo Grounds, but
in April of 1964 the Mets had a new home named after the man who got
Bill Shea died Oct. 2, 1991. He was 84 and beloved.
“He was one of the nicest men I’ve ever met,” said
long-time Met Rusty Staub.
Shea Stadium Marked The Beginning
By Noah C. Zuss
Shea Stadium, home of the Mets for over forty years will close forever
at the end of this season. As the first ballpark built in the city
of baseball since Yankee Stadium, construction of Shea was significant
for many reasons-its closing will mark the end of an era that brought
National League baseball back to New York after the Dodgers and Giants
departed for sunny California.
stadium is located in the geographic center of the City.
Shea Stadium was built in Flushing-Meadows Park before the World’s
Fair in 1964.
the beginning Shea has drawn large crowds.
1960, the National League agreed to grant an expansion franchise to
the owners of the New York franchise in the unsuccessful Continental
League, with a condition that a new stadium be built. Mayor Robert
Wagner, Jr. personally wired every National League owner and promised
that a new park would be built to house the new club.
Shea Stadium, located in the geographic and population center of city
has drawn over 73 million fans and is approaching its last year of
usage as the Mets are currently constructing a smaller and modern-baseball
only venue in the parking lot. The new ballpark, expected to open
in April, 2009, will be called Citi Field and is designed to resemble
the Brooklyn Dodgers’ old home, Ebbets Field.
Never known as a tremendous ballpark by baseball purists, Shea was
nonetheless loved by generations of fans. Because fans had waited
for a home of their own, when the park opened in 1964 they came out
in droves. Before Shea, the Mets played two years at the vast Polo
Grounds, previously home of the New York Giants.
Home to historically bad teams throughout the sixties, Shea became
the scene of jubilant celebration in 1969 when the “Miracle
Mets” came back from a game one loss in the World Series to
defeat Baltimore in five games and capture the Mets’ first title.
Shea also hosted the All-Star game in 1964, the first and only in
Built for a mere $25.5 million, the stadium marked a new beginning
for the club that played its first two years in upper Manhattan. Originally
the stadium was to be called Flushing Meadows Stadium” –
similar to the name of the public park south of Shea – but a
movement was launched to name it in honor of William A. Shea, the
man who brought National League baseball back to New York.
Opened on April 17, 1964, the stadium is one of he oldest baseball
parks in the National League.
The stadiums original design was to be expanded to 90,000 seats, by
completely closing off the outfield. In 1964, a plan was advanced
to add an enclosed dome and expand seating capacity to 71,000. This
plan was scrapped after studies concluded that the stadium would be
unable to support the weight of the dome because the area around the
stadium is swampland.
At first, all of the seats were wooden, with each level having a different
color. They were replaced with orange, red, green, and blue plastic
seats before the 1980 baseball season.
The stadium is located in one of the noisiest areas of Queen near
to LaGuardia Airport. Recently some flight patterns have been changed
to alleviate the jet noise that plagued Shea for much of its history.
In the past, interruptions for planes flying overhead were common
at Shea, and the noise is sometimes so loud that radio and television
broadcasts can’t be heard.
Some of Shea’s unique features are the big apple in the outfield-which
pops up when a home run clears the fences, and the large scoreboard
that features out-of-town scores and replays. Both are to be transferred
to the new park.
The stadium has often been criticized by baseball traditionalists,
even though it was changed to be a baseball-only stadium after the
Jets left in 1983. This is because there was no permanent bleacher
section, a favorite of fans, until early in the 21st century. This
was in part because the park was originally designed to be fully enclosed.
A small, movable bleacher section was installed in left field in the
early eighties, but it was only made available to picnic groups.
Main criticisms of the old stadium include a steep upper deck, and
field boxes that are too far from the field. The upper deck is one
of the highest in the majors. The lower boxes are farther from the
field than similar seats in other parks because they are still situated
on the rails that moved the boxes into position for football fans
to watch football games.
On the positive side, additional seats added over the years have significantly
reduced the size of the foul territory, making Shea somewhat of a
more friendly place to watch a game. Previously, Shea’s foul
territory was one of the largest in the majors. Currently, 70 percent
of the seats are between the foul poles; at one time, 75 percent of
the seats were in foul territory. Also in the positive column in the
park’s favor-Shea Stadium has never had an artificial turf playing
surface, unlike many other ballparks Shea built in the same era.
Shea’s design was conceived by architectural firm Praeger-Kavanaugh-Waterbury,
and constructed by Carlin-Crimmins in a joint venture with P.J. Carlin
Construction Co. and Thomas Crimmins Contracting Co. The ballpark
is owned by the City of New York.
The First Season Of Memories
By Juliet Werner
Bob Mandt was working at a bank when Queens got a team.
“I had stopped rooting when the Dodgers left,” the Whitestone
resident said. “I was really ticked off.”
A pal from his alma mater, St. Johns University, told him the new
team was “looking for a couple of young guys” and convinced
him to interview. When Mandt was offered a position, he immediately
gave his two weeks notice and took the pay cut. He started as a clerk,
became a ticket manager and then went on to work as Director of Operations
and finally Vice President of Operations. Now, retired, he continues
to serve as a consultant for the team.
“They can’t get rid of me,” he said
Mets played at the Polo Grounds from 1962-1963.
was with the team when it played it’s first two seasons at the
Polo Grounds in 1962 and 1963 and then set up shop at the new Queens
stadium while it was still a work in progress.
“We moved in the dead of a very cold winter,” Mandt said.
“It was a very cold and forbidding place. We had some pretty
He was joined only by the concessions staff and grounds crew.
“It was in the middle of nowhere,” he said, adding the
financial, promotional and business departments were headquartered
at a nearby airport hotel called the Traveler’s Inn.
“We were over at Shea and the two women wouldn’t use the
chemical toilets,” he said. “We had to take to station
wagons over [to the Inn.].”
When Shea opened on April 17, 1964 the Mets played the Pittsburgh
Pirates before 48,736 fans.
“I don’t think the paint was dry opening day,” Mandt
said. “I remember slapping some labels on the chairs where there
weren’t numbers yet with masking tape and a magic marker. To
save time there were plenty of seats that weren’t numbered.”
Concessions Director John Morley, who stayed onboard until Aramark
took over, was also present on opening day.
“When we first opened the first week we really didn’t
have water which is typical when a new facility opens,” Morley
said. “By the time the team came back from the second road trip
everything was pretty much in line.”
Morley said the original Shea menu was influenced by neighborhood
“We added some local things like knishes and other specialties
that were not in ballparks prior to that,” Morley said.
He said one double header in 1964 that went until 11 p.m. nearly sent
him over the edge.
“You try not to run out of hot dogs,” Morley said. “Although
it was a Sunday…we were able to keep going all the way through.”
Shea also hosted an All-Star game in 1964, which provided Morley with
an opportunity to feed non-Mets fans.
“When we first opened up we only had local beers like Rheingold
and Schaefer,” he said. “They’re no longer in business.
They really didn’t have the imported beers that you know about
now. Now you have specialty stands with sandwiches and Mamas of Corona
and a kosher stand,” he said.
Morley said the crowd’s changing demographics have affected
“It switched from a pretty masculine audience to a family audience.
Especially at Shea and you have to be able to cater to a wider audience.”
The fan base may have diversified, but Mets games received a strong
showing as soon as the stadium opened.
“We were a success financially,” Mandt said. “But
on the field we only won a little over 50 games.”
That first season at Shea, under the management of Casey Stengel,
the team went 53-109 and finished 10th in the National League. The
team has improved with time; Mandt’s fondest memories are watching
fans storm the field following the 1969 World Series and Mike Piazza
scoring the winning run in the first game after Sept. 11. Mandt’s
wife has expressed concern that her husband will be devastated once
Shea is demolished.
“I love Shea Stadium,” Mandt confessed. “I liked
it more than most people. For some reason the press were never enchanted
with Shea Stadium.
Part of the problem was that it was a multi-use stadium. It was built
for both the Jets and Mets. Whenever you build something for two sports
something has to suffer a little bit.”
This is, of course, also the final season for Yankee Stadium, which
opened in 1923.
“It has a longer tradition, a lot more wins and a lot more things
to brag about,” Mandt said. “The Mets are not without
their own history. If you’re a Mets fan you don’t really
care about the Yankees’ history. You care about your own history.”