William Alfred Shea
Shea, a lawyer, attended public schools and studied at New York University on a basketball scholarship before transferring, on another athletic scholarship, to Georgetown University. He graduated from Georgetown's law school in 1931.
In 1934, Shea became the protégé of George V. McLaughlin, who was then the Democratic Party patriarch of Brooklyn. McLaughlin was also an executive of the Brooklyn Trust Company, guardian of the half of the Brooklyn Dodgers held by the estate of Charles Ebbets, for whom Ebbets Field was named. Another McLaughlin protégé was Walter O'Malley, himself a lawyer. McLaughlin brought O'Malley into the Dodgers organization, so it was a great irony that Shea spearheaded the effort to bring a team back into the National League for New York City after O'Malley moved the Dodgers west and Horace Stoneham followed suit with the New York Giants.
Shea was also involved in professional football. In the early 1940s, he owned a minor league club called the Long Island Indians. During the mid- to late 1940s, Shea was general manager of the Boston Yanks of the NFL, also serving as executive assistant to owner Ted Collins. By some accounts, he too owned part of the club. In 1961, he and Jack Kent Cooke bought a quarter-interest in the Washington Redskins. Cooke was able to do this only with Shea's help. As Washington columnist Shirley Povich wrote, "It was Shea who shepherded a special bill through Congress to confer U.S. citizenship on the Canadian-born Cooke." Cooke eventually came to own the Redskins outright, and Shea remained his New York attorney and close friend.
In 1957, New York mayor Robert Wagner asked Shea to chair a committee to return the National League to New York. As Shea's obituary put it, "In December 1957, with New Yorkers still smarting over the loss of the Giants and Dodgers and Mr. Wagner facing re-election, the Mayor named Mr. Shea to lead a four-member committee of 'prominent citizens' to 'corral a National League team.'"
When requests for expansion were declined, Shea, along with Branch Rickey, announced the formation of the Continental League in 1959. The Continental League would be a third major league and would begin play in 1961.
The thought of a third major league moved the National League to discuss expansion. and as a result two teams were to be added for the 1962 season. With New York virtually assured of one of the clubs, Shea abandoned the idea of the Continental League. The New York Mets, the team created by the expansion, played their first game on April 11, 1962.
In 1964, the Mets played their first game in their stadium in Flushing, Queens. The new stadium was dubbed Shea Stadium after their patriarch, Bill Shea. Other names were considered, but Mayor Wagner and his administration decided to rename it for Shea – over the latter's protests. Queens politician Eric J. Treulich first made the proposal on October 30, 1962, and the City Council made it official on January 15, 1963.
Author Nicholas Pileggi (Wiseguy) summed Shea up in a 1974 profile for New York magazine: "the most powerful unofficial manipulator of political influence in the state." Shea was a tough guy — "a roomful of a man, a big, square-jawed, blue-eyed, brawling New York dead-end kid who made good." He embodied his firm, then known as Shea, Gould, Climenko & Kramer: "If it takes a kick in the balls to win, we’re going to win. We ain't white shoe."
On October 2, 1991 – four days before the end of the season – Bill Shea died of complications from a stroke he had suffered two years before, which had put him in a wheelchair. Yet as his obituary noted: "whoever was in charge, from Casey Stengel to Bud Harrelson, each Opening Day Mr. Shea presented a floral horseshoe to the Mets manager." Shea's self-deprecating prediction that the stadium would be renamed 15 minutes after his death did not come to be.