Originally built as a multi-purpose stadium, Shea was also the home of the New York Jets football team until 1983. It was demolished in 2009 to furnish additional parking for the adjacent Citi Field, the current home of the Mets.
Planning and construction
In 1960, the National League agreed to grant an expansion franchise to the owners of the New York franchise in the abortive Continental League, provided that a new stadium be built. Mayor Robert Wagner, Jr. had to personally wire all National League owners and assure them that the city would build a park.
The Mets' inaugural season (1962) was played in the Polo Grounds, with original plans calling for the team to move to a new stadium in 1963; however construction was delayed, and they played at the Polo Grounds a second season.
It was originally to be called "Flushing Meadow Park Municipal Stadium" - the name of the public park on which it was built - 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. Earlier, New York City official Robert Moses tried to interest Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley in this site as the location for a new Dodger stadium, but O'Malley refused, unable to agree on ownership and lease terms. O'Malley preferred to pay construction costs himself so he would own the stadium outright. He wanted total control over revenue from parking, concessions, and other events. The City, by contrast, wanted to build the stadium, rent it, and retain these ancillary revenue rights to pay off its construction bonds. Additionally, O'Malley wanted to build his new stadium in Brooklyn, while Moses insisted on Flushing Meadows. When Los Angeles offered O'Malley what the City of New York wouldn't—complete and absolute ownership of the facility—he left for southern California in a preemptive bid to install the Dodgers there before a new or existing major league franchise could beat him to it. At the same time, Horace Stoneham moved his New York Giants to the San Francisco Bay Area, preserving the longstanding rivalry with O'Malley's Dodgers that continues to this day.
After 29 months and $28.5 million, Shea Stadium opened on April 17, 1964, with the Pittsburgh Pirates beating the Mets 4-3 before a crowd of 50,312.
In accordance with New York City law, Shea Stadium was dismantled, rather than imploded. The company with the rights to sell memorabilia was given two weeks after the final game to remove seats, signage and other potentially saleable/collectable items before demolition was to begin. The seats were the first ($869 per pair plus tax, a combination of '86 and '69), followed by other Shea memorabilia such as the foul poles, dugouts, stadium signage, and the giant letters that spell out "SHEA" at the front of the building.
After salvaging operations concluded, actual demolition of the ballpark began on October 14, 2008. On October 18, the scoreboard in right field was demolished, with the bleachers, batter's eye and bullpens soon to follow.
By November 10, the field, dugouts and the rest of the field level seats had been demolished.
By mid-December, all of the Loge level seats and a good portion of the Mezzanine level seating were gone as well, leaving only the outer shell remaining.
Demolition work on the upper deck began by January 1, 2009. The next day, all that remained of sections 26-48 of the upper deck was the steel framework. By January 8, the steel framework for sections 36-48 of the upper deck had been completely removed; all that remained of the "Live & In Person" advertising banner at the top above Gate A was the extreme right portion with the Shea Stadium Final Season logo. As of January 15, the far left field portion of Shea was completely demolished and the left field upper deck (sections 25-47) was stripped to its steel framework. The remaining letters at the top of the ballpark behind home plate were taken down on January 21. Approximately two-thirds of the stadium's outer superstructure was gone by January 24.
On January 31, Mets fans all over New York came to Shea for one final farewell to Shea Stadium. Fans took a tour of the site, told stories, and sang songs. The last remaining section of seats was demolished on February 18. Fans stood in awe as the remaining structure of Shea Stadium (one section of ramps) was torn down at 11:22 AM that morning.
Shea's home plate, pitcher's mound, and the bases are immortalized in Citi Field's parking lot, and feature engravings of the neon baseball players that once graced the exterior of the stadium.
Shea Stadium prior to the start of a New York Mets game in 2008. Shea had the best attendance in the National League that year, garnering over 53,000 fans per game on average.
Shea Stadium was the home of the New York Mets since its inception in 1964, and hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star Game that same year, with Johnny Callison of the Philadelphia Phillies hitting a home run in the ninth inning to win the only Mid-Summer Classic held in the Queens ballpark. A month earlier on Father's Day, Callison's teammate, future Hall of Fame member and United States Senator Jim Bunning, pitched a perfect game against the Mets.
The stadium was often criticized by baseball purists for many reasons, even though it was retrofitted to be a baseball-only stadium after the Jets left. The upper deck was one of the highest in the majors. The lower boxes were farther from the field than similar seats in other parks because they were still on the rails that swiveled the boxes into position for football. Outfield seating was always rather sparse, in part because the stadium was intended to be fully enclosed.
At one time, Shea's foul territory was one of the most expansive in the majors, which was typical for ballparks that were built during this era. However, seats added over the years in the lower level greatly reduced the size of foul territory by the dawn of the 21st century. Also on the plus side, Shea always used a natural grass surface. This stood in contrast to multi-purpose stadiums such as Three Rivers Stadium and Riverfront Stadium, which were built in the same era and style and used artificial turf instead of natural grass.
Shea Stadium hosted postseason baseball in 1969, 1973, 1986, 1988, 1999, 2000 and 2006; it hosted the World Series in 1969, 1973, 1986, and 2000. Shea Stadium had the distinction of being the home of the 1969 "Miracle Mets" -- a team led by former Brooklyn Dodger Gil Hodges that defied 100-1 odds and won the World Series, this after recording seven straight seasons in last or next-to-last place. Shea became famous for the bedlam that took place after the Mets won the decisive Game 5 of the 1969 World Series, as fans stormed the field in celebration. A similar scene took place a few weeks earlier after the Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves in the first National League Championship Series to win the pennant.
Tommie Agee, Lenny Dykstra, Todd Pratt, Robin Ventura, and Benny Agbayani have all hit post-season, game-winning home runs at Shea.
Tommie Agee was the only player in the history of the ballpark to hit a home run into the upper deck in left field. The spot was marked with a sign featuring Agee's number, and the date of the event, April 10, 1969. Teammate Cleon Jones says the ball was still rising when it hit the seats, so it very likely could have been the longest home run ever hit at Shea Stadium.
In 1971, Dave Kingman---then with the San Francisco Giants; later to play for the Mets on two occasions - hit a home run that smashed off the windshield of the Giants' team bus, parked behind the left field bullpen.
For many years, the Mets' theme song, "Meet the Mets", was played at Shea before every home game. Jane Jarvis, a local jazz artist, played the popular songs on the Hammond organ at Mets games for many years at the stadium.
On October 3, 2004, the stadium was the venue of the last game in the history of the Montreal Expos when the Mets defeated the Expos 8-1. Their story ended where it had started 35 years earlier: at Shea Stadium. The following year, the Expos relocated to Washington, D.C., where they were renamed the Nationals.
As of June 10, 2005, the Mets had played more games at Shea Stadium than the Brooklyn Dodgers did at Ebbets Field.
The last game played at Shea Stadium was a loss to the Florida Marlins on September 28, 2008. However, the Mets were in the thick of the playoff chase until the last day. A win would have meant another game for Shea as the Mets were scheduled to play the Milwaukee Brewers in a one game playoff for the NL Wild Card had they won. Following the game, there was a "Shea Goodbye" tribute in which many players from the Mets glory years entered the stadium and touched home plate one final time so that fans could pay their last respects to the players and the stadium the Mets called home for 45 years. The ceremony ended with Tom Seaver throwing a final pitch to Mike Piazza, then, as the Beatles "In My Life" played on the stadium speakers the two former Met stars walked out of the centerfield gate and closed it behind them, followed by a display of blue and orange fireworks.
The Yankees World Series win in 2000 was the only time that visiting teams won a World Series at Shea Stadium. The Mets won both their World Series titles at Shea Stadium (in Game 5 in 1969, and Game 7 in 1986).
The New York Yankees played their home games in Shea Stadium during the 1974 and 1975 seasons while Yankee Stadium was being renovated. The move to Shea had been proposed earlier in the decade, but the Mets, as Shea's primary tenants, refused to sign off on the deal. However, when the city stepped in to pay for renovating Yankee Stadium, the Mets had little choice but to agree to share Shea with the Yankees.
Separately, on the afternoon of April 15, 1998, the Yankees also played one home game at Shea, against the Anaheim Angels after a beam collapsed at Yankee Stadium two days before, destroying several rows of seats. With the Mets playing a game at Shea that evening against the Chicago Cubs, the Yankees used the visitor's locker room and dugout and the Angels used the home dugout and old locker room of the New York Jets. Former Mets star Darryl Strawberry, then playing for the Yankees, hit a home run during the game. Stadium operators partially raised the Mets' home run apple signal before lowering it back down, much to the delight of the crowd present.
Shea Stadium also hosted the first extra-inning regular season baseball opener ever played in New York, on March 31, 1998, when the Mets opened their season against their rival Philadelphia Phillies, playing the longest scoreless opening day game in the National League and the longest one in the MLB since 1926. The Mets won the game 1-0 in the bottom of the 14th.
During the 1977 New York City blackout the stadium was plunged into darkness at approximately 9:30 p.m. during a game between the Mets and the Chicago Cubs. It occurred during the bottom of the sixth inning, with the Mets losing 2-1 and Lenny Randle at bat. Jane Jarvis, Shea's organist (affectionately known as Shea's "Queen of Melody") played "Jingle Bells" and "White Christmas". The game was eventually completed on September 16, with the Cubs winning 5-2.
The New York Jets of the American Football League and later, the National Football League played at Shea for twenty seasons, from 1964 to 1983 (excluding their first home game in 1977 played at Giants Stadium). The stadium hosted three Jets playoff games: the American Football League Championship in 1968 (beat the Oakland Raiders, 27-23), an AFL Divisional Playoff in 1969 (lost 13-6 to the Kansas City Chiefs) and the 1981 AFC Wild Card Playoff game (lost 31-27 to the Buffalo Bills).
For most of the Jets' tenure at Shea, they were burdened by onerous lease terms imposed at the insistence of the Mets. Until 1978, the Jets could not play their first home game until the Mets' season was finished. Even after that year, the Mets' status as Shea's primary tenants would require the Jets to go on long road trips (switching Shea from baseball to football configuration was a rather complex process, involving electrical, plumbing, field and other similar work). The stadium was also not well maintained in the 1970s. The Jets moved to Giants Stadium for the 1984 season, enticed by the additional 15,000+ seats offered there. Fans ripped Shea apart after the last game of the 1983 season, which also was the last NFL appearance for Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who threw two touchdown passes to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 34-7 victory. Even the scoreboard operator had a field day, displaying the home team as the "N.J. Jets".
It was at Shea Stadium on December 16, 1973 that O.J. Simpson became the first running back to gain 2,000 yards in a single season (and, to date, the only player to do it in 14 games or fewer).
The Jets' final game at Shea was a 34-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 10, 1983. The game marked the final appearance of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who was 5-of-8 for 77 yards and two touchdowns during his brief stint. Earlier in the 1983 season, a Jets game against the Los Angeles Rams featured an 85-yard touchdown run by rookie Eric Dickerson, as well as a brawl between Rams offensive tackle Jackie Slater and Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau when Slater blindsided Gastineau after the Jet performed his infamous "Sack Dance" over fallen Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo.
The NFL's New York Giants played their 1975 season at Shea while Giants Stadium was being built. The Giants were 5-9 that year (2-5 at Shea). Their coach was Bill Arnsparger and their quarterback was Craig Morton.
The football field at Shea extended from around home plate all the way to the outfield, with the baseline seating rotating out to fill left and right fields.
The first soccer game held at Shea Stadium occurred during tournament play from the International Soccer League on June 17, 1965. New York United of the American Soccer League called Shea home in 1980.
On Sunday, August 15, 1965, The Beatles opened their 1965 North American tour there to a record audience of 55,600. "Beatlemania" was at one of its peak at the Shea Concert. Film footage taken at the concert shows many teenagers and women crying, screaming, and even fainting. The crowd noise was such that security guards can be seen covering their ears as The Beatles enter the field. The sound of the crowd was so deafening that none of The Beatles (or anyone else) could hear what they were playing. Nevertheless, it was the first concert to be held at a major stadium and set records for attendance and revenue generation, demonstrating that outdoor concerts on a large scale could be successful and profitable, and led the Beatles to return to Shea for a successful encore on 23 August 1966. The attendance record stood until 1973 when it was broken by Led Zeppelin.
The first major music event to play Shea Stadium after The Beatles successful run was the Summer Festival for Peace on August 6, 1970. It was a day-long fundraiser, which featured many of the era's biggest selling and seminal rock, folk, blues and jazz performers including: Janis Joplin, Paul Simon, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steppenwolf, The James Gang, Miles Davis, Tom Paxton, John Sebastian and others.
The stadium has hosted numerous concerts since, the last being a two-night engagement by Billy Joel on July 16, and July 18, 2008. The concerts were dubbed the "Last Play at Shea," and featured many special guest appearances, including former Beatle Paul McCartney who closed the second show with an emotional rendition of The Beatles classic "Let It Be". Other artists that joined Joel on stage for the show were former Shea performer Roger Daltrey of The Who, Tony Bennett, Don Henley, John Mayer, John Mellencamp, Garth Brooks, and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. The concerts are the subject of a documentary film of the same name, which uses the concerts and Shea's history to tell the story of changes in American suburban life.
Before Joel's concerts, the last performer to play there was Bruce Springsteen along with his famed backing band; the E Street Band in early October 2003.
Other acts that have headlined at Shea are Jethro Tull with opening act Robin Trower in July 1976 (billed as Tull v. Boeing due to the stadium's proximity to LaGuardia Airport), The Who with opening act The Clash in October 1982, Simon & Garfunkel in August 1983, The Police with opening acts Joan Jett & The Blackhearts & R.E.M. in August 1983, (a concert that bassist Sting described as "like playing the top of Mount Everest"), The Rolling Stones with opening act Living Colour for a six-night run in October 1989 and Elton John & Eric Clapton in August 1992.
The 1978 International Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses was held at Shea Stadium from July 12 to July 16, 1978.
Shea Stadium was parodied as "Che Stadium" for The Rutles film All You Need is Cash for a sequence that spoofed The Beatles' concert at the stadium
During his tour of America in October 1979, Pope John Paul II was also among those hosted by Shea Stadium. On the morning of the Pontiff's visit, Shea Stadium was awash in torrential rain, causing ankle-deep mud puddles, and threatened to ruin the event. But as the Popemobile entered the stadium, the rain stopped.
On December 9, 1979, as part of the halftime show of an NFL game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots, a model airplane group put on a remote control airplane display. The grand finale was a red 40-pound lawnmower. Its blade flew into the stands hitting John Bowen of Nashua, New Hampshire. Bowen died six days later.
Between 1972 and 1980, Shea also hosted 3 wrestling events held by the then World Wrestling Federation.
In 1987, Marvel Comics rented Shea Stadium to re-enact the wedding of their two characters Spider-Man/Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.
Recently on VH1's documentary series 7 Ages of Rock, Shea Stadium was named the most hallowed venue in all of rock music.
In Godzilla: The Series the stadium was destroyed in a fight between Godzilla and Crackler.
Shea Stadium was used in the 1970s for filming the movie The Wiz. They used the exterior pedestrian ramps for a motorcycle chase scene with Michael Jackson & Diana Ross.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the stadium became a staging area for rescuers, its parking lots filled with food, water, medical supplies, even makeshift shelters where relief workers could sleep. Ten days later Shea reopened for the first post-attack sporting event in New York where the Mets beat the Braves, behind a dramatic home run by Mets catcher Mike Piazza.
1975: Four teams, one stadium
In 1975, Shea was the center of the New York's sports universe. The Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants all called Shea home that season, marking the first and only time in professional sports history that two baseball teams and two football teams shared the same facility in the same year. As Yankee Stadium was being renovated and Giants Stadium was nearing completion, there were scheduling clashes between the New York teams in baseball from April 1975 through September 1975 and both football teams from October 1975 through December 1975. Even though Shibe Park housed the Phillies, A's, and Eagles collectively from 1940 to 1954 (excluding 1941), the 1975 sports calendar in Shea Stadium was unrivaled. The Jets and also the Giants could not play a "home" game at Shea Stadium until the baseball season had ended for the main tenant Mets and the temporary incumbent Yankees. The Mets attracted 1,730,566 to their games while the Yankees attracted 1,288,048 to their "home" games at Shea. Having both the Giants and Jets share Shea Stadium for one season foreshadowed what was to come in the future with the Meadowlands (a.k.a. Giants Stadium) after the Jets left Flushing Meadows for New Jersey following the 1983 NFL season.
Shea was a circular stadium, with the grandstand forming a perfect circle around the field and ending a short distance beyond the foul lines. The remainder of the perimeter was mostly empty space beyond the outfield fences. This space was occupied by the bullpens, scoreboards, and a section of bleachers beyond the left field fence. The stadium boasted 54 restrooms, 21 escalators and seats for 57,343. It was big, airy, sparkling, with a massive 86' x 175' scoreboard. Also, rather than the standard light towers, Shea had lamps along its upper reaches, like a convoy of semis with their brights on, which gave the field that unique high-wattage glow. Praised for its convenience, even its "elegance," Shea was actually deemed a showplace. These special features helped make Shea more popular during its lifetime than other "cookie-cutter" venues, like RFK Stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and Three Rivers Stadium.
The stadium was located close to LaGuardia Airport. For many years, interruptions for planes flying overhead were common at Shea, and the noise was so loud that radio and television broadcasts couldn't be heard. Later, flight plans were altered to alleviate the noise problem.
Shea was originally designed to convert from a baseball field into a rectangle field suitable for football using two motor-operated stands that allow the field level seats to rotate on underground railroad tracks. After the New York Jets football team moved to Giants Stadium in New Jersey in 1984, the Mets took over operation of the stadium and retrofitted it for exclusive baseball use. As part of the refitting, Shea Stadium's exterior was painted blue, and neon signs of baseball player silhouettes were added to the windscreens between 1986 and 1988. The original scoreboard was removed, and a new one installed in its place (fitting into the shell left behind by the old one), in 1988. Also at that time, the original (wooden) outfield wall was removed and replaced by a padded fence.
The design also allowed for Shea Stadium to be expandable to 90,000 seats (by completely enclosing the grandstand), or to be later enclosed by a dome if warranted. In March 1965, a plan was formally announced to add a glass dome and add 15,000 seats. The Mets strongly objected to the proposal. The idea was dropped after engineering studies concluded that the stadium's foundation would be unable to support the weight of the dome.
Initially, the distances to the right and left field fences were each 341 feet. There was a horizontal orange line that decided where a batted ball was a home run or still in play. In 1978, Manager Joe Torre helped move the fences in to 338 feet in the corners with a wall now in front of the original brick wall to help alleviate disputed calls.
Originally, all of the seats were wooden, with each level having a different color. The field boxes were yellow, the loge level seats were brown, the mezzanine seats were blue, and the upper deck seats were green. Each level above the field level was divided into box seats (below the portals) and reserved seats (above the portals). The box seats were of a darker shade than the reserved seats. The game ticket was the same color as the seat that it was for, and the signs in the lobby for that section were the same color as the seat and the ticket. Before the 1980 baseball season they were replaced with red (upper deck), green (mezzanine), blue (loge), and orange (field level) plastic seats.
Unlike the crosstown Yankee Stadium, Shea was built on an open field (on top of a garbage landfill), so there was no need to have it conform to the surrounding streets.
Before Shea Stadium closed in 2008, it was the only stadium in the Major Leagues with orange foul poles. This tradition is carried on at Citi Field as the foul poles there are the same color.
Banks of ramps that provided access from the ground to the upper levels were built around the outside circumference of the stadium. The ramps were not walled in and were visible from the outside. The ramps were originally partly covered with many rectangular panels in blue and orange (two of the team's colors). These panels can be seen in the 1970s movie The Wiz; it used the exterior pedestrian ramps for a motorcycle chase scene with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. The 1960s-style decorations were removed in 1980. The banks of ramps resulted in the outer wall of the stadium jutting out where the banks existed. In some of the recessed bays between the banks, huge neon lights formed the figures of baseball players.
After the Jets left Shea, the exterior of the stadium was painted blue and white, two of the Mets' team colors.
In 2003, large murals celebrating the Mets' two world championships were added, covering the two ends of the grandstand. The 1986 mural was removed after the 2006 season because of deterioration (the wall was re-painted solid blue, and a window was opened on the Mezzanine level where fans could view the progress of Citi Field), but the 1969 mural survived until the final game in 2008.
The skyline from Shea's scoreboard, now in Citi Field.
The scoreboard was topped by a representation of the New York Skyline, a prominent part of the team logo. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were kept unlit, with a red-white-and-blue ribbon placed over them. The scoreboard was demolished in October 2008, but the skyline was preserved and is now located in Citi Field's "Taste Of The City" food court behind the giant scoreboard in center field.
From 1973-1979, fans could estimate the distance of home run balls, since there were several signs beyond the outfield wall giving the distance in feet from home plate, in addition to the nine markers within the field.
Home Run Apple
The Home Run Apple came out of a magic hat after every Mets home run at Shea Stadium. It was first installed in May 1980 as a symbol of the Mets' advertising slogan "The Magic Is Back!" (the hat originally said "Mets Magic" in script but was changed in the mid 1980s to a simple "Home Run" in block capital letters). A newer, bigger apple has been placed in center field at Citi Field; in 2009 Shea's original apple was installed inside Citi Field's Bullpen Gate and was visible from outside, on 126th Street. In 2010, the Shea apple was relocated outside the ballpark, in front of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.