BEEN THERE: I paid a visit on October 2, 2008, but was unable to get inside.
ALL STAR GAME: 1964 WORLD SERIES: 1969, 1973, 1986, 2000
As an expansion ballclub, the New York Mets were fortunate to get such a big venue as Shea Stadium, after spending only two years in the ancient Polo Grounds. They broke ground on October 28, 1961, but were unable to finish construction in time for the 1963 season. The Mets' new home gained huge fame when the Beatles performed concerts there in August 1965 and 1966. Under the management of the one and only Casey Stengel, the new team was something of a laughing stock at first, hard pressed to live up to his description of them as "amazin'." Nevertheless, led by pitcher Tom Seaver, the Mets proved in 1969 that miracles can happen as they stunned the Orioles and became the first expansion club to ever win the World Series. The Mets won the hearts of millions of New Yorkers who had been miserable ever since the Dodgers and Giants left town in 1958.
Shea Stadium was the second of the architecturally bland "cookie-cutter" (or "doughnut") circular hybrid stadiums (designed for baseball as well as football), being built two years after D.C. Stadium (later called RFK). It was the first stadium with the "paired swivelable circular section lower deck" (PSCSLD) configuration. It was one of only three "incomplete" circular stadiums, in which the upper decks did not wrap around the outfield; the other two were the Astrodome (original version) and Oakland Coliseum. There was a proposal to extend its three main decks and complete the full circle, which would have raised the capacity to 90,000, but nothing came of it. (See the "hypothetical" diagram above.) Nevertheless, it was one of the biggest of its class, in terms of diameter and baseball seating capacity. The combination of the circular stadium shape and the high, recessed position of the upper deck means that thousands of fans would sit hundreds of feet away from the action. In sum, Shea Stadium was not a very good baseball venue.
The outfield fence at Shea Stadium remained in virtually the same position from the day it first opened until the very end. In 1979, however, new inner fences were constructed in the right and left field corners, reducing the distance from 341 feet to 338 feet. One rather subtle attractive feature of this otherwise bland stadium are the tan-colored (not red) brick walls behind the foul poles. The scoreboard behind the right field fence is the largest one in the major leagues, and that certainly grabbed attention. When a Met player would get a home run, a Big Apple arose from a big top hat in center field. One peculiarity of Shea Stadium was that none of the three main seating levels were accessible from the rear. Instead, there were entry portals and lateral walkways in all three decks, and two such entries in the lower deck. (The black line in back of the top row of the second deck in the diagrams above represents a structural steel beam, not a concourse.) The location of Shea Stadium is rather convenient in terms of its proximity to the subway, the freeways, and the Long Island suburbs, but the location factor is on balance rated as neutral because of the proximity to La Guardia Airport which sometimes exposes fans to loud noise from airliners taking off. Most people got used to it.
In 1974 and 1975 the Mets let the Yankees use Shea Stadium as their temporary home while Yankee Stadium was under reconstruction. After a joint in a support beam in Yankee Stadium broke in early April 1998, the Yankees had to play an emergency "home" game in Shea Stadium while repairs were made.
CINEMA: Shea Stadium was featured in the classic baseball movie Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), starring Robert DeNiro and Michael Moriarity, as well as Game 6 (2005), starring Michael Keaton. It also made a brief appearance in Men In Black (1997).
From 1964 until 1983 the New York Jets played football in Shea Stadium. In addition, the New York Giants were tenants of the Jets in 1975, awaiting completion of Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands of East Rutherford, New Jersey. No other stadium has ever served as home to two baseball teams and two pro football teams at the same time. The Jets followed the Giants to the Meadowlands after the 1983 season, and their departure eliminated the whole rationale for the hybrid stadium design. Never mind!
At some time during the 1990s there were three small modifications to Shea Stadium: First, since there was no longer any reason to swivel the lower deck for football games, grass embankments were added in the left and right field corners. (In the final year or two, small picnic terraces were built on those embankments.) Second, a series of small, semi-permanent bleacher sections were built behind the left field fence, gradually expanding every couple years or so. Third, the section of seats behind home plate was rebuilt, reducing the distance to the backstop by several feet. NOTE: Lowry (2006) still gives the original distance behind home plate as 80 feet, as he had indicated in the previous edition (1992), but that is not consistent with photographs. I estimate the original backstop distance to have been about 65 feet.
In the early months of 2006, the Mets announced plans to build a new stadium on the east side of Shea Stadium, and after some legal challenges to the project's tax-exempt status, funding was approved. Construction on what became known as "Citi Field" got underway in late 2006, and was completed in time for the 2009 season. After RFK Stadium "retired" in 2007, Shea Stadium briefly became the fifth oldest stadium in all of baseball.
The Mets played their final game at Shea Stadium on September 28, 2008, losing to the Florida Marlins 4-2, thereby handing the NL wild card title to the Milwaukee Brewers. Because of the pressing need for parking space, they started removing seats just a few days later, and demolition commenced soon thereafter. During November, the movable portion of the lower deck was dismantled and removed, as salvage work was completed. After a brief slowdown in December, work by the wrecking crews accelerated once again in January, as the grandstand structure was steadily ripped to shreds. The final part of the steel framework, what used to be one of the entry/exit ramps on the southwest side, was pulled down on February 18, 2009.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2007), USA Today / Fodor's (1996), Rosen (2001)
FAN TIPS: Brian Hughes