Shea Stadium - The Mets’ Original Home Is Gone but Not Forgotten

On April 15, 1965, the Beatles played the first concert of their first American tour at Shea Stadium at Flushing Meadows in Queens, New York. More than 55,000 fans turned out for the event that was also the first-ever major open-air rock concert. The venue would go on to host other major “stadium” rock concerts, like the 1982 back-to-back concerts by The Who and The Clash.

Shea Stadium also drew New Yorkers wounded in body and soul together on September 13, 2001, in a moving pre-game tribute to the victims of 9/11 less than two weeks after the Twin Towers fell. That game, which saw Mike Piazza capture the Mets’ win over Atlanta with a decisive, eighth-inning home run, marked the first time Major League Baseball returned to the city after the attacks. 

This home of the New York Mets from 1964 to 2008 was also the site of legendary sports events that included the near-perfect game pitched by Tom Seaver in 1969; the Bud Harrelson-Pete Rose fisticuffs in the fifth inning of the third game in the 1973 National League Championships; the Jets’ 1968 defeat of the Raiders that propelled the New York team to the Super Bowl; and, of course, the Mets’ home-town advantage World Series wins in 1969 and 1986.

There is much more lore outlined in excellent books like Shea Stadium Remembered: The Mets, the Jets, and Beatlemania, written by Matthew Silverman and published in 2019 by Lyons Press. There is even more to be found in the hearts and memories of Mets fans everywhere.

Opening and Early Years

Shea Stadium opened on April 17, 1964. It was years in the making, and it grew up with the Mets. It’s beyond dispute that it remains an icon of baseball history, of the local history of New York, and of New Yorkers themselves. Not always beloved by everyone—there were critics who called it “a dump” and connoisseurs who called it “a concrete doughnut”—it nevertheless grew on people over time. 

In 1957, both the Dodgers and the Giants announced that they’d be moving west, to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. This left New York without a National League team, so in stepped lawyer and power-broker William A. Shea, who became the prime mover behind the formation of the Mets.

Shea announced that he’d be forming a new Continental League in 1959, to compensate for the city’s loss of the two popular teams. The idea was to form a new league with a New York Team as a charter member.

Professional baseball’s promised expansion, though, made Shea turn instead to installing the new franchise as a National League team in 1961. The name “Mets” was short and easy to say, and a natural, given its history as the name of the 19th century New York Metropolitans. For the first two years of their existence, the Mets played at the Polo Ground. This was before the founding of Shea Stadium, which opened in time for the 1964 season. 

The first Mets were the “Lovable Losers” for a reason. Legendary Yankees manager Casey Stengel coached a roster of aging luminaries that included Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, and Gil Hodges. This lineup lost a whopping 120 games over the course of their debut season. It wasn’t until the “Miracle Mets” of 1969 that the team began to earn a modicum of respect. 

Architecture and Iconography

The architecture of Shea Stadium was emblematic of its time. Designed as a multipurpose venue, it featured modular sections of field seating that could be revolved around the stadium. This made the space adaptable to both the baseball games of the Mets and the football games of the Jets. The stadium was designed by the firm of Praeger-Kavanagh-Waterbury, who drew on the “futuristic” visual tropes so often seen in the 1960s. 

Among Shea Stadium’s unique characteristics was the “Home Run Apple” that adorned center field from 1980 until the stadium closed in 2008. The gigantic apple figure would be mechanically elevated out of an equally giant top hat every time a Mets player scored a home run, to the delight of children and adults in the stands.

As the Mets’ new Citi Field stadium arose next door after 2008, with the original Shea Stadium razed to make way for a larger parking lot, fans clamored for the preservation of the original “Apple.” Today, it stands outside the newer stadium, right near the exit of the 7 train.

Since 2009, the Mets have played at Citi Field, constructed with the help of the $400 million in corporate naming rights dollars distributed over a period of 20 years. A new “Home Run Apple” sculpture now rises with each home run near the new stadium’s center field.

William Shea liked to say that the stadium would change its name more than a dozen times during his lifetime. But it never did. On April 8, 2008, the stadium hosted its last Mets game. Shea’s son, Bill Shea, Jr., along with numerous family members, turned out to pay their respects to the venue and to the memory of Bill Shea, Sr., who died in 1991. The younger Shea threw out the first pitch, just as his father had on opening day in 1964.