Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Shea Stadium

Mets Today has always been a fan of tales of Mets nostalgia. It’s been nearly three years since the last game was played at Shea Stadium, thus ending a thirty-four year era of fastballs, scorecards and silhouetted baseball players bathed in neon as night fell on the stadium. Too often during its waning days as the home to the New York Mets, the Flushing-based ballpark drew the ire of fans as well as opposing players for its ramshackle appearance and antiquated ways. Much like its Long Island neighbor, the Nassau Coliseum, Shea became an icon for a team that had had short bursts of success surrounded by years of frustration and defeat. However, inasmuch as the Mets faithful were eager to welcome Citi Field into their lives and in turn hopefully bring about a new era of baseball, there was something special about Shea, something endearing. It was a place Met fans called home. There are also quite a few things about Shea that many of us never knew.

10. Living in Flushing was never cheap for the Mets. On October 6, 1961, the Metropolitans signed a 30-year stadium lease, with an option for a 10-year renewal. Rent for what was originally budgeted as a $9 million facility was set at $450,000 annually, with a reduction of $20,000 each year until it reached $300,000 annually. It’s safe to say that their rent was adjusted for inflation as time went on.

9. Shea was a unique stadium. It was never afraid to stand out. In fact, the ballpark was the only stadium in the Major Leagues to have orange foul poles. This tradition carried over to Citi Field, thus keeping the Mets separated from the rest of the MLB riffraff.

8. Over the years, Shea, much like a man pushing middle age, grew and grew and grew in size. When the stadium opened in 1964 it housed 55,300 fans and held fast at that number all the way through the ’86 season. But once the Mets won their second World Series, the house that Shea built was eager to cash in and expanded its size hitting 55,601 in 1987, 56, 521 in 1998, 57,333 in 2001, and topping out at 57,405 in 2006.

7. Talk about infamous! It was at Shea Stadium on December 16, 1973 that O.J. Simpson, playing for the Buffalo Bills, became the first running back to gain 2,000 yards in a single season and still, to date, the only player to do it in 14 games or less.

6. You’ve heard about Custer’s “Last Stand”? What about having Shea as the location for yours? On October 3, 2004, the stadium was the venue of the last game in the history of the Montreal Expos when the Mets defeated them 8-1. Their story ended where it had started 35 years earlier: at Shea Stadium. The Expos moved the following year to Washington, D.C. and became the now “fantastic” Washington Nationals.

5. Lights! Camera! Shea! Shea Stadium has been no stranger to Hollywood. Back in the 1970s it was used to shoot the 1973 movie, Bang The Drum Slowly, starring Robert DeNiro and Michael Moriarty. Later in the same decade, the exterior pedestrian ramps were used for a motorcycle chase scene with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross in The Wiz.

4.  Names are important, and so was the process in naming the original Mets ballpark. It was originally to be called Flushing Meadow Park Municipal Stadium — the name of the public park on which it was built. However, citing the awful name and the desire for something better, a movement was launched to name it in honor of William B. Shea, the man who brought National League baseball back to New York. That movement won.

3. At any given point Met fans viewed Shea Stadium as the center for the sports universe, and in 1975 it actually was. It was that year that the Mets, Yankees, Jets and Giants all called it home. Yankee Stadium was being renovated, and Giants Stadium was still being finished, landing both New York NFL teams at Shea Stadium along with the Bronx Bombers. Talk about a crowded house!

2. They call New York “the Big Apple”, but in Shea Stadium it was always about the “Home Run” Apple. First installed in May 1980 as a symbol of the Mets’ advertising slogan “The Magic Is Back!”, the apple would customarily rise out of a black magic hat whenever a home run was hit. Originally slapped with the slogan “Mets Magic” in cursive writing, it was replaced in the mid-1980s with the words “Home Run” in big, block letters. A shinier and brand new apple found its way into Citi Field, while the old one has found its way just outside the new stadium as a relic from the previous Mets home park.   

1. We said it at the very beginning, no matter what Shea looked like at the end of its tenure, it was always a stadium that fans enjoyed visiting and it certainly could be kind to opposing players. In fact, several opposing players enjoyed playing at Shea Stadium so much so that they named their children after the ballpark.

Atlanta Braves third baseman, Larry “Chipper” Jones named his son Shea after hitting 19 home runs in the stadium — more than any other road park. Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, named his eldest daughter Brielle D’Shea, having enjoyed his time at the field, and the Astros’ Gary Cooper named his daughter Shea for reasons we’re not sure, since he never played an MLB game there (Cooper also named his son Camden after the park in Baltimore). Ya Gotta Believe! Ya Gotta Love Shea!

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Born on Long Island, but currently living the dream in Hollywood, I'm a die hard Mets fan since birth. Raised in the era of Doc and The Kid, I long for the days of Shea Stadium and another championship.
  1. Joe September 26, 2011 at 9:40 am
    The Yanks actually played again at Shea when some structural damage required it. I don’t know if it was that time, but Strawberry came back as a Yank and hit a home run, some wanting them to raise the apple in his honor.

    Will Mr. Jones came his dog “Citi” or something?

  2. Ron September 26, 2011 at 10:54 am
    As for movies filmed at Shea — don’t forget the Odd Couple in 1967 …. The baseball sequence was filmed at Shea Stadium before a regularly scheduled contest between the New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates on June 27, 1967. Originally, Roberto Clemente was supposed to hit into the triple play. However, the fleet-footed Pirate kept beating the throw to first base. After several takes, Clemente slowed so much he appeared to be walking. Bill Mazeroski, a more lead-footed athlete, was offered the part instead.
  3. max October 4, 2011 at 8:50 am
    actually, they half raised the home run apple for Straw, just letting the words “Home Run” appear without the Mets symbol.