Home of the New York Mets
Experience the Park Citi Field Fan Guide
Birth of a Franchise
When the Dodgers and Giants departed for California in 1957, New York was left without a National League franchise. After a failed attempt in 1959 by attorney William Shea to form a new league known as the Continental League, Major League Baseball expanded by four teams, awarding two in each league. With a commitment to build a new ballpark, one of those franchises went to New York City and a group led by Charles Shipman Payson and his wife, Joan.
The next order of business was selecting a team name. Bees, Burros, Continentals, Skyscrapers, Jets and Skyliners were among the finalists. Payson and the rest of the owners ultimately selected Mets, because of its close association with the group’s corporate name, the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club, Inc. Interestingly, the Metropolitans was a name used from 1880 to 1887 by a New York team in the American Association. The press and fans seemed to genuinely love the name.
With the name settled, it was time to get some players for this new ballclub. An expansion draft was held in October 1961 and the Mets selected 22 players. In trying to generate some quick buzz with its new fans, the Mets selected mostly veteran players, including Roger Craig, Richie Ashburn, Frank Thomas and Al Jackson. Hall of Fame legend and former Yankee manager, Casey Stengel, was hired to manage the team, which would play its home games at the Polo Grounds until the new stadium could be built.
The Mets played their first official game on April 11, 1962, against the St. Louis Cardinals and fielded the following starting lineup:
Gil Hodges hit the first home run in team history, but it was not enough and the Mets lost to the Cardinals, 11-4. They went on to lose their first nine games before finally winning behind a complete game from Jay Hook on April 23.
The Mets would lose the most games in Major League history that year, finishing with a record of 40-120. The losses were not the story, however. What mattered most was that National League baseball was back in New York and the fans had a new team to root for – the Mets.
William A. Shea Memorial Stadium, named for William Shea in honor of his efforts to bring National League baseball back to New York, opened on April 17, 1964, before a crowd of 48,736 and a festive atmosphere that included many politicians and dignitaries. The Mets lost. The cost of the new 55,300-seat multi-purpose facility in Flushing, Queens, was $20 million. Shea is situated adjacent to the site of the old World’s Fair and LaGuardia Airport.
Of course, anyone who has gone to a game has seen and heard the many planes overhead arriving and departing from the airport. In fact, Keith Hernandez used to famously step out of the batter’s box when a plane would pass. Presently, the United States Tennis Center is also next to Shea, which creates a traffic logjam in the late-summer every year during the U.S. Open. Shea Stadium would also be home to the New York Jets until 1983, when they moved to Giants Stadium in New Jersey.