I know, you’re thinking that I’ve finally lost it. Why should a lawyer from NY who had a stadium named after him be enshrined in the Hall of Fame?
Because he changed the game.
After the Dodgers and Giants left New York in 1957, Mayor Robert Wagner charged Bill Shea with bringing a National League team back to NYC. Shea contacted Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati but was turned down by every team.
Refusing to give up, in 1959 Shea teamed up with Branch Rickey and announced the formation of the Continental Baseball League. The league would be the first serious challenge to the National and American Leagues since the ill-fated Federal League in 1914-15. The proposed league would place teams in New York, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis, Toronto, Atlanta, Buffalo, and Dallas. With the exception on New York, none of these cities at the time had a major league level baseball team.
Shea was able to line up owners and financing for the league in fairly quick order – including Bob Howsam (original owner of the Denver Broncos) and Jack Kent Cooke (owner of the Redskins, Lakers, and LA Kings).
Realizing that the challenge was serious, the NL and AL approached Shea and offered expansion teams in 3 of the Continental League cities – NY, Minneapolis, and Houston. With his original goal in hand, Shea agreed to disband the league.
Shea’s legacy is more than just getting those 3 teams. Seven of the eight Continental League cities would eventually support a major league franchise, the sole exception being Buffalo. He engineered the first expansion of major league baseball since the American League and National League agreed to work together in 1903.
There are 29 members of the Hall of Fame that are designated as either an Executive or Pioneer. William Shea may not have played the game, nor did he manage or own a team. But there can be no doubt that he changed the game by initiating expansion, a true pioneer of the game. And for that maybe he deserves recognition in Cooperstown.