In New York, disgusted baseball fans and civic leaders first reacted to the loss of National League ball by trying to hijack another Senior Circuit team.
In December 1957, New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner, up for reelection, appointed a four-man committee consisting of former Postmaster General James Farley, department store king Bernard Gimbel, real estate executive Clint Blume and high-powered attorney William A. Shea to engage a new team.
Shea would become the key figure in this drama. Born in New York on June 21, 1907, Shea grew up on a steady diet of baseball, attending Bushwicks, Ivanhoes and Farmers semipro games. In high school, he was offered Yankees tickets as an incentive to excel in Spanish by a teacher who was an aunt of pitcher Herb Pennock. Shea became proficient en Espanol and a fixture at the Polo Grounds, where the Yankees still played. Since his mother forbade him to take part in high school football,
Shea put his energies into baseball, where he caught and played second base, and into basketball, in which he was a superior player. His school, George Washington High, did not have a basketball team, so Shea and his friends created "Fort Washington Prep," which booked contests against real scholastic squads. Eventually, the scheme was exposed, which did not keep the popular Shea from being elected president of the school's General Organization by the largest margin ever.
The six-foot-tall Shea attended New York University, where he was good enough at football to win a four-year scholarship from Georgetown University; he also played basketball. More importantly, he gained his law degree.
After graduation, his interest in sports continued. He played lacrosse for the Crescent Athletic Club, rated the nation's best. His father-in-law, Thomas Shaw, had been one of biggest bookmakers in New York during the 1920s--a legal activity back then. In the early 1940s Shea operated the Long Island Indians, a farm club of the Washington Redskins football team; he also had a share in an N.F.L. franchise in Boston. His first job after graduation from Law School in 1931 was with the firm of Cullen & Dyckman, where he met George V. McLaughlin, President of the Brooklyn Trust Company, whose patience kept the foundering Dodgers afloat for years. After that Shea worked for the New York State Banking and Insurance Departments and in 1941 became a founding member of the real estate and corporate law firm of Manning, Hollinger & Shea.
By the time Wagner tapped Shea, he was one of the city's most prominent attorneys. Now he was fighting the city's battle in the baseball wars. As an inducement for teams to move, Shea and company could dangle a projected new stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens--an option O'Malley had rejected.
The quartet approached National League clubs in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The first two expressed some interest, but eventually said no.
Philadelphia wasn't paying any attention to Shea. "In talking to [Bob] Carpenter [of the Phils]," Shea recalled, "I began to realize one thing. This fellow is just like me. He doesn't want to move. Philadelphia is his town and he is going to stay there. He's not going to pick up and leave the place just for money. There are other things which are more important to him. Civic pride? Sure, you can call it that. And when I'm talking to him, I begin to see that I am placing myself in the position of asking him to do the very thing I would never do. Pull out of your own town. That cured me. From then on, I stopped bothering other teams. I was not going to be a party to moving any club, so long as that city had people willing to support it."
The committee, now under Shea's leadership, tried a new tack: expansion.
"At this stage," noted Shea, "my problem is that I am silly enough to think that the National League owed New York something. Here we supported two teams for all those years. Well, the National League didn't feel that way at all. They didn't feel anything. They couldn't have cared less."