Saying goodbye to Shea
Memories, not building, set stadium apart from all others
The best things about Shea Stadium had nothing to do with the building.
The best things about Shea Stadium had to do with the Mets players, the Mets fans and the wondrous things that sometimes happened when the first group was competing and the second was watching.
Shea Stadium will end its 44-year run in 2008, to be replaced by the new Citi Field. Purely as a physical facility, Shea will not be particularly missed.
It was the first of a generation of ballparks that represented an unfortunate architectural trend in baseball -- the "cookie-cutters." These ballparks were round, symmetrical, open to multiple usage and generally without distinctive characteristics. They were, at the end of the day, functional, but not beloved.
It was a colorful place, but only when the people were in the seats. The blue drawn from the Dodgers the orange brought from the Giants, contrasted against the seemingly endless darkness beyond the outfield, and gave you a visual sense that you didn't get anywhere else.
But the real beauty of Shea had nothing to do with the structure and everything to do with what happened inside the structure. In the first place, it was and is one of the loudest places in baseball, and that means loudest even without all the planes from nearby LaGuardia.
On the best nights at Shea, the crowd frequently makes a remarkably loud baritone roar that you don't hear in exactly that same way at any other ballpark. The decibel level is sufficiently high -- again, not figuring in the jets -- that you could swear the place is levitating, or at the very least, vibrating. That's a tribute not to the flight paths, but to the fans.
The aural image of Shea Stadium as a very loud venue transcends baseball. Every American over the age of infancy has seen and heard the famous clips of the Beatles playing at Shea, in which the four lads from Liverpool are accompanied at every chord by the deafening screams of thousands upon thousands of admirers. The thing is, in the good times for the Mets, the decibel level was not that much less. It was pitched lower, it wasn't the sound that would emanate from adolescent females, but it was still a great deal of sound; in one place, at one time, for one reason.
The other aspect of Shea Stadium was that it was home to some of the most astounding events in baseball history. The events that occurred there in 1969 and 1986 were not simply notable as triumphs for the Mets. They were epic, history-making events, events that redefined the game as we came to know it. They were, objectively, like the Mets themselves, Amazin'.
Look at 1969. The Mets, in their first seven years of existence, had lost 737 games. In 1969, they won 100. They came from so far off the pace in that year's version of the National League East, that the season is also remembered for the collapse of yet another Chicago Cubs' dream. But it was more than that Cubs collapsing. It was the Mets playing great baseball.
And has there been a greater October upset than the 1969 World Series, the Mets beating the immensely favored Baltimore Orioles, and in five games? You understand Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Gary Gentry, etc., and the beauty of dominant postseason pitching. But when you factor in the fact that Donn Clendenon was the World Series MVP, you get a better sense of how truly surprising this all was. Yes, the "Miracle Mets."
The 1986 Mets were considerably more proficient at hitting than their 1969 predecessors. But the '86 team, as accomplished as it was, was at the point of World Series defeat; Game 6, Saturday night, Oct. 25, trailing the Boston Red Sox by two runs with two out, nobody on in the bottom of the 10th.
But three straight singles, a wild pitch and then Mookie Wilson hits the grounder that inevitably finds its way through Bill Buckner's legs. After this, Game 7 was a pro-Mets formality. But Game 6 was, for twists and turns and ultimate victory seized from certain defeat, at the most dramatic possible time, the most remarkable game in the long, rich history of the Fall Classic. You have never seen anything remotely like it, before or since, and it happened at Shea Stadium.
The Mets traveled the distance from lovable losers to World Series champions in what, looking back, was the blink of an eye. Along the way and for years to come they became suitable successors to a rich National League tradition in New York. In the present era, while they might always seem a bit like underdogs in the New York scheme of things, they have become perennial National League pennant contenders. Light years removed from their humble playing origins, the surprise now is when the Mets do not win, as they so notably did not in the waning days of the 2007 season.
It all happened, plus or minus, more plusses than minuses it seems now, at Shea Stadium. The memories, not the building materials, set this place apart from all others. That and the noise, loud and persistent, but made in a good cause.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.