Apr 16, 2021

Remembering Mets History: (1964) The Grand Opening Of Shea Stadium & The First Game Played There

Friday April 17th 1964:
Shea Stadium opened for baseball on a sunny afternoon in Queens, New York. Met fans were thrilled at their teams grand new home Shea Stadium, in Flushing Meadows, at Corona Park. It took two and a half years to build the grand ballpark, and it cost $28.5 million.


At the time Shea Stadium opened, with it's 57,333 seats, was one of the biggest ballparks in baseball. 

It certainly was the newest & at the
time was considered a modern state of the art facility.

The  colossal new ballpark stood behind the attractions of the 1964 Worlds Fair, which was to open just five days after Shea's grand opening. 

Many visitors to the Worlds Fair would also visit the beautiful Shea Stadium that summer, making it New York's biggest attraction.


The classic orange & blue panels on the outside of the ballparks frame, represented the Mets team colors. The colors were of course taken from the NY Giants orange & the Brooklyn Dodgers blue. Those colors were also the official colors of the 1964 Worlds Fair. 

Trivia: The panels were removed in 1980, under the new ownership of Fred Wilpon  & Nelson Doubleday. 
A view of the Unisphere & Shea Stadium from a World Fair Exhibit


Shea Stadium featured ushers & even, usherettes. Pretty young ladies helping to guide to people to their seats & add a bit of beauty to the whole extravaganza.  The vendors, ushers & usherettes at Shea were also donned in the Mets colors.

There were a variety of different uniforms designed for the employees from a professional New York fashion company.

The stadium also featured it's Diamond Club restaurant,
where season ticket holders could have lunch or dinner before or after a game. It was the start of fancy cuisine at the ballpark.

The Diamond Club would also hold many events, featuring the players, their waives, fashion shows, charity events & fund raisers.

1964 Mets Wives at the Shea Diamond Club. Left to right: Jackie Hunt, Shirley Kanehl, Rachel Altman, Annitte Hunter, Martha Cisco, Nancy Willey, Carol Smith, Barbara Bearnarth, Beverly Cannizzaro, Nadine Jackson & Marie Taylor.


Shea had a wide open view behind the outfield fences, allowing many a passerby on the expressways to get a peak inside the ball park & at the large crowds. The winds could be tough at times blowing into home plate, making it pitcher friendly.


In right field it had the largest scoreboard in the major leagues. The classic Shea scoreboard, kept track of the Mets game at Shea, as well as other games around baseball. 

The right side had the National League action & the left side had the American League action. 

The scoreboard also displayed that days lineups, with uniform numbers uniform numbers for both teams, to help fans keep tract of the game easier. When a player came to bat, a red dot next to his number, represented that player. 

Early on in Shea's history, the top center if the massive scoreboard had a picture of the batter who was up to the plate. It malfunctioned often & was eventually replaced by a giant Mets logo. A large clock told the time & the Mets advertisers proudly had their advertisements displayed.

A day earlier, Bill Shea, whom the ballpark was named after, christened the Mets' new home with two symbolic bottles of water. 

Bill Shea was a successful New York lawyer, who was
instrumental in bringing Nation League baseball back to the city.  He also threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

The first bottle of water, had H2O from the Gowanus Canal, located near Ebbets Field, and the other from the Harlem River, which was near the Polo Grounds. 

On this historic day, the Mets hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of a huge crowd of 50,312. 

The Sporting news reported that "Almost all among the 50,312 in attendance, could be heard to gasp such tributes as ' beautiful, fantastic, fabulous, miraculous, the best ever".

Quotes- Casey Stengel: "It has 57 bathrooms & I need one now!"

The Umpires for that day were- HP - Tom Gorman / 1B - Bill Williams/ 2B - Vinnie Smith & 3B - Chris Pelekoudas.



The Mets starting pitchers that day were, Jack Fisher for the Mets & Bob Friend for the Pirates.

Trivia: Fisher was overwhelmed by the crowd noise and pre game hype, unable to concentrate. Fisher claims to have asked Mets manager, Casey Stengel, if he could warm up in the bullpen before the game, instead of on the pitcher's mound. 

Fisher credits himself with starting
the big league tradition, of starting pitchers warming in the bullpen before a game.
 
Fisher was first Mets pitcher to walk from the Mets Shea Stadium dugout to the pitchers mound
His battery mate that day, was catcher Jesse Gonder. 

The first visiting batter to step in, was the Pirates' Dick Schofield. He also recorded the first out in the new ball park, popping up to second baseman Larry Burright. 


Fisher struck out Roberto Clemente as the first official strike out in Shea Stadium history. The Pirates went down in order for an easy 1st inning.


Tim Harkness was the first Mets batter to step to the plate at the new Shea Stadium. Harkness would ground out to short stop for the first Mets' out. Outfielder, George Altman would fly out for the second out. & Ron Hunt ground out to end the Mets home 1st inning.

In the 2nd inning, Hall of Famer, Willie Stargell led off by hitting the first HR recorded at Shea Stadium. The slugger would hit 59 HRs at Shea Satdium in his career, more than any other player. The Pirates led 1-0.

In the 3rd inning, Harkness would get the first official Mets hit at Shea Stadium, a base hit to right field. The next batter, George Altman grounded out to end the inning.


In the bottom of the 4th,
Ron Hunt doubled, for the first Mets extra base hit at Shea. The next batter, Jesse Gonder recorded the club's first Shea Stadium RBI, as he doubled to score Hunt to tie the game.

Frank Thomas then singled & Jim Hickman was the first Met hit by a pitch at Shea, loading the bases. Larry Eliot then came in as the first Mets pinch runner at the new Shea. 

Mets short stop, Amado Samuel then doubled down the left field line, scoring both Gonder & Thomas, as the Mets took a 3-1 lead to the delight of the large crowd. 

But that was all the Mets could do. Friend then retired
the next three batters & the Mets rally was over. Larry Burright grounded out, Jack Fishers bunt was unsuccessful & Tim Harkness flew out to left field.


In the top of the 5th, Fisher walked Schofield to start the inning. Bill Virdon then grounded into a double play. The first the Mets infield turned at the new Shea. It was Burright to Samuel to Harkness. 

Then Roberto Clemente singled & that man who always haunted the Mets, Willie Stargell came through with a double, narrowing the Mets lead 3-2.

Future Mets 1969 star, Donn Clendenon collected an infield single & Stargell held at third base. Fisher then got Bob Bailey to ground out to third.

In the 7th inning, Fisher got the first two outs but then surrendered singles to Roberto Clemente & Willie Stargell. It was Willie's third hit of the day. 

Mets manager, Casey Stengel came to the mound & pulled Fisher. The first reliever to come out of
the Shea Stadium bullpen, was Ed Bauta. He immediately gave up a base hit to Donn Clendenon & the game was tied. The run charged to Fisher. 
 

Jack Fisher went seven innings allowing three runs on eleven hits, four strike outs & one walk earning no decision. 


A Young Ed Kranepool

In the 8th inning, a young Ed Kranepool fittingly, was the first Mets pinch hitter to step out of the Shea Stadium dugout. 

Trivia: Kranepool would become one of the most successful pinch hitters not only in Mets history but in all of baseball, in his later years. 

In 1974 he batted a Mets record .486 as a pinch hitter. On this day he grounded out to end the inning.

In the top of the 9th, Stargell & Clendenon both singled. With two outs, Bill Mazeroski singled in what turned out to be the games winning run. 

In the home 9th, the Mets went down in order; pinch hitter John
Stephenson & Hawk Taylor both struck out for the first two outs. Tim Harkness then ended the game with a ground out to second base.


Officially in the books, first game ever played at Shea Stadium, had the Pirates beating the Mets 4-3. Bob Friend was the winner & Ed Bauta took the loss.

Trivia: Forty Four years later, in October 2008, Ed Kranepool, Jack Fisher, Ron Hunt & Frank Thomas would all be on hand for the last game every played at Shea Stadium.






Looking at the Mets Players in the starting line up that day: 

Tim Harkness: Harkness came over from the L.A. Dodgers playing with the Mets in 1963 & 1964. He hit 10 HRs but hit just .211 in 1963. In 1964 he hit .282 but played in just 39 games. Ed Kranepool was considered an up & coming star, he took over first base & Harkness never made it back to the big leagues again.

George Altman: Altman had two good seasons of hitting over .300 & bashing over 22 HRs with the Cubs. He spent one season with Mets and batted .230 with 9 HRs & 47 RBIs. He went back to Chicago for three more years & then would play eight seasons in Japan.

Ron Hunt: Hunt was Mets first player to start in an All Star
Game. That was the 1964 game held in Shea Stadium. The popular, Hunt spent four years with the Mets (1963-1966) batting a best .303 in 1964.

Jesse Gonder: Gonder first played with the Mets in 1963. He hit .302 in 42 games and earned an opening day spot in 1964. That season he batted .270 with seven HRs & 35 RBIs. He was traded away in 1966.

Frank Thomas: Thomas was an original 1962 Met. He was the team's first real slugger, hitting  34 HRs in 1962, a Met record until Dave Kingman hit 37 in 1975. 

Thomas was a journey man outfielder who hit 266 career HRs, including 12 straight years in double figures. He was second in the NL with 35 HRs in 1958 & once appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was on the All time HR top Forty List at the time of his retirement. Thomas had studied to be a priest before a baseball career.

Jim Hickman: Hickman was an original Met and was an everyday regular for the team's first five seasons. He played all outfield positions, as well as first & third base. His best season was 1963 when he led the team in HRs (17) & triples (6). In 964 he batted .257 with 11 HRs & 57 RBIs.

Amado Samuel: Samuel played briefly for parts of three seasons, with the Mets & Atlanta Braves. He was the first short stop to come from the Dominican Republic.


Larry Burright:
Burright had hit just .220 in 1963 and after Opening Day at Shea in 1964, he would only play in two more Mets games going hitless.


Jack Fisher: Fisher won 11 games for the 1964 Mets, unfortunately he lost 17, which wasn't as bad as the following year when he had lost 24 games. In his four year Mets career he was 38-73 with a 4.12 ERA. 

Reliever- Ed Bauta: Bauta pitched just 17 games with the Mets over the 1963-1964 seasons, going 0-2 with a save.

Ed Kranepol: Steady Eddie was the Mets first bonus baby, debuting at age 17 as Kid Kranepool. He would spend 18 seasons with Mets, being the old man when he retired. He is the all time Mets leader in games played & is second on the club list all time in hits. He is a member of the Mets Hall of Fame.


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