Shea would have been AL Rookie of the Year in 1947 if the BBWAA had given separate awards in the NL and AL; Jackie Robinson won in a landslide, but Shea led the AL candidates in votes. Throwing a moving fastball, a change, and a slider, he went 14-5 with a 3.07 ERA that season, led the AL in fewest hits per nine innings (6.4), won the All-Star Game, and helped the Yankees to the World Championship after a pennant drought of three years.
Shea’s rookie record was achieved despite missing seven weeks in the middle of the year with a pulled neck muscle. He also won Games One and Five of the World Series. In Game Five, Shea threw a four-hitter while getting two hits himself, including an RBI double off Hugh Casey, and won 2-1. Shea came back on two days’ rest for the final game and pitched without a decision as the Yankees won.
Shea had made the Yankees by a fluke. After missing half of 1942 and all of 1943-46 in the military, he pitched for a local team in Waterbury, Connecticut in an exhibition against the Yankees and beat them 1-0, earning a trip to spring training with them in 1947.
The neck injury in 1947 ultimately caught up with him. He spent the next three seasons pitching in pain and ineffectively, because the doctors and the Yankees misdiagnosed him as having arm trouble, and he spent time in the minors trying to work it out. Finally, he went to a local chiropractor while at home over the winter in 1951; the problem was cured in just 15 minutes, and the chiropractor gave him a list of doctors in each AL city in case it cropped up again. After the season he was traded to the Senators with Jackie Jensen and two others for Irv Noren and Tom Upton, and had two more good seasons for .500 clubs, going 11-7 (1952) and 12-7 (1953).
Shea was called Spec because of his freckles and was nicknamed The Naugatuck Nugget by Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen.