Andrew J. Shea was a sailor and a grillmaster, a lively character who worked his way up from a rocky childhood to become the consummate political insider.

But he may be best remembered as the brilliant attorney who came up with the winning legal strategy that kept Major League Baseball from killing off the Twins.

Shea, 79, died July 8 in Edina after several years of failing health.

A lifelong Democrat, Shea was a strong believer in using government to help citizens and fought for the right of workers to be represented by unions, said his son, Andrew T. Shea of Minneapolis.

“In law school, he was a legislative analyst at the Library of Congress,” his son said. “Going through his papers, we found these analyses he had written back in 1963, 1964. He wrote about the need to invest in immigrants when they came to this country.

“He wrote about the need to provide vocational-style schools so we can always have a strong working population.”

Shea made his mark in politics at a young age — not as an elected official, but as a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker. Still in his 30s, he was selected to manage the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City. He spent an entire year planning and preparing for the convention, where Jimmy Carter was nominated on his way to winning the presidency.

His children remember spending a month in New York, where they rode a blimp, visited the circus and saw the original Broadway production of “The Wiz.” They had many other adventures with their father, who loved to travel and, especially, to sail.

“One thing we picked up from him is to travel and to see as many places as we possibly can,” said his daughter, Glynis Shea of Minneapolis. “We went on sailing trips to Madeline Island and as far away as Greece.”

Shea was born in Minneapolis. His mother died at a young age, and his father moved often from job to job. Shea attended Cretin High School and St. Thomas College in St. Paul, then got his law degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Returning to Minneapolis, he entered law practice and eventually co-founded the firm now known as McGrann Shea Carnival Straughn & Lamb. Among his clients was the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owned and operated the Metrodome.

In 2001, baseball officials began making plans to eliminate two Major League teams, a process known as “contraction.” One of the candidates for contraction was the Twins. Shea led a group that fought to keep that from happening. And it was Shea who came up with the legal strategy that ultimately succeeded, said Bill Lester, who was the sports commission’s executive director at the time.

“The argument was Andy’s idea,” Lester recalled, explaining that if the Twins’ agreement with the sports commission were treated as a regular property lease, the team could end the lease simply by making a financial payment. “His idea was ‘specific performance.’ ”

Under Shea’s theory, the Twins, under terms of their contract with the sports commission, were obligated to play every game in the Metrodome through the end of that agreement. That argument won over Hennepin County District Judge Harry Crump, who issued a restraining order that kept the Twins from breaking the contract.

An Irish wake will be held in Shea’s honor on Aug. 7 from 4-8 p.m. at Kieran’s, 601 1st Av. N. in Minneapolis. The family requests memorials be made as a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union.