Seattle Pilots at Sicks Stadium
Seattle Pilots at Sicks Stadium
The Seattle Pilots were an American professional baseball team based in Seattle, Washington. Enfranchised in 1969, the Pilots were a member of the West Division of Major League Baseball's American League. Sick's Stadium was the home ballpark in the team's lone season in Seattle.
The "Pilots" name originates from the city's association with the airplane industry, particularly Boeing, and its prominence of marine culture. The team colors were Red, Navy Blue, and Gold. Seattle initially had much going for it when it joined the AL in 1969. Seattle had long been a hotbed for Minor league baseball and was home to the Seattle Rainiers, one of the pillars of the Pacific Coast League. The Cleveland Indians had almost moved to Seattle in 1965. Many of the same things that attracted the Indians made Seattle a plum choice for an expansion team. Seattle was the third-biggest metropolitan area on the West Coast (behind Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area). Also, there was no real competition from other professional teams. While Seattle had just landed the National Basketball Association's SuperSonics, the NBA was not in the same class as baseball was in terms of popularity at the time.
On April 1, 1970, they moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and changed their name to the Milwaukee Brewers.
The front man for the franchise was Dewey Soriano, a former Rainiers pitcher and general manager and former president of the PCL. In an ominous sign of things to come, Soriano had to ask William R. Daley, who had owned the Indians at the time they flirted with Seattle, to furnish much of the expansion fee. In return, Daley bought 47 percent of the stock—the largest stake in the club. He became chairman of the board while Soriano served as president.
However, a couple of factors were beyond the Pilots' control. They were originally not set to start play until 1971, but the date was moved up to 1969 under pressure from Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri. Professional baseball had been played in Kansas City in one form or another from 1883 until the A's left for Oakland after the 1967 season, and Symington would not accept the prospect of Kansas City having to wait three years for baseball to return. (The American League would not allow only one new team to enter the league, as the resulting odd number of teams would unbalance the schedule. That meant Kansas City and Seattle had to be admitted together.)
Also, the Pilots had to pay the PCL $1 million to compensate for the loss of one of its most successful franchises. After King County voters approved a bond for a domed stadium (what would become the Kingdome) in 1968, the Seattle Pilots were officially born. California Angels executive Marvin Milkes was hired as general manager, and Joe Schultz, coach of the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals, became manager.
Schultz and Milkes both optimistically stated that they thought Pilots could finish third in the newly formed, six-team AL West—but to the surprise of no one outside Seattle, the Pilots were a poor team. They won their very first game, and then their home opener three days later, but soon faded to a sub-.500 franchise. Nevertheless, the Pilots managed to stay in reasonable striking distance of a .500 record for the first three months of the season, and were only 6 games back of the division lead (and in third place in the AL West) as late as June 28. But a disastrous 9–20 July and an even worse 6–22 August ended even a faint hope of any kind of contention, and the team finished in last place in the AL West with a record of 64-98, 33 games out of first.
However, the team's poor play was the least of its troubles. The most obvious problem was Sick's Stadium. The longtime home of the Rainiers, it had once been considered one of the best ballparks in minor league baseball. By the 1960s, however, it was considered far behind the times. While a condition of MLB awarding the Pilots to Seattle was that Sicks had to be expanded to 30,000 seats by the start of the 1969 season, only 17,000 seats were ready because of numerous delays. The scoreboard was not even ready until the night before Opening Day. While it was expanded to 25,000 by June, the added seats had obstructed views. Water pressure was almost nonexistent after the seventh inning, especially with crowds above 10,000. Attendance was so poor (678,000) that the Pilots were almost out of money by the end of the season. The team's new stadium was slated to be built at the Seattle Center, but a petition by stadium opponents ground the project to a halt.
During the offseason, Soriano crossed paths with Bud Selig. They met in secret for over a month after the end of the season, and during Game 1 of the World Series, Soriano agreed to sell the Pilots to Selig for $10 million to $13 million (depending on the source). Selig would then move the team to Milwaukee and rename it the Brewers. However, the owners turned it down in the face of pressure from Washington's two senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, as well as state attorney general Slade Gorton. The MLB asked Soriano and Daley to find a local buyer. Local theater chain owner Fred Danz came forward in October 1969 with a $10 million deal, but it fizzled when the Bank of California called in a $4 million loan it had made to Soriano and Daley for startup costs. In January 1970, Westin Hotels owner Eddie Carlson put together a nonprofit group to buy the team. However, the owners rejected the idea almost out of hand since it would have devalued the other clubs' worth. A more traditional deal came one vote short of approval.
After a winter and spring full of court action, the Pilots reported for spring training under new manager Dave Bristol, unsure of where they would play. The owners had given tentative approval to the Milwaukee group, but the state of Washington got an injunction on March 17 to stop the deal. Soriano immediately filed for bankruptcy—a move intended to forestall any post-sale legal action. At the bankruptcy hearing a week later, Milkes testified there was not enough money to pay the coaches, players, and office staff. Had Milkes been more than 10 days late in paying the players, they would have all become free agents and left Seattle without a team for the 1970 season. With this in mind, Federal Bankruptcy Referee Sidney Volinn declared the Pilots bankrupt on April 1—six days before Opening Day—clearing the way for them to move to Milwaukee. The team's equipment had been sitting in Provo, Utah with the drivers awaiting word on whether to drive toward Seattle or Milwaukee.
Much of the story of the Seattle Pilots' only year in existence is told in Jim Bouton's classic baseball book, Ball Four.
- Seattle Pilots
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