restricted access 2. Winless in Seattle
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7 2 Winless in Seattle “I also don’t think this is a town that will ever draw 25 or 30,000 regularly. It’s a town that’s much more concerned with culture than athletics.” —Jim Bouton, referring to Seattle in Ball Four In 1969, there was scant evidence of the skyscrapers that would dot the city streets of Seattle in the years to come. From Puget Sound, one could see the world-famous Space Needle hovering above the city’s northern side. To the southeast, with Mount Rainier towering behind it, lay Sick’s Stadium. At Sick’s, minor-league baseball had thrived in Seattle for decades. The Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League played there since 1938 under the management of such baseball superstars as Rogers Hornsby, the Hall of Fame second baseman, and Lefty O’Doul, who once collected 254 hits in a season for the Philadelphia Phillies.1 Throughout the years, the Rainiers had been affiliated with several Major League teams, including the Tigers, the Reds, the Red Sox and the Angels. Because of this affiliation , the Seattle community saw its share of future major leaguers. But decades of local minor-league baseball had left a yearning in the “Emerald City” for a Major League team. When Major League Baseball announced that it would be expanding, Seattle, led by King County officials and Washington senator Warren Magnuson, decided to take a shot at receiving Major League affiliation. As would occur so many 8 • BASEBALL’S GREATEST SERIES times throughout the next thirty years, politics played a crucial role in Seattle baseball.2 In 1967, the Athletics moved from Kansas City to Oakland, infuriating Missouri senator Stuart Symington. He threatened the American League with a lawsuit, and the owners decided to quickly appease the senator by agreeing to add two teams to the American League.3 One would be located in Kansas City, while the other would be placed in another not-yet-determined city. Hoping to snare the other team, Seattle sent a delegation led by Senator Magnuson to the 1967 winter meetings of the AL team owners to plead the city’s case. Convinced of the viability of baseball in the Pacific Northwest, the owners agreed to award the other team to Seattle based on two conditions. First, Sick’s Stadium, which had been simply a minor-league park, had to be renovated and enlarged from 11,000 seats to 30,000 seats. Sick’s would serve as a temporary home to the new team. Second, the owners demanded that a new stadium be built. A $40 million bond issue to build a domed stadium, with construction beginning no later than December 31, 1970, had to be voted on and passed by residents of Seattle. Dewey and Max Soriano would be the owners of this new team, spawning the birth of Major League baseball in Seattle.4 In February 1968, due largely to a local media blitz and visits to Seattle by baseball players like Mickey Mantle, Carl Yastrzemski, Ron Santo, and Joe DiMaggio, voters approved the bond referendum for what would eventually become the Kingdome.5 Renovation of Sick’s Stadium began and the ball club, named the Pilots, set about building a team for the 1969 season. During the expansion draft, the club acquired such players as Tommy Davis, Diego Segui, Tommy Harper, Don Mincher, Jim Bouton, and rookie Lou Piniella. Expectations for the Pilots were not great, but still, as the 1969 season approached, there was a high level of anticipation from the Seattle community. Once the season began, the ambience surrounding the Pilots disappeared nearly as fast as it had been created. • • • • • • • • • The Pilots won their first game on April 8, defeating the California Angels in Anaheim, and three days later they would even win their home opener in Seattle. These victories, however, represented the WINLESS IN SEATTLE • 9 few successes of the franchise. The Pilots were 4–4 after eight games and never reached .500 again. The team suffered from a multitude of problems, not the least of which was a simple lack of talent. The roster featured an assortment of has-beens and never-would-be’s. Former All-Stars like Tommy Davis and Tommy Harper dotted the lineup, but their best years were far behind them. The team’s manager, “a short, portly, bald, ruddy-faced, twinkly eyed man” named Joe Schultz,6 had little to work with and he knew it. As...


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