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  • Becoming Big League: Seattle, the Pilots, and Stadium Politics by Bill Mullins
  • Paul Hensler
Bill Mullins. Becoming Big League: Seattle, the Pilots, and Stadium Politics. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013. pp. 346. Cloth, $26.95.

Given the one year the 1969 Seattle Pilots spent in the Emerald City, one may wonder what this woebegone franchise did to deserve an in-depth study. However, Bill Mullins has covered all angles of this expansion club, delivering a book replete with details of the year-long effort to place a major-league team in the Pacific Northwest and of the team’s swift decline that led to its transfer to Milwaukee on the eve of the 1970 American League season.

The historical background of the city of Seattle is crucial to understanding what made this region desirable in the eyes of major-league executives as several existing clubs journeyed to new homes and four expansion teams were created in the early 1960s. When initial planning for a regional fair in 1959 grew into a burgeoning effort to host the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle cemented its reputation as an up-and-coming metropolis. Attempts to relocate the [End Page 150] Cleveland Indians to Seattle in 1965 and the Kansas City Athletics two years later came to naught, but there still existed a civic pride imbued in what was termed the “Seattle spirit” to continue the good works that were manifest in the bounty reaped as a result of the World’s Fair. Such élan caught the attention of the National Basketball Association and occasioned the birth of the Supersonics in 1967.

But Mullins demonstrates time and again the difficulties endured by Seattle city officials in selling the idea of building a new, publicly funded stadium to serve as the home for a major-league baseball team. His deft research enumerates two failed initiatives that would have hastened the construction of a domed, multipurpose facility. Citizens of the greater Puget Sound area were quite content with marine recreation, and the mountains surrounding the region beckoned those who enjoyed other outdoor pursuits. Minor-league baseball, long a staple in Seattle and other nearby venues, was perfectly fine to soothe the cravings of those seeking to watch action on the diamond.

Charles Finley’s shifting of the Athletics from Kansas City to Oakland following the 1967 season opened the door for expansion. To quell the anger of jilted Kansas City fans over the loss of their baseball team, a new club was created to replace the departed A’s; and Seattle was granted a franchise on the condition that a new stadium would be built in a timely manner. The author cites the “careless optimism” of the American League in “assuming that anyone would welcome a team with joy,” but “a substantial number of Seattle-ites … judged it merely ‘nice’ that the American League had awarded [the] city a major league baseball franchise” (87). When a third stadium referendum was slated for early 1968, baseball—notably the American League—pulled out all the stops to win the hearts and minds of skeptical voters. The success of this ballot ensured a major-league team in Seattle, but construction of a new ballpark to rescue the club from the purgatory of Sicks’ Stadium became a burden ultimately too great to bear.

Controversy over how much renovation work—and the attendant cost—was to be dedicated to a temporary home for the Pilots in order to bring it up to minimum major-league standards nearly thwarted their debut in April 1969. This hardship was further augmented by the battles over site selection for the new stadium; and as the weeks and months passed, the deadline for commencement of construction drew uncomfortably near. While the stadium issues churned their own dark clouds, the Pilots’ ownership, led chiefly by Dewey Soriano, stumbled badly with its finances and ability to market the team to a populace that proved itself reluctant to embrace major-league baseball in the first place. Meanwhile, halfway across the country, a consortium in Milwaukee fronted by Allan “Bud” Selig was waiting to take control of the [End Page 151] fledgling Pilots, who by now were...