Played 1 Season: 1969
64-98, 6th in the
This past season the city of Milwaukee unveiled a beautiful
new ball park to the public. Miller Park, with its retractable roof, is marvel of modern technology - the stadium cost over
$400 million to build. Back in the spring of 1970 a young car salesman named Bud Selig purchased what was considered to be
a major league baseball team, the Seattle Pilots, for $10 million and moved them to his hometown of Milwaukee. Miller Park
may have been the culmination of Selig's dream, but the roots of that dream began in Seattle. Here is the short story of the
The city of Seattle was awarded a major league baseball franchise at baseball's winter meetings in
1967. Brothers Max and Dewey Soriano, would act as the expansion franchises' owners. The Pilots were slated to begin play
in 1969 in the temporary home of Sick's Field (a minor league park that would be expanded to seat 25,000). Three years later,
the agreement stated, the Pilots would move into a newly built domed stadium in King County.
The main problem the
Sorianos' had was financing. They had to rely on the help of William R. Daley, the owner of the Cleveland Indians at the time,
for financial assistance. Daley had taken an interest in Seattle when they unsuccessfully courted his Indians years earlier.
He got a better deal to stay in Cleveland, but believed major league baseball belonged in Seattle. He was willing to help
out the Soriano's with investment capital, at least in the beginning.
The first sign that things would not go smoothly
for the Pilots was the hang ups on the expansion of Sick's stadium. The renovation wasn't completed for opening day. The stadium
problems continued all season for the Pilots, most notably the low water pressure - the toilets often wouldn't flush when
the attendance climbed above 10,000!
As for the on the field product, General Manager Marvin Milkes
had a "win now" mentality - a terrible philosophy for an expansion team - especially during that era. The teams' best prospect,
Lou Pinella, was dealt to expansion rival Kansas City after getting injured in spring training. Pinella would go onto win
the 1969 American League Rookie of the Year. The team's nucleus was built in the expansion draft with cast - offs such as
Tommy Harper, Tommy Davis, and Don Mincher. Veterans Jim Bouton and Mike Hegan were purchased from the Yankees. Dick Schultz,
the 3rd base coach in St. Louis, was hired to be the franchises' first manager.
The season began promisingly enough
- the Pilots split a two game series against the California Angels and headed home to face the Chicago White Sox. The opener
was bittersweet, the Pilots beat the Sox, but little else went right. Only 17,150 saw the Pilots home opener, many of which
had to wait until the third inning to be seated because many of the benches were still being put in as the game started! It
was major league baseball in name only.
At the All Star Break the team was in 4th place in the 6 team AL West, 18
games behind the Minnesota Twins. OF Mike Hegan was originally selected as the Pilot's All Star representative, but he pulled
a hamstring and was replaced by 1B Don Mincher. The second half of the season was a disaster, the team went 9-20 in July and
6-22 in August, including an 0-10 home stand. Entering September the Pilots had drawn only 588,484 fans, an average of 8,407
per game. The team would need to average about 20,000 a game the remainder of the season just to break even. Up to that point
the Pilots had only drawn 20,000 or more twice all season.
William Daley, the teams chief investor, was growing impatient
and was reluctant to use any more of his financial resources into this sinking ship. Without his backing the Soriano's would
not be able to come up with the resources to keep the team running.
Besides the stadium and the poor play several
other factors led to the demise of the Pilots - they had no television contract & also had one of the highest ticket prices
in baseball. Looking back on it, not much was done right in the short history of this franchise. It set up as a blue print
on how not to build an expansion team.
The Pilots played their last game on October 2, 1969 - 5,473 people saw the
team fall to the Oakland A's 3-1. They finished with a 64-98 record which was good for a last place finish, 33 games out of
first. Tommy Davis led the Pilots with a .266 batting average and 80 RBI, Don Mincher's 25 home runs was tops on the squad,
and Tommy Harper led the entire AL with 73 stolen bases. Gene Brabender was the staff ace compiling a 13-14 record with a
4.36 ERA and Diego Segui served as the closer with 12 saves.
After the season rumors swirled about the future of the franchise.
In fact a deal was struck between the Soriano's and Selig during the 1969 World Series that stated the Pilots would move to
Milwaukee if no local buyers would step up. A few local investors flirted with the idea and the Pilots headed to spring training
in Arizona expecting to go north to Seattle.
But finally, no local buyer was able to come up with a viable deal and
the Pilots were officially sold to Selig and told to move to Milwaukee on April 1, 1970 - days before the season started.
The circus continued in Milwaukee - the team did not have time to get new jerseys, so they simply took the "Seattle" of the
uniforms and sewed "Milwaukee" in its place. The newly named Brewers used Pilots yearbooks and media guides during their inaugural
season in beer town.
On April 7, 1970 the Milwaukee Brewers took the field - they were routed 12-0 by the California
Angels in front of 37,237 people. Baseball was back in Milwaukee after the Braves had left for Atlanta six years earlier.
It, of course, would also return to Seattle in the form of the Mariners in 1977 thanks in part to a lawsuit filed by the citizens
of Seattle against major league baseball. An agreement was reached that Seattle would receive an expansion team in 1977 in
exchange for dropping the suit.
Today the Seattle Pilots remain an interesting foot note in baseball history. They
played only one season, but help give birth to two franchises.
-David Zingler, December 2001
Seattle Pilots @ Baseball-Reference.com
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