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What Happened To The Seattle Pilots?

After several years of trying to attract a Major League Baseball team to the city, Seattle finally got their team when the Pilots began play in 1969. So what exactly happened that led to the team moving away after only one season? In Today’s video we’ll take a look back at how the Pilots’ issues with their aging stadium caused a serious financial strain on the team.

The Seattle Rainiers

Long before Major League Baseball came to Seattle, the city had a minor league team named the Seattle Rainiers who played in the Pacific Coast League for many years. The Rainiers, originally known as the Clamdiggers, formed in 1903 but folded after the 1906 season due to the league’s financial issues. But the club got a second chance, reforming for the 1919 season, while also rebranding the team’s name to “The Seattle Indians’ ‘. However, the team’s truly successful years didn’t begin until after the team was bought in 1938, by businessman Emil Sick . As the owner of the Rainier Brewing Company, Sick decided once again to change the team’s name to the “Seattle Rainiers”. Upon purchasing the club, he immediately began making investments in improving the team. He also funded the construction of a brand new 15,000 seat stadium, that would be known as “Sick’s Stadium”. The investments paid off, as the team won five league titles between the early 1940’s and mid 1950’s. After a number of lackluster seasons, Sick sold the Rainers to the Boston Red Sox in 1960. They became Boston’s minor league affiliate team, and later they would be sold to the Los Angeles Angels and renamed to the Seattle Angels. 

By this time, Major League Baseball had finally reached the west coast after the Dodgers and Giants moved to LA and San Francisco in 1958. This had a huge impact on the overall interest in the PCL, as for the next decade, MLB teams often used moving to a west coast city as a threat to get new stadiums built in their towns. By the early to mid 1960’s Seattle had the third largest metropolitan area in the west at the time, and no other major sports teams, making it a prime candidate for relocation. The Cleveland Indians briefly considered moving the team to Seattle in 1964, and the team’s owner William R. Daley even visited Seattle to search for possible stadium sites. Daley told Seattle that Sick’s Stadium wasn’t suitable for a Major League club, and would need to be expanded to at least 25,000 seats to attract a team (even as a temporary home). Around the same time, Emil Sick had passed away and the ownership of Sick’s Stadium was turned over to his family. The city of Seattle, coincidentally had been buying up land around the city for possible future sites to expand the I-5 freeway. One of those locations was the land that Sick’s Stadium sat on, which the city paid Sick’s family $1.15 million dollars for in 1965. The city never ended up using the Sick’s stadium land for the freeway, using other locations that they had bought for the freeway construction instead. But this meant that Seattle was now stuck as the owner’s of Sick’s Stadium. Meanwhile, Daley and the Indians had decided against moving to Seattle after negotiating better terms with their lease of Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. In a very similar situation, three years later in 1967, The Kansas City Athletics also considered moving to Seattle after their lease ran out with Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. The A’s owner Charlie Finley also visted Seattle, and just like Daley before him, Finley joked that the small, aging Sick’s stadium lived up to its name. The A’s ultimately decided on Oakland as the better fit, and moved to the bay area in 1968. 

Baseball Expands

After having been rejected by the Indians and Athletics, Seattle then turned their efforts into getting an expansion team. During the1967 owners meetings in Mexico City, Seattle enlisted the help of two US senators, Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson and Warren Magnuson to try and convince the owners to grant an expansion franchise to the city. Senator Magnuson also happened to be the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, who oversaw the business dealings of Major League Baseball, this gave him immense influence over all of the club’s owners. Originally the owners had not wanted to expand until the 1971 season, but due to pressure that Missouri Senator Stuart Symington placed on them (who was still livid about the Athletics leaving Kansas City), the owners agreed to push up expansion to the 1969 season. Four cities were granted expansions, in the National League would get two teams, one in Montreal and the other in San Diego. The American League would also get two teams, one in Kansas City and the other in Seattle. But the owners were hesitant to grant an expansion to Seattle, unless they got assurance that a new stadium would be built to replace the undersized Sick’s Stadium. Seattle convinced the owners that Sick’s Stadium could be renovated in five months, expanding it to 30,000 seats, and would be used as a temporary home until a new stadium could be built.

The main ownership group of Seattle’s new team, was called the  “Pacific Northwest Sports, Inc.”. The group was mainly led by two brothers Max and Dewey Soriano. Dewey was a former pitcher and general manager of the Rainiers as well as the former president of the Pacific Coast League. The team settled on the nickname “Seattle Pilots” due to the city’s connection with the aviation industry and Dewey Soriano’s past as a part-time ship pilot. The team’s colors were mainly Royal Blue, Gold, and White, with a block “S” used as the logo on the hats. After becoming friendly with both Indian’s part owners William Daley and Gabe Paul during their trip to Seattle in 1964, Soriano later asked Daley if he would help him pay the expansion costs to get the Pilots up and running. Daley, who had sold his ownership of the Indians in 1966, would in exchange get a 47 percent stake in the team, making him part owner of the Pilots. Dewey Soriano became the team’s president, while Daley acted as the team’s chairman of the board. The Pilots were also forced to pay the PCL $1 million dollars in compensation for the loss of the Rainiers, who folded shortly after the announcement of the Pilots coming to Seattle. All that was left before the Pilots could begin play was getting the plans for their new stadium approved. On February 13, 1968 voters in King County, Washington (the county where Seattle is located) voted in favor of spending $40 million dollars in bonds to construct a brand new domed multipurpose stadium in Seattle. The hope was that a new stadium could be built within a few years, and open sometime in the early 1970’s.

Mounting Struggles 

Heading into the 1969 season, the team was optimistic they could finish somewhere in the middle of their six team division, the American League West. The Pilots played their first ever game on April 8, 1969 in Anaheim where they defeated the California Angels 4-3. A few days later they played their first home game at Sick’s Stadium, where they beat the Chicago White Sox 7-0. Even though the season got off to a decent start, winning three of their first four games, the Pilots struggled to stay above .500 for most of the season. Extended losing streaks in July, where they lost eight games in a row, and then another streak in August, where they lost ten games in a row, put the Pilots at the very bottom of their division. Seattle would end the year with 64 wins, and 98 losses, placing them 33 games behind the Minnesota Twins who were first place in the division. The Pilots would also end as the second worst team in the American League that year, finishing only ahead of Cleveland. On the bright side, the Pilots did manage to have a better record than the National League expansion teams, the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres, both of whom finished with 110 losses.

As bad as the Pilot’s play was, the stadium was faring even worse. The team overestimated the time it would take to expand Sick’s stadium to 30,000 seats. By opening day, they had only added an extra 9,500 seats to the stadium’s original 10,000 seats. The stadium wouldn’t reach 25,000 total seats total until June of that season. Making matters worse, Sick’s Stadium also had water pressure issues. Anytime a game had 10,000 or more fans, the toilets would stop working. The low water pressure would force players after the games to have to have shower at home or at their hotel. The stadium also featured notoriously bad sight lines for fans, with obstructed views of the field. Due to the stadium’s ongoing issues, it made it much harder for the first year Pilots to attract fans. Total attendance that year for Seattle was 677,944 putting the Pilots near the bottom of the league. Out of the four expansion clubs, only the San Diego Padres drew less fans to games than the Pilots. With low attendance numbers, and mounting issues with the stadium, the Pilots lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in their first year. By the end of the season it became clear that Sicks Stadium could no longer be used, even as a temporary home. Further complicating things, the domed stadium stadium project that had been approved by voters a year earlier hit a snag when local groups complained about the domed stadium’s proposed site. The initial plans called for the new stadium to be built on top of the grounds of the old 1962 world’s fair, but there were many who felt that the grounds should be preserved. A petition was filed that halted the stadium’s progress before construction could begin. This was a huge blow to the Pilots ownership group, who were by this point running out money and time.


With Sick’s Stadium no longer usable and the dome project halted for the time being, the Pilots found themselves in a hard place financially. By this point Daley refused to put any more money to keep the team going, and so Soriano began to actively look to sell the team to a new ownership group. Shortly after the 1969 season ended, Soriano met with a car salesman and former minority owner of the Milwaukee Braves Bud Selig about buying the team. Selig, was from Milwaukee, and had long been wanting to return Major League Baseball back to the city after the Braves left for Atlanta in 1966. Determined to show how Milwaukee could still support a team, Selig setup exhibition games between MLB teams at Milwaukee County Stadium between 1967 and 1968. One game between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins drew 51,000 fans. The exhibition games in Milwaukee proved to be so successful that the White Sox actually attracted larger crowds in Milwaukee than they did in Chicago. This prompted White Sox owner Arthur Allyn to move a handful of White Sox home games to Milwaukee for the 1969 season, and those Milwaukee home games were highly attended too, accounting for one third of the White Sox total attendance for that year.  However, Selig’s hopes to bring a team to Mikwaukee had been temporarily crushed when MLB had announced the 1969 expansion cities, but did not include Milwaukee. Selig then turned his attention to trying to get an existing franchise to relocate, and he even reached out to Arthur Allyn about the possibility of buying the White Sox. Allyn actually had agreed to sell the team to Selig, but the other American League owners vetoed the sale and move, not wanting one of the largest markets in Chicago to only have a National League team. So after the White Sox plan fell through, and when word got out that the Pilots were up for sale, Selig became very interested. As the 1969 season ended, Soriano and Selig continued their discussions about buying the team and on October 11, 1969, Selig agreed to purchase the Pilots for 13.1 million dollars with the understanding that he’d move them to Milwaukee. Once the news broke that the Pilots were possibly relocating, Washington State’s two senators Magnuson and Jackson, as well as the state’s Attorney General Slade Gorton, put pressure on the team’s other owners to reject Selig’s offer. 

At the same time, there were other offers from local groups as well, a movie theater chain owner in the Pacific Northwest named Fred Danz proposed buying the team for 10 million dollars. Danz, by his own admission, said that he hated baseball but felt it was important for the city to keep the team. However, the deal fell apart after one of Pacific Northwest Sports, Inc. creditors Banc of California requested the immediate payment of 3.5 million of a 4 million dollar loan. Danz was hoping with the sale of the team, he could just take on the debt and continue making payment installments, but Banc of California rejected the idea, wanting the payment in full. Another group emerged, a non-profit group of various community leaders and business owners led by Eddie Carlson, the head of Western Hotels and then man who came up with the idea of building the Space Needle for the World’s Fair. The other American League owners outright vetoed the proposal, feeling that public ownership would devalue every other club’s worth. With the attempted sale of the team either stalled, or blocked completely, the Pilots owners found themselves back to square one with no other option than to declare bankruptcy. 

Move to Milwaukee

Although all  the owners had signed off on the sale, on March 16, 1970 the State of Washington got an injunction to stop the sale of the team to Bud Selig. During the bankruptcy hearings, the general manager of the Pilots, claimed that they had no money left to pay coaches, players, and other personnel. Incredibly, had the team been just ten days late to pay the players they would have all become free agents and would have been able to sign with any other team. With just six days left before opening day, and the team unable to pay back its debts, the Pilots were officially declared as bankrupt on April, 1 1970, by a Federal Bankruptcy judge. During this time, the players and coaches had no idea where they would be playing for the 1970 season. Even the team’s equipment sat in moving trucks in Provo, Utah, just waiting word on which city (Seattle or Milwaukee) they’d need to move the equipment to for the start of the season. Now that the Pilots were officially bankrupt, this allowed the owners to complete the sale of the team Bud Selig. With the relocation going ahead, the Seattle Pilots changed their name to the Milwaukee Brewers, which was in honor of the minor league team of the same name that Bud Selig had grown up watching. This was a fitting name, since the city of Milwaukee had long been associated with breweries since the 1840’s when German settlers came and started making their own beer in breweries. By the early 1980’s the city had the largest beer making capacity in the world, with many of the largest, and well-known beer companies getting their start in Milwaukee, 

The move to Milwaukee came so late that Selig’s original plan of changing the team’s uniforms to navy blue and red, had to be thrown out. The team instead kept the Pilots old royal blue and gold, just removing all of the old Pilots logos and stitching from the uniforms. This is one of the lasting remaining legacies of the Pilots, as throughout the Brewers history they’ve always worn some variation of blue and gold. For the 1970 season, the Brewers used a simple block “M” logo for their hats. This logo was used by the team for the first eight seasons, from 1970 to 1977. The Brewers would later create arguably one of the best logos in sports, the ball and glove logo in 1978. The logo was designed by an art student Tom Meindel for a team sponsored design contest to replace the uninspired block “M” logo. It features the hidden letters “M” and “B” for the Milwaukee Brewers stylized in the shape of a baseball glove, and has remained a classic for many years.

Seattle Baseball Returns

With the Pilots now gone, Seattle, King County, and the State of Washington continued to pursue legal action against the American League owners. The 32.5 million dollar lawsuit which claimed that the AL owners had breached their contract with Seattle dragged on until 1976. Eventually, an agreement was struck when Seattle agreed to drop the lawsuit if the American League would grant the city an expansion franchise. While the lawsuit was being figured out, the domed stadium project that had been put on hold over concerns about it’s location, had resumed the process of finding a new site to build on. For nearly two years, between 1970 and ‘71 a commission studied the economic impact of building a stadium near the King Street rail station. By late 1971, the county council voted in favor of the King Street location 8-1, with a groundbreaking ceremony held a year later on November 2, 1972. The domed stadium was designed to expand up to nearly 60,00 seats for baseball and 66,000 seats for football. Since the stadium was owned by King County, the name of the stadium was simply called the “Kingdome”. 

With the stadium construction underway, Seattle began its efforts to attract an NFL team to join the future baseball team that would be playing at the Kingdome. A group of local community and business leaders formed a group called “Seattle Professional Football Inc.”, and were successfully able to convince the NFL to grant the city an expansion club in June of 1974. After a lengthy delay in construction due to the original contractor making numerous costly mistakes, the Kingdome finally opened on March 27, 1976. A few months later the Seahawks opened up their season on September 12, in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals football team in front of a crowd of over 58,000. Earlier that year, on January 15, the American League officially approved of the expansion team to Seattle becoming the thirteenth franchise in the American League. In August, the newly formed baseball club chose “Mariners” as their new name after holding a fan naming contest. Their original logo depicted a downward pointing trident that formed the shape of the letter “M ” for Mariners, while the team also chose a similar shade of blue and gold to that of the Pilots old uniforms. The Seattle Mariners had their first game at the Kingdome on April 6, 1977, in a 7-0 loss to the California Angels. Although the Pilots only lasted one year, their legacy has continued to live on in different ways. Both the Brewers and Mariners have worn Pilots throwbacks over the years, with the Brewers in 1999, and then the Mariners in 2006, and most recently for the Pilots 50th anniversary in 2019.

So what did you guys think about the Seattle Pilots moving to Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers? Also, what did you think about Bud Selig almost buying the White Sox and moving them instead? Let me know in the comments below!


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