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50 Years Ago: Pilots Land in Milwaukee Part 2
By Daniel Dullum
Author’s note: This is the second of a five-part series detailing an unusual Major League Baseball franchise shift — In 1970, the Seattle Pilots arrived at spring training in Tempe, Arizona, and left at the end of March as the Milwaukee Brewers. At the conclusion of Part 1, Bud Selig’s group Milwaukee Brewers Inc. was rejected in its bid to purchase the Chicago White Sox and move the team to Milwaukee.)
Because ill feelings still lingered from the failed antitrust litigation against the National League, Selig’s group was persona non grata with the Lords of Baseball. They drove this point home at the American League owners’ meeting of October 18, 1967, when, after granting the Athletics permission to move from Kansas City to Oakland, an expansion team was promised to Kansas City for 1971. But after U.S. Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri played the antitrust exemption card and Kansas City Mayor Ilus W. “Ike” Davis threatened legal action, AL President Joe Cronin reopened expansion dialogue and moved the timetable up to 1969 for Kansas City.
Now, needing an even number of clubs, the American League awarded its 12th franchise to Seattle on December 1, 1967. Two weeks earlier, National League President Warren Giles had said the Senior Circuit would not oppose the American League’s expansion plans, and would go ahead with its own.
The second blow to Milwaukee Brewers Inc. — the one that hurt Selig the most — was delivered at the National League owners’ meeting in Chicago on May 28, 1968, when the league announced it would expand to San Diego and Montreal for 1969. Selig was so despondent after the meeting that for the next few hours, he walked the Windy City’s streets alone.
To compound Selig’s frustration, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn addressed the media in Atlanta on July 1, 1969, and told them, “I see no expansion for the major leagues over the next 10 years.” In the meantime, White Sox home-away-from-home games at County Stadium proved popular with Milwaukee baseball fans, drawing 196,684 fans in 11 dates.
One of those games was played on June 16, 1969, against the Seattle Pilots, won by Chicago 8–3. The 13,133 people in attendance didn’t realize it at the time, but in less than 10 months, the visiting team on the County Stadium scoreboard that day would be the ballpark’s next permanent residents. — – By September 1969, the Pilots were putting the finishing touches on a dismal debut season in the Pacific Northwest, winding up in the AL West Division cellar with a 64–98 record, 33 games behind first-place Minnesota.
Attendance was disappointing — 677,944 in 72 home dates (with nine doubleheaders) at rickety Sicks’ Stadium, the old home of the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Rainiers that was never completely upgraded to major league specifications. “It was not a major league facility. It had its own uniqueness, but that’s all they [Seattle] had at the time and the players understood that,” Rich Rollins pointed out. “It was a minor league ballpark is what it was. They did the best they could with what they had at that particular time. “We didn’t think about the field all that much — we had too many other problems!”
Despite losing a reported $850,000 in 1969, the Pilots still outdrew four other teams — Cleveland and Chicago in the American League, and Philadelphia and San Diego in the National League. If there were rumblings about the team’s possible relocation, word hadn’t filtered down to the dingy Pilots’ clubhouse, at least initially.
Reserve catcher Jim Pagliaroni, acquired in mid-season from Oakland, didn’t recall any talk of the Pilots leaving Seattle. “Not at that time,” he said. “There was nothing. No talk about a move. There was no clue.” Pilots’ first baseman-outfielder Mike Hegan remembered hearing rumors of a possible move toward the end of the 1969 season. “The rumors were there,” he said. “It wasn’t a done deal at the beginning of spring training, but I was one of the few players who actually stayed in Seattle in the off-season. “What’s funny is that it was an ongoing story all winter in Seattle.”
William R. Daley, the Pilots’ absentee board chairman who made his fortune with Otis Elevator and resided in Cleveland, reportedly was ready to sell midway through the 1969 season. In mid-September, Pilots President Dewey Soriano strongly denied rumors of a shift to Dallas-Fort Worth while feuding with Floyd Miller, Seattle’s interim mayor. Miller threatened to evict the Pilots from Sicks’ Stadium unless they presented a security bond of $150,000 and a promised letter of credit for $660,000.
Dewey Soriano responded by refusing to put up the bond, claiming the city failed to keep its promises to upgrade the aging ballpark. Two weeks later, on September 28, Daley confirmed that an offer from Texas millionaire Lamar Hunt was rejected, and that the Pilots would remain in Seattle. Hunt, owner of the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, wanted to purchase the club and move it to Dallas-Fort Worth.
Catching wind of the “Seattle situation,” Selig got busy. He had met secretly with Seattle co-owners Dewey and Max Soriano throughout the month of September and, during game one of the 1969 World Series in Baltimore, hammered out a deal to buy the Pilots for $10.8 million, contingent on approval from the American League and the lack of a local buyer.
The American League, fearing the possibility of lawsuits and congressional action, refused to approve the deal and spoke only in public about keeping the Pilots in Seattle. Daley, meanwhile, issued an ultimatum to the Emerald City’s baseball fans at an October 1969 press conference, declaring, “Seattle has one more year to prove itself.” Looking for a convenient scapegoat, he added, “It’s all the fault of the press.”
George N. Meyers, sports editor of The Seattle Times, noted in a column the Pilots’ top ticket price of $6, as well as 75-cent beer and 35-cent Cracker Jack at Sicks’ Stadium concession stands, then wrote, “That’s upside down, isn’t it? What we’re really doing is giving Daley one more chance.”
American League President Joe Cronin and a six-man committee of the league’s owners met with a Seattle delegation on October 21 and issued three conditions for the city to keep the Pilots: 1) Upgrade Sicks’ Stadium to the original unfulfilled specs. 2) Start construction of a new, domed stadium before the deadline of December 31, 1970. 3) Find a local ownership group to acquire the club by October 30, 1969, a deadline the league later extended to November 5.
Amidst the chaos, Pilots General Manager Marvin Milkes continued conducting the business of running the ballclub. He dismissed pitching coach Sal Maglie, first base coach Ron Plaza, farm system director Art Parrack, and scouting director Ray Swallow. Manager Joe Schultz initially was advised by the club to consider other employment offers and was eventually fired on November 20, replaced four days later by former Cincinnati Reds skipper Dave Bristol.
The Pilots completely overhauled the coaching staff, and, unlike Schultz, Bristol was allowed to select his own assistants, as per normal for major league managers. Gone from 1969 were third base coach Frank Crosetti (hired along with Maglie by Milkes), Eddie O’Brien (hired by Dewey Soriano) and Sibby Sisti (hired by Milkes). O’Brien and Sisti had been brought aboard primarily to accrue enough time in uniform to qualify for a major league pension.
Immediately, Bristol brought in Cal Ermer — a former Minnesota Twins coach and manager — as the new third base coach, along with baseball veterans Roy McMillan (the former All-Star shortstop) and Jackie Moore. To complete the staff, Seattle-area native Wes Stock was hired away from the New York Mets, where he had been the minor league pitching instructor. “It was quite an experience because Seattle was my home, so that was a special reason I wanted to go back to Seattle,” said Stock, who had pitched in the majors with Baltimore and the Kansas City A’s. “We were trying to make the best club we could come up with as far as being a pitching coach. It was a tough situation because the guys didn’t know where they were going to go.”
For a while, it looked as though the Pilots would stay put. Fred Danz, a local theater chain owner, announced on November 17 that his 12-man group of investors had purchased the club for a reported $10.3 million, and the American League approved the transaction on December 5. But on January 3, 1970, Danz held another press conference, this time to explain that the Bank of California had requested immediate payment of a $3.5 million loan it made to Pacific Northwest Sports and that his group was unable to meet that demand.
By mid-January, the AL withdrew its approval of the sale to Danz, and ownership of the Pilots boomeranged back to Pacific Northwest Sports. By now, the Hot Stove League was rampant with solutions for the Pilots. John Wilson, a sports writer for The Houston Chronicle, added grist to the rumor mill on January 23, reporting that the American League already approved a shift of the Pilots to Dallas-Fort Worth with a vote by telephone survey. But AL President Joe Cronin, White Sox owner John Allyn and Athletics owner Charles O. Finley all denied the report.
Edward E. Carlson, board chairman of Western International Hotels, announced on January 27 that he’d put a group together that wanted to run the Pilots as a non-profit organization. The AL owners, feeling the approach would devalue the league’s other franchises, also rejected the bid from Carlson’s group.
On January 28, the Pilots were given nine days to come up with necessary financing to remain in Seattle. Three days later, Edward J. Daley, president of World Airways of Oakland, California, said he was interested in buying the team and keeping it in Seattle. And on February 5, 1970, the Bank of California offered to renegotiate its $3.5 million loan — on its terms. The Bank of California later offered to remain involved for $750,000 if other Seattle banks would join in. But two banks backed out and the proposed consortium fizzled.
Despite the misinformation and ongoing chaos, Mike Hegan was so impressed that he ignored the rumors, plus the dark financial cloud that hovered over the Pilots, and decided to move from Massachusetts to suburban Seattle. Hegan explained, “It looked at one time like there was going to be an infusion of new money into the ballclub that would keep the Pilots in Seattle.
At that time, my wife and I were looking to plant roots someplace anyway, so we bought a house in Seattle.” Meanwhile, General Manager Marvin Milkes continued to make deals. He acquired veteran lefthander Bob Bolin from San Francisco for outfielder Steve Whitaker and utility man Dick Simpson. Reliable pitcher Diego Segui returned to the Athletics along with light-hitting Ray Oyler in exchange for infielder Ted Kubiak, and reliever Dave Baldwin arrived from the Washington Senators.
On January 15, 1970, the Pilots made another deal with Oakland, swapping All-Star first baseman Don Mincher and journeyman infielder Ron Clark to the A’s for outfielder Mike Hershberger, righthander Lew Krausse, catcher Phil Roof and reliever Ken Sanders. Upon joining the Pilots’ fold, Roof recalled, “Rumors [about moving] were there right off the bat. They knew the ownership in Seattle was short on cash and also, the park wasn’t a major league park. That was another detriment. They couldn’t come up with concrete plans to build a stadium on short notice at that point.”
Three days later, at the Milwaukee Baseball Writers’ 17th annual Diamond Dinner on January 18, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn discussed the possibility of the Pilots landing in Milwaukee. “If this does not take place, it would not be my advice to Milwaukee to give up hope. When I think the sponge should be thrown in for Milwaukee, I’ll say so. “I do not think that time is now, and I hope it never comes,” the commissioner continued. “I can assure you that there is no grudge in baseball against Milwaukee and Wisconsin. When and if a franchise becomes available, Milwaukee will receive serious consideration.” Kuhn added that he hoped Seattle would find a solution to its financial woes, but noted, “I do not encourage shifting of franchises because I believe they hurt the stability of baseball. But we recognize that in certain circumstances, shifts can become likely.”
Selig also spoke at the Diamond Dinner, issuing a thinly veiled reference to the Seattle situation: “We do not consider ourselves predatory raiders. At no time have we instituted any negotiations for a franchise. Accusations that we have are unjustified and completely without fact.” At a meeting of American League owners in Chicago on February 10, 1970, AL President Joe Cronin confirmed that there was one possible solution — the league could operate the Pilots until a buyer could be found. He reiterated that the league wanted the Pilots to remain in Seattle, and when the meetings concluded, the AL owners decided that the Soriano brothers and Daley would again operate the Pilots.
On the legal front, Seattle attorney Alfred J. Schweppe filed a “ticket buyer’s” lawsuit against the Pilots’ owners on behalf of himself as a season ticket holder, and obtained a temporary restraining order on March 13 to keep the Pilots from leaving Seattle. Schweppe had purchased two field box seats for $700 and a season parking space for $75 for the next four seasons.
On March 16, 1970, when rumors about a shift of the Pilots to Milwaukee resurfaced, William Dwyer, special assistant to Washington Attorney General Slade Gorton, followed through on earlier threats and filed breach-of-contract and antitrust suits against the American League. King County and the City of Seattle also joined the legal action, which involved a minimum $75 million in damages and sought a temporary restraining order and injunction to block any move of the ballclub.
In addition, Washington’s U.S. Senators — Warren G. Magnuson and Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson — said they would introduce legislation to repeal baseball’s longtime immunity from antitrust laws (dating back to a landmark 1922 Supreme Court ruling), claiming a transfer of the Pilots would clearly show baseball to be a business, rather than a sport. — — The American League owners voted to loan the Seattle Pilots $650,000 on March 9, 1970, to operate through spring training. They also appointed Roy Hamey, a semi-retired former general manager of Pittsburgh, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the New York Yankees, as “special supervisor” to oversee the operation, with Milkes still in place as the team’s general manager.
Hamey was granted a leave of absence from his part-time post as the Yankees’ West Coast scouting director to assume babysitting duties on behalf of the league. During the meeting, Milkes (who was promoted to team vice president when Hamey was brought on board) walked out in disgust when Baltimore Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger suggested developing a trusteeship of the Pilots with the American League, and that Bill DeWitt, the former general manager of the St. Louis Browns, Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds, be placed in charge.
Seattle sports writer Hy Zimmerman observed in his weekly report for The Sporting News, “Here sat Milkes, who had gone without pay, who had pleaded with and cajoled other unpaid employees to hang tough, who had kept the organization together with hairpins and chewing gum. “Now they were going to make an errand boy out of him. He could not, and would not, take it, and left in a huff.”
After the meeting — held on Ash Wednesday — concluded, one unnamed AL owner quipped, “The American League has given up $650,000 for Lent!” As the Pilots began arriving in Tempe for spring drills, work toward beginning construction of a 55,000-seat domed stadium in Seattle remained on schedule, according to John Spellman, a King County spokesman. The only visible problem was a legal tussle over whether to build the stadium downtown or in the suburbs. But other problems continued to mount for the Pilots.
When the American League granted its loan, $400,000 was paid out immediately to cover outstanding debts, leaving $250,000 — not enough to get the Pilots through spring training. After being asked by Commissioner Kuhn to resubmit its bid, Edward E. Carlson’s nonprofit group officially notified the American League on March 12 it was no longer interested in purchasing the Pilots.
As primary reasons to reconsider their offer, the Carlson group cited lagging season ticket sales, a renegotiated radio contract for less money (dropped from $815,000 to $215,000), the lack of a local television contract, and “public disgust and apathy.” When the American League owners met on March 17 in Tampa, Florida, they were served with papers by sheriff’s deputies and a representative of the State of Washington’s attorney general’s office, detailing a restraining order blocking any move of the Pilots.
The league’s owners faced possible jail time for contempt of court if they ignored the injunction. Schweppe also surprised the owners by obtaining a similar, but broader injunction from Circuit Court Judge Joe Bruton Jr. of Hillsborough County, Florida. Bruton ordered the AL to suspend its actions in the case until all legal questions were settled.
The league responded with a resolution saying it could not continue financial support of the Seattle Pilots “beyond the amount already committed.” An exasperated Cronin said, “Our hands are tied now.” Hinting at the possibility of folding the Pilots, he added, “It’s almost impossible to operate with 11 clubs.” But Alexander Hadden, the American League’s attorney, mildly disagreed, “It’s a theoretical possibility if legal constraints could not be removed before the start of the season.”
White Sox owner John Allyn agreed with Hadden, saying, “I think you’ll see your first [modern major league] baseball franchise go down the drain.” In a statement drenched in legalese, the American League admitted that the Pilots were broke. Two days later, on March 19, the Pilots’ minority owners attempt to have the lawsuits and injunctions against them and the American League withdrawn ended in failure. Meanwhile, on the field, the Pilots pressed on with its Cactus League schedule in Arizona, and the players and coaches wondered what their futures would bring.
NEXT: Part 3