The Seattle Pilots

Graeme
By
Posted: October 29, 2014


The Seattle Pilots were a Major League Baseball team that played in the West Division of the American League. They only played one season, 1969, a feat that earned them a unique albeit unwanted space in the MLB’s history. The team owed its name to Seattle city’s reputation as a harbor and aerospace engineering hub. Seattle Pilots’ home games were played at Sicks’ Stadium in Seattle, albeit as a temporary home.

How Did The Pilots Start Up?

Seattle had been home to successful minor league baseball team Seattle Rainiers since 1921 but had never had a Major League team. Luckily for Seattle, the MLB was looking for a suitable city for an expansion franchise. Seattle had a large population and a booming economy, making it an ideal location for a baseball team. In 1967, Major League granted brothers Dewey and Max Soriano an American League Franchise under conditions that they would build a domed stadium within three years. The Soriano brothers enlisted the help of former Cleveland Indians owner William Daley to run the franchise. They sold him a 47% stake and he became Chairman of the board. Joe Schultz, coach of St. Louis Cardinals, then National League champions was hired the hired the first Pilots manager and embarked on signing players to build a team.

The Pilots in Competition

The Pilots opened their account by defeating the California Angels 4-3 on the road. They lost their next game but they bounced back to win their first home game, a 7-0 upset of the Chicago White Sox. Despite beginning impressively, the Pilots would finish the 1968-1969 season, their first and only season in operation in disappointing fashion. They finished last in the Pacific Division and 20th out of 23rd in the American league with a 64-98 record, 33 games behind division leaders.

The Seattle Pilots’ Notable Moments:

Happy moments were few and far between for the Pilots. Their season opener, a 4-3 win over the California Angels was of the team’s high points. They returned to a raucous welcome by hundreds of fans and a formidable parade. They even received a congratulatory telegram from US president at the time, Richard Nixon.

Their first home game ended in a 7-0 defeat of the Chicago White Sox. Pitcher Gary Bell was the standout performer in that game, giving up only 10 hits. Euphoric fans ran onto the pitch to congratulate the team at the conclusion of the game. During this game however, the stadium was barely ready to accommodate all the fans. Impatient fans had to wait as constructers actually installed seats as the game went on, some only making it in during the third inning. To make matters worse, team showers did not work and toilets did not flush, a major embarrassment for franchise owners.

Seattle Pilots’ Notable Players:

Due to the short stint of the team’s existence, no player was handed an extended run in which to make a true impact for the team. However, these players did make some notable contributions.

Mike Hegan hit the Pilots’ first ever homerun in 1969 and was one of two Pilots players to make it to the All-Star team that year. In 1976, Hegan went on to break the American record for most consecutive error-less games during his stint with New York Yankees, a record that stayed intact until 2007. Batter Tommy Harper made the most appearances as well as most hits and most at-bats of all Pilots players. He also led the team in stolen bases with 73. Don Mincher, the other member of the Pilots’ team on the All-Star roster, had a better home run record and higher batting average than any other Pilots player that year.

What Happened to The Seattle Pilots?

From the outset, the outlook for the Pilots was gloomy. Even before the team had stepped out onto the pitch, there was a fallout between Dewey Soliano and general manager Marvin Milkes over the sale of promising rookie Lou Piniella. The poor condition of Sicks’ Stadium was a major problem throughout the season. Inadequate seat capacity and poor amenities made the need to move to a new stadium critical.

Plans to build a new stadium however faced enormous challenges. A site they had initially identified, the Seattle Centre was wrestled out of their hands by preservationists.

Waning match attendance and on-pitch performance compounded the situation further. The owners made no secret of their desire to move the franchise to another city. On April 1, 1970 with the pilots approaching bankruptcy and unable to pay players, the American League ordered the team to relocate to Milwaukee under new owner Bud Selig. The Seattle Pilots were renamed the Milwaukee Brewers but retained the same uniforms, largely due to time constraints.

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