Monday, November 11, 2013

August 9- Seattle Pilots

I realize that today’s actual date is November 12th, so just humor me when you read it. I’ll make more sense if you actually think it’s August 9th.

There was one game that stood as “the one game I NEEDED to attend in 2012,” but an unfortunate series of events thwarted my efforts. Today the Seattle Mariners played host to the Milwaukee Brewers, a game that most casual baseball fans would chalk up as “another interleague matchup,” but to the borderline psychotic fans like myself, it’s a “Haley’s Comet” of matchups. See, interleague first started in 1997 as a method to not only make the game more entertaining, but it also gave fans a chance to check out teams who they would not normally see at their local Major League stadium, unless of course you lived in Los Angeles, New York, the Bay Area or Chicago. At that time the Brewers were still members of the American League and played the Mariners at least six times a season; typically one three-game series at home and the other on the road since they were in different divisions. Well, all of that changed at the end of the ’97 season as I cataloged in my Brewers post from two days ago. So, with the Brewers now members of the National League their impending visit to Seattle was bound to happen somewhere down the road. What few realized is that “somewhere down the road” turned out to be 16 years later.

Back in 2002 my best friend Sam Spencer and I had talked about this chance meeting while we were sitting in the first base side seats of Safeco Field watching my Oakland Athletics beating the piss out of his Mariners. One thing that never felt right to us was that with every interleague matchup each team had their “rivalry” team. The Athletics have the San Francisco Giants (Battle of the Bay), the Los Angeles Dodgers have the Los Angeles Angels (Freeway Series), the Kansas Coty Royals have the St. Louis Cardinals (I-70 Series), but there are even seemingly odd matchups like the Pittsburgh Pirates versus the Detroit Tigers (dates back to 1909) and the Boston Red Sox versus the Atlanta Braves which makes sense because they both started in Boston. However, the rivalry teams for both the Mariners and Brewers have huge question marks over them. Yes, I understand that the Brewers and Minnesota Twins are rivals, but their series name (I-94 Series) is what they call their matchups with the Chicago Cubs. As for the Mariners, I understand that they share their stadium in Peoria, Arizona with the San Diego Padres and that they both play on the West Coast, but they are the furthest away from one another. How do you call that a rivalry? Sam and I were both intent on the Mariners and Brewers being a legitimate rival for the same reason that the Braves and Red Sox were rivals, except for the fact that the Mariners and Brewers are way more connected than any other rivalry. And of course, Bud Selig is involved.

Back on June 21st I laid out the specifics as to how the Brewers became a team so I will give you the Cliff’s Notes version in just a moment. First I have to talk about the team that started it all, the Seattle Pilots. Actually, it started with the Athletics. Charlie O. Finley, the former owner of the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics had originally bough the team in 1960 under the guise that he wanted to keep the team in Kansas City. Unbeknownst to everyone else, he had been shopping the team around almost immediately after signing the team into his control. Finley had been pressing the city to build him a new baseball stadium, but when the voters finally agreed and a bond measure was put in place, it was too late. Finley and the Athletics were gone. Former Missouri Senator Stuart Symington caused a massive uproar and threatened legal action against Major League Baseball, challenging the antitrust exemption after the AL teams and their presidents Joe Cronin formerly approved Finley’s move of the team. The timing truly couldn’t have been any better/worse, depending on how you look it at, because MLB was in the market to expand the game in order to preserve baseball as the “national pastime” as the National Football League was starting to take over the public interest in 1967. Needing to add two teams to each league in spread out portions of the country, MLB added the Montreal Expos and Padres to the NL and for sure the Royals to the AL to appease Symington and the state of Missouri. The only question left was who the other team was going to be in the AL.

By the 1960s, with Seattle's population growing, the city became the largest to host a Pacific Coast League team, the Seattle Rainiers. The league's stature also declined with the move of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles and the New York Giants to San Francisco, which caused those cities' PCL teams to fold. In 1964, the city purchased Sick's Stadium for $1.1 million. In 1965, the Rainiers were sold to the Los Angeles Angels, who renamed it the Seattle Angels. The city made several attempts to lure a Major League Baseball team. In 1964, William R. Daley visited the city when searching for a new home for the Cleveland Indians. He was unimpressed with the stadium, citing it as the primary reason to terminate his quest to move his team. Finley also found the stadium inadequate during a 1967 visit, and so rejected Seattle as a potential target for moving the Athletics. Because of this, the city instead tried to lobby for an expansion franchise at the 1967 owner's meetings in Chicago. The delegation also had support from two Congressmen, Henry M. Jackson and Warren Magnuson, the latter of whom was the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, a committee which has "jurisdiction over the Major League’s business activities". Coupled with Symington's threats related to the move of the Athletics, the political influence swayed the AL owners. However, they were reluctant to expand in 1969 without a Seattle stadium bond issue. The Seattle delegation assured the owners that Sick's Stadium could be renovated in five months to fulfill the minimum requirements until a new stadium was built; with this, the owners agreed to a 1969 expansion, and approved the team in Seattle along with Kansas City. In December 1967 at the Winter Meetings in Mexico City, the franchise was officially awarded to Pacific Northwest Sports, which received $5.5 million in funding from Daley, who thus had 47% ownership of the venture. Other owners included Max and Dewey Soriano. The award was contingent on renovation of Sick's Stadium to increase its seating capacity from 11,000 to 30,000 by the start of the 1969 season. The Sorianos persuaded notable athletes to advocate for the $40 million King County stadium bond issue, including baseball players Mickey Mantle, Carl Yastrzemski, Joe DiMaggio, and football player Y. A. Tittle; the bond issue was approved by 62.3% of the electorate. The "Pilots" name originates from the owner's part-time job as a harbor pilot and the city's association with the airplane industry.

The front man for the franchise ownership, Pacific Northwest Sports, Inc. (PNSI), was Dewey Soriano, a former Rainiers pitcher and general manager and former president of the PCL. In an ominous sign of things to come, Soriano had to ask Daley to underwrite much of the purchase price. In return, Soriano sold Daley 47% of the stock, the largest stake in the club. He became chairman of the board while Soriano served as president. However, a couple of factors were beyond the Pilots' control. They were originally not set to start play until 1971 along with the Royals. The date was moved up to 1969 under pressure from Symington who wanted the teams playing as soon as possible. Because the AL didn’t want just one team to enter the league, causing an odd balance, the Pilots were forced to start way ahead of schedule. Also, the Pilots had to pay the PCL $1 million to compensate for the loss of one of its most successful franchises. After King County voters approved a bond for a domed stadium (what would become the Kingdome) in 1968, the Pilots were officially born. California Angels executive Marvin Milkes was hired as general manager, and Joe Schultz, coach of the NL Champion Cardinals, became manager. With the front office, a stadium in the process of being refurbished and a brand new stadium in the future, the Pilots were finally starting to look like a professional ball club.

Schultz and Milkes both optimistically stated that they thought Pilots could finish third in the newly formed, six-team AL West. However, to the surprise of almost no one outside Seattle, the Pilots experienced the typical struggles of a first-year expansion team. They won their very first game, and then their home opener three days later, but only won five more times in the first month. Nevertheless, the Pilots managed to stay in reasonable striking distance of .500. The Pilots were only 6 games back of the division lead as late as June 28. But a disastrous 9–20 July (and an even worse 6-22 August) ended even a faint hope of any kind of contention, though they were still in third place as late as August. The team finished the season in last place in the AL West with a record of 64-98, 33 games out of first. However, the team's poor play was the least of its troubles. The most obvious problem was Sick's Stadium. The longtime home of the Rainiers, it had once been considered one of the best ballparks in minor league baseball; by the 1960s, however, it was considered far behind the times. While a condition of MLB awarding the Pilots to Seattle was that Sick's had to be expanded to 30,000 seats, only 19,500 seats were ready by Opening Day because of numerous delays. The scoreboard was not even ready until the night before the season opener. By June there were finally 25,000 seats in place. Water pressure was almost nonexistent after the seventh inning, especially with crowds above 8,000. Attendance was poor (678,000) and the Pilots lost hundreds of thousand of dollars in their first season. The team's new stadium was slated to be built at the Seattle Center, but a petition by stadium opponents ground the project to a halt.

By the end of the season, the Pilots were gasping. However, Daley refused to put up more financing. It was obvious that they would not survive long enough to move into their new park without new ownership. It was also obvious that such a move would have to happen quickly, as Sick’s' Stadium was inadequate even for temporary use. During the offseason, Soriano made contact with car salesman and former Milwaukee Braves minority owner Bud Selig, who was leading the effort to bring major league baseball back to Milwaukee. They met in secret for over a month after the end of the season, and during Game 1 of the 1969 World Series, Soriano agreed to sell the Pilots to Selig for $10.8 million. Selig would then move the team to Milwaukee. The remaining owners of the Pilots turned it down in the face of pressure from Washington State's two senators, Warren Magnuson and Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson, as well as state attorney general Slade Gorton. Local theater chain owner Fred Danz came forward in October 1969 with a $10 million deal, but it fizzled when the Bank of California called in a $4 million loan it had made to Soriano and Daley to finance the purchase of the franchise. In January 1970, Westin Hotels head Eddie Carlson put together a nonprofit group to buy the team. However, the owners rejected the idea almost out of hand since it would have devalued the other clubs' worth. A slightly modified deal came one vote short of approval.

After a winter and spring full of court action, the Pilots reported for spring training under new manager Dave Bristol, unsure of where they would play. The owners had given tentative approval to the Milwaukee group, but the state of Washington got an injunction on March 16 to stop the deal. PNSI immediately filed for bankruptcy, a move intended to forestall post-sale legal action. At the bankruptcy hearing a week later, Milkes testified there was not enough money to pay the coaches, players, and office staff. Had Milkes been more than 10 days late in paying the players, they would have all become free agents and left Seattle without a team for the 1970 season. With this in mind, Federal Bankruptcy Referee Sidney Volinn declared the Pilots bankrupt on April 2, five days before Opening Day, clearing the way for them to move to Milwaukee. The team's equipment had been sitting in Provo, Utah (possibly with Alan Stanwyck’s parents) with the drivers awaiting word on whether to drive toward Seattle or Milwaukee. The move came so late that Selig had to scrap his initial plans to change the team's colors to navy and red in honor of the minor-league Brewers of his youth. Instead, the Brewers were stuck using old Pilots' uniforms, with the team name replaced. One legacy of the Brewers' roots in Seattle is that to this day, their colors are still blue and gold, although the shades have been darker since 2000.

Well, much like what happened with the Royals at the end of the 1967 season, MLB found themselves in hot water again after allowing the Pilots to be relocated after Selig’s purchase. The City of Seattle, King County, and the state of Washington (represented by then-State Attorney General and later U.S. Senator Slade Gorton) sued the AL for breach of contract. Confident that MLB would return to Seattle within a few years, King County built the multi-purpose Kingdome, which would become home to the NFL's expansion Seattle Seahawks in 1976 and the eventual co-habitation for the Mariners when they were introduced in 1977.

In short (way beyond that), it would be way more fitting if the Mariners and Brewers were actually rivals. But getting back to the matter tat hand, today is the day I should have been at Safeco Field for the historic return, but unfortunately not having a car, money or any of the other creature comforts that would have facilitated that dream. It’s very rare that a moment like this comes along. By that I mean having knowledge of a special event, as opposed to it happening by chance. I didn’t cry or anything, but it was certainly a huge disappointment. I was looking forward to wearing this cap to the game, the one symbol that connects both teams to the one that fizzled out before it could take off.

The cap until itself was truly historic as it was the first to feature graphics on the bill as opposed to just within the confines of the front panels. Even though it was only around for one season and one Turn Back the Clock Night on July 9, 2006, this cap is still as popular because of its exclusiveness and short lifespan. One thing that should be noted is that the typeface for the “S” was taken from the Seattle Turks whom I wrote about on July 3rd.

As for the marks, you’d be surprised what I can pull based on a team that was around for one season.

#12- Of all the players to find themselves on the Pilots, Tommy Davis holds the most unfortunate story. See, back in 1956 Davis was singed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, the year after they won their first World Series title in franchise history. Davis bummed around the minors for a bit which included a new team every year as the Dodgers were in the process of relocating to Los Angeles. The move to LA also meant that the team needed minor league facilities closer to Dodgers in case you were wondering what that entailed. On September 22, 1959 Davis made his MLB debut as a pinch hitter. Luckily for Davis he was brought back full-time in 1960 where he would hit .276 with 11 home runs and 44 RBI in 110 games. His effort was good enough to warrant him a fifth place finish for the NL Rookie of the Year. 1961 was a so-so season, but 1962 and 1963 were hands down the best of his career, and no I’m not just saying that.

In 1962 Davis hit .346, the best in the league. He also happened to lead the league in hits (230) and RBI (153), but he only knocked 27 pitches over the wall because some clown named Willie Mays hit 49 that season. But even with his incredible numbers, Davis still only finished third for the NL MVP behind Mays and his teammate Maury Wills who finished the season with a .299 average, six home runs and 48 RBI. Oh! And 104 stolen bases. You might be thinking that Wills also cleaned up in run. He did, with 130; however, that was only 10 more than Davis. Davis should have been the outright MVP that season. The same thing happened the following year when Davis once again won the batting title behind his .326 average, but that year he finished in eighth place for the award. Davis did make the All-Star team both seasons and won his only World Series ring of his career in 1963, but still, he deserved a lot more credit than he got then, AND for the rest of his career.

Davis had a mediocre (by his standards) season in 1964, was hurt in 1965 and picked things back up in 1966. At the end of the 1966 season Davis found himself on 10 different teams in 10 years. Crazy, right!? He was dealt to the New York Mets first for the 1967 season, then to the Chicago White Sox for 1968 only to be thrown into the list of names for the expansion draft where he was selected by the Pilots with the 16th overall pick. 

Davis was a solid choice. His .271 average was the best amongst anyone who played in over 100 games for the Pilots, but he was dealt to the Houston Astros around the trade deadline. Davis played for seven more seasons and ended his career with a .294 average and 2,121 hits having played in an era that especially favored pitchers. Borderline Hall of Famer for sure, but never got beyond one vote as he received 1.8% in 1982.

#24- Born and raised in Holguin, Cuba, Diego Segui holds the unique distinction of having pitched for both of Seattle's major league baseball teams, the Pilots and the Mariners, in the first game ever played by each franchise (earning a save for the Pilots in 1969, and absorbing the opening-day loss for the Mariners in 1977). Segui played for 15 seasons; his time with the Pilots came after his seventh year in the league as a member of the Athletics as he found his name of the expansion draft list. Segui was picked 14th overall. His most productive season came in 1969, for the Pilots, when he posted a career-high in wins, with 12, and 12 saves, against only 6 losses. Segui was also the only pitcher to start at least eight games and finish with a record above .500.  At the end of the season, his teammates voted him the Pilots' Most Valuable Player.

His final season was in 1977 as a member of the Mariners. Segui was the starting pitcher in the Mariners' inaugural game in 1977, earning him the nickname "the Ancient Mariner." Although he set a Mariner record against the Boston Red Sox with 10 strikeouts early in the season, he failed to get a win. After compiling a 0–7 record with a 5.69 ERA, he was released at the end of the season. He continued pitching in the Mexican League for another 10 years, tossing a no-hitter for the Cordoba Coffee Growers in 1978. His son David played in the Majors as well from 1990-2004, playing with seven different teams including the Mariners.

#50- Clearly the most notable name of the bunch, Jim Bouton was a well-known relief pitcher and World Series champion with the New York Yankees in 1962. He was also one of the most consistently used pitchers in the league when he was a starter in his first few years before his arm began to wear down. In 1965, an arm injury slowed his fastball and ended his status as a pitching phenomenon. Relegated mostly to bullpen duty, Bouton began to throw the knuckleball again, in an effort to lengthen his career. By 1968, Bouton was a reliever for the minor league Seattle Angels.

In October 1968, he joined a committee of American sportsmen who traveled to the 1968 Summer Olympics, in Mexico City, to protest the involvement of apartheid South Africa. Around the same time, sportswriter Leonard Shecter, who had befriended Bouton during his time with the Yankees, approached him with the idea of writing and publishing a season-long diary. Bouton, who had taken some notes during the 1968 season after having a similar idea, readily agreed. This was by no means the first baseball diary. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Brosnan had written two such books, about his 1959 and 1961 seasons, called The Long Season and Pennant Race respectively. Those books were much more open than the typical G-rated and ghost-written athletes' "diaries", a literary technique dating at least as far back as Christy Mathewson. Brosnan had also encountered some resistance. Joe Garagiola made a point in his own autobiography, Baseball Is a Funny Game, to criticize Brosnan for writing them.

Bouton chronicled his 1969 season with a frank, insider's look at a professional sports team, eventually naming his book Ball Four. The backdrop for the book was the Pilots' one and only operating season, though Bouton was traded to the Astros late in the season. Unlike previous sports publications, Ball Four named names and described a side of baseball that was previously unseen. Bouton did this by writing about the way a professional baseball team actually interacts; not only the heroic game-winning home runs, but also the petty jealousies (of which Bouton had a special knowledge), the obscene jokes, the drunken tomcatting of the players, and the routine drug use, including by Bouton himself. Upon its publication, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn called Ball Four "detrimental to baseball," and tried to force Bouton to sign a statement saying that the book was completely fictional. Bouton, however, refused to deny any of Ball Four‘s revelations. Many of Bouton's teammates never forgave him for publicly airing what he had learned in private about their flaws and foibles. The book made Bouton unpopular with many players, coaches, and officials on other teams as well, as they felt he had betrayed the long-standing rule: "What you see here, what you say here, what you do here, let it stay here." Although his comments on Mickey Mantle's lifestyle and excesses make up only a few pages of the text, it was those very revelations that spawned most of the book's notoriety, and provoked Bouton's eventual blacklisting from baseball. Oddly, what was forgotten in the furor is that Bouton mostly wrote of Mantle in almost reverential tones. One of the book's seminal moments occurs when Bouton describes his first win as a Yankee: when he entered the clubhouse, he found Mantle laying a "red carpet" of towels leading directly to his locker in Bouton's honor.

Bouton retired midway through the 1970 season after the Astros sent him down to the minor leagues. He immediately became a local sports anchor for New York station WABC-TV, as part of Eyewitness News; he later held the same job for WCBS-TV. Bouton also became an actor, playing the part of "Terry Lennox" in Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973), plus the lead role of "Jim Barton" in the 1976 CBS television series Ball Four, which was loosely adapted from the book and was canceled after five episodes. Decades later, Bouton would also have a brief one-line cameo as a pitching coach in the James L. Brooks film How Do You Know. By the mid-1970s, a cult audience saw the book Ball Four as a candid and comic portrayal of the ups and downs of baseball life. Bouton went on the college lecture circuit, delivering humorous talks on his experiences.

Bouton launched his comeback bid with the Portland Mavericks of the Class-A Northwest League in 1975, compiling a 5-1 record. He skipped the 1976 season to work on the TV series, but he returned to the diamond in 1977 when Bill Veeck signed him to a minor league contract with the White Sox. Bouton was winless for a White Sox farm club; a stint in the Mexican League and a return to Portland followed. In 1978, Ted Turner signed Bouton to a contract with the Braves. After a successful season with the Savannah Braves of the AA Southern League, he was called up to join Atlanta's rotation in September, and compiled a 1-3 record in five starts. His winding return to the majors was chronicled in a book by sportswriter Terry Pluto, The Greatest Summer. Bouton also detailed his comeback in a 10th anniversary re-release of his first book, titled Ball Four Plus Ball Five, as well as adding a Ball Six, updating the stories of the players in Ball Four, for the 20th anniversary edition. All were included (in 2000) as Ball Four: The Final Pitch, along with a new coda that detailed the death of his daughter and his reconciliation with the Yankees. After his return to the majors, Bouton continued to pitch at the semi-pro level for a Bergen County, New Jersey team called the Emerson-Westwood Merchants, among other teams in the Metropolitan Baseball League in northern New Jersey, while living in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Once his baseball career ended a second time, Bouton became one of the inventors of "Big League Chew," a shredded bubblegum designed to resemble chewing tobacco and sold in a tobacco-like pouch. He also co-authored Strike Zone (a baseball novel) and edited an anthology about managers, entitled I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad. His most recent book is Foul Ball (published 2003), a non-fiction account of his unsuccessful attempt to save Wahconah Park, a historic minor league baseball stadium in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Although Bouton had never been officially declared persona non grata by the Yankees or any other team as a result of Ball Four’s revelations, he was excluded from most baseball-related functions, including Old-Timers' Games. It was rumored that Mantle himself had told the Yankees that he would never attend an Old-Timers' Game to which Bouton was invited (a charge Mantle subsequently denied, especially during a lengthy answering-machine message to Bouton after Mantle's son Billy had died of cancer in 1994. Mantle was acknowledging a condolence card Bouton had sent). Things changed in June 1998, when Bouton's oldest son Michael wrote an eloquent Father's Day open letter to the Yankees which was published in the New York Times, in which Michael described the agony of his father following the August 1997 death of Michael's sister Laurie at age 31. By juxtaposing the story of Yogi Berra's self-imposed exile with that of his father's de facto banishment, Michael created a scenario where not only were the Yankees placed under public pressure to invite his father back, but the article paved the road to reconciliation between Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Berra. In July 1998, Bouton, sporting his familiar number 56, received a standing ovation when he took the mound at Yankee Stadium. He has since become a regular fixture at Yankees Old-Timers' Games.

I read Ball Four for the first time around the age of 14 and once again during my time in New York while I was a member of the MLB Fan Cave, but never in between. Both times I felt a sense of duty surging through me. The first time it was after really understanding my gift of writing. Everything I wrote I wanted to mimic the same honest and tone that Bouton displayed during his time with the Yankees and eventually the Pilots and Astros. When I read it again in New York it motivated me to speak from the heart and not hold anything back in my day-to-day experiences, something that inevitably turned around and bit me in the ass on multiple occasions with the powers that be. In any event, I didn’t care. There’s a part of my banishment from the Fan Cave that came as a result of not knowing when I should have kept my mouth shut. While some would ponder of it for the rest of their days, wishing they had done things different, I take the exact opposite approach. I take solace in what I did. The Fan Cave wasn’t just supposed to be about the nine of us that were brought on to watch all the games and interact with the guests, it was about swapping stories and sharing the experience with anyone who is a fan of the game, a reality that no one else past or present seems to understand with the exception of season one Cave Dweller Mike O’Hara. Without Bouton, I doubt I would be the writer, let alone the person that I am today.

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