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Relocated MLB Teams: The Seattle Pilots

The Seattle Pilots were a short lived baseball franchise that plaYed in the MLB’s American League during the 1969 season. The Pilots franchise was formed as an expansion franchise in 1967 alongside the Kansas City Royals, becoming Seattle’s first major league baseball team ever. The franchise would be owned by brothers Max and Dewey Soriano. The two expansion teams were initially meant to start playing in the 1971 season. However, legal challenges with the city of Kansas which had threatened antitrust proceedings for the relocation of the Raiders forced league owners to bring this forward to 1969. This decision, alongside gross mismanagement of the team was the ultimate factor in the demise of the team. Following that season, the Pilots would relocate to Milwaukee, becoming the Milwaukee Brewers, a franchise that still exists today. The nickname “Pilots” was adopted because of Seattle’s location on the Pacific Ocean, making it a popular center for sailing.

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One of the conditions given by the MLB when the franchise was formed was a commitment to build a new domed ballpark within three years. Meanwhile, Pilots home games would be played at the Sick’s Arena which also served as the home of minor league’s Seattle Rainiers. Sick’s Stadium was hardly suited to host a major league team but plans for the new stadium hit a snag in the form of legal blockades. As another precondition by the MLB, the Pilots had to expand the stadium from 11,000 seats to 21,000. However, abnormally heavy snowfall delayed work on the Stadium. On opening day of the 1969 season, only an additional 6000 seats of the targeted 10,000 had been added and some fans had to wait outside till the third inning as their benches were installed.

The season began in ominously bad terms after promising pitcher Lou Piniella was traded to Kansas City Royals simply because Coach Joe Schultz did not like him. Piniella went on to win Rookie of the Year. On the pitch, the Pilots started the 1969 season brightly, beating the Los Angels 4-3 on the road. When they returned home, they were greeted in the streets with a parade and crowd of 500 fans. They also won their first home game, beating the Chicago White Sox 7-0 with Pitcher Gary Bell in great form. Ecstatic fans mobbed the field to congratulate the team. As the season progressed, the team imploded and eventually finished in sixth place with a 64-98 record.

Why were the Seattle Pilots Relocated?

From the outset, the Pilots setup was flawed. The owners relied heavily on debt to finance the franchise and in fact had to offer a 47% stake to former Cleveland Indians owner William Daley in order to reduce the purchase price. The situation with the stadium was dire. Facilities at the Sicks’ Stadium were falling apart, with visiting teams complaining about low water pressure which forced them to take showers in their hotels. The low capacity of the stadium restricted match day collections, forcing the owners to increase the ticket prices, something that angered many fans. The franchise was losing money at an alarming rate as disagreement cropped up between the owners, the city and the MLB. With the team also performing poorly on the pitch fan apathy crept in and only about 4500 people turned up for most games. Owner William Daley even threatened to move the team if fans did not turn out for games. In return, the city threatened to evict the team if they did not pay for the stadium lease. Towards the end of the season, secret negotiations began between the owners and a Milwaukee based business man named bud Selig. Selig agreed to a $10 million deal to purchase the team. However, interference by two Washington state senators saw the deal fall through and instead Fred Danz, a local business man offered to buy the team. This deal also fizzled when a $4 million debt, taken as startup capital and owed to Bank of California was called in. in March 1970, left with no way out, the Soriano brothers filed for bankruptcy and the courts ordered the team to be sold to Selig. The Pilots remain the only major league sports team ever to declare bankruptcy. The team went to Milwaukee, becoming the Milwaukee Brewers.

Seattle Pilots Notable Players

Don Mincher 1B 1969

Greg Goosen 1B 1969

Mike Hegan OF 1969

Mike Marshall RHP 1969

Don Mincher 1B 1969

Diego Segui RHP 1969

Dooley Womack RHP 1969

Tommy Harper 3B 1969

Ray Oyler SS 1969

Gerry McNertney C 1969

Buzz Stephen P 1969

Gary Bell P 1969

Steve Barber P 1969

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