1969 Seattle Pilots
Managed by Joe Schultz
The 1969 Seattle Pilots were the only edition of the expansion Seattle Pilots to play in the Pacific Northwest. After finishing in last place in the AL West, they moved to Milwaukee, WI before the start of the 1970 season. Nevertheless, the Pilots secured a place in baseball history because the team's travails were described in humorous detail by pitcher Jim Bouton in his classic book, Ball Four which came out in 1970.
Major League Baseball awarded Dewey Soriano and Max Soriano an expansion franchise at the 1967 Winter Meetings in Mexico City on the condition King County would build a domed stadium. In 1968, after a round of public appearances by American League president Joe Cronin, and players Mickey Mantle, Jimmy Piersall and Carl Yastrzemski, King County voters approved the construction of a domed stadium. But in the menatime, the Pilots would need to play in outdated Sicks Stadium, a minor league ballpark which was quickly and shoddily expanded to hold more fans.
The Seattle Pilots' first pick in the expansion draft was Don Mincher, and they became one of four expansion franchises the began play in 1969.
The Pilots won their first game on April 8th against the California Angels, but there were very few other bright spots to the season. Nevertheless, the team managed to stay in reasonable striking distance of a .500 record for the first three months of the season, and were only 6 games back of the division lead (in third place in the AL West) as late as June 28th. But a disastrous 9-20 July and an even worse 6-22 August ended even a faint hope of any kind of contention, and the team finished in last place with a record of 64-98.
In terms of individual accomplishments, Tommy Harper led the American League with 73 stolen bases, Mincher clubbed 25 home runs and made the All-Star team as an injury replacement for Mike Hegan who hit .292 with a .427 OBP. Reliever Diego Segui went 12-6 with a respectable 3.35 ERA. However, only two other regulars (Tommy Davis and Steve Hovley) had a batting average above .250 and no starting pitcher posted an ERA below 4.00. The team's mediocrity, coupled with an inadequate 31-year-old ballpark, led to a per-game attendance of little more than 8,000.
Also, the Pilots had no television deal with any local broadcasting station at the time, which also helped lead to the team's demise when television was becoming a key marketing tool for teams and source of revenue. Former part-owner Max Soriano said about the cost of broadcasting rights: "The cost of the A.T.& T line was such that we couldn't get advertisers to come forth. There wasn't any revenue for the ball club by the time you paid the telephone charges."
Add that along with former Cleveland Indians owner William Daley, who the Sorianos met in 1965 when the Indians were considering moving to Seattle, told Seattle officials they had one year to prove themselves or lose the team, withdrew his support for the Pilots. Daley's threat worked as city officials, the Pilots, and local creditors all argued over money owned by Pilots management due to delays to construction to the domed stadium or from lawsuits which later led to the Pilots filing for bankruptcy.
Awards and Honors
- April 1 - The Pilots trade little-known minor league outfielder Lou Piniella to the Kansas City Royals for two prospects. Piniella will hit .282 with 11 home runs and 68 RBI, good enough to win American League Rookie of the Year honors.
- April 8 - The Pilots win in their debut game, defeating the California Angels, 4 - 3. Leadoff hitter Tommy Harper doubles for the team's first hit, and the next batter, Mike Hegan, hits the first home run in club history. Marty Pattin gets the win, while Jack Aker records a save.
- April 11 - Seattle wins in their home opener behind a Gary Bell 7 - 0 shutout of the Chicago White Sox at Sicks Stadium.
- May 16 - In the highest-scoring 11th inning ever, the Pilots score six runs, then allows five, but hang on for a 10 - 9 win at Boston. Jim Bouton gets the win with three shutout innings. Wayne Comer has a pair of homers, including one in the 11th. John Kennedy also adds a homer in the 11th.
- July 27 - Seattle suffers a heartbreaker, losing 5 - 3 to the Red Sox in 20 innings at Sicks Stadium. Joe Lahoud hits a two-run home run in the top of the 20th for Boston, and Tommy Harper matches him in the bottom of the inning for the losers.
Opening Day Lineup
Tommy Harper, 2b
Mike Hegan, rf
Tommy Davis, lf
Don Mincher, 1b
Rich Rollins, 3b
Jim Gosger, cf
Ray Oyler, ss
Marty Pattin, p
- Jim Bouton: Ball Four: My Life and Hard Times Throwing the Knuckleball in the Big Leagues, Wiley Publishing Inc., New York, NY, 1990 (originally published in 1970). ISBN 0-02-030665-2
- Kenneth Hogan: The 1969 Seattle Pilots: Major League Baseball's One-Year Team, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2007.
- Bill Mullins, Becoming Big League: Seattle, the Pilots, and Stadium Politics, University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA, 2013. ISBN 9780295992525
- Mark Rousso: "An exhilarating big league bust", in Mark Armour, ed.: Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest, Society for American Baseball Research, Cleveland, OH, 2006, pp. 116-122.