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  • Another take on the Pilots debacle

    I'd like to pose a question that I'm not sure has gotten any attention, something that I'm sure has had many people wondering about how the Pilots debacle came to be.

    Now the Pilots opened the 1969 season amid a torrent of problems that had plagued them since their formation, including among other things the fact that the plans to build a domed stadium for the Pilots that eventually became the Kingdome, not to mention the fact that owners Dewey and Max Soriano as well as William Daley were way in over their heads financially, and of course Sicks' Stadium among other things.

    Obviously with the benefit of hindsight it seems very plain that the Emerald City wasn't ready to host big league baseball in 1969, at least not within that short time span between October 1967 and Opening Day 1969. The Kingdome wouldn't be completed until 1976, one year before the Mariners began operations. I've provided a web link to an essay about the controversy surrounding the origins of the Kingdome from the HistoryLink website: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm...m&file_id=2164

    In short, the problems with the stadium and ownership, which were obvious almost from the very beginning, might have raised the possibility that the American League may have considered aborting the Pilots franchise before the start of spring training '69 and possibly moving the team to another city, like Milwaukee for one thing, or possibly Dallas-Fort Worth and Denver among others. It's possible that if that had happened, then the Pilots fiasco may have been prevented.

    Yet for whatever reason the American League (or for that matter the commissioner's office) never gave that idea any thought. By that same token the league apparently never looked more closely at the Pilots owners' finances before the start of the season.indeed, it wasn't until the end of the season that the AL became open to the possibility of moving the Pilots out of Seattle.

    What do you think?

  • #2
    I seem to recall that at around this time, the KC A's were leaving Kansas City for Oakland. This royally PO'd Senator Stuart Stymington, who threatened to introduce legislation revoking MLB's antitrust exemption. To mollify him, KC was promised an expansion franchise when the next planned round of expansion went into effect in the early1970's. Stymington, however, kept up the threat and would only relent if the planned expansion happened immediately. This was granted, and since expansion always occurs in pairs, it meant that whether or not Seattle was ready, MLB was coming. The resulting debacle in Seattle was likely due to this rush.
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    • #3
      Originally posted by egri View Post
      I seem to recall that at around this time, the KC A's were leaving Kansas City for Oakland. This royally PO'd Senator Stuart Stymington, who threatened to introduce legislation revoking MLB's antitrust exemption. To mollify him, KC was promised an expansion franchise when the next planned round of expansion went into effect in the early1970's. Stymington, however, kept up the threat and would only relent if the planned expansion happened immediately. This was granted, and since expansion always occurs in pairs, it meant that whether or not Seattle was ready, MLB was coming. The resulting debacle in Seattle was likely due to this rush.
      That I concur.

      My main question is, in their rush to expand to Seattle, why didn't American League officials bother to take a closer at the Pilots' financial situation before they gave Seattle the green light to begin operations (particularly with regard to the delays in selecting a suitable site for a domed stadium). For that matter why didn't the league try to pull the plug on the Pilots before the start of the 1969 season? In hindsight this debacle could have been stopped in its tracks.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Big Mike View Post
        That I concur.

        My main question is, in their rush to expand to Seattle, why didn't American League officials bother to take a closer at the Pilots' financial situation before they gave Seattle the green light to begin operations (particularly with regard to the delays in selecting a suitable site for a domed stadium). For that matter why didn't the league try to pull the plug on the Pilots before the start of the 1969 season? In hindsight this debacle could have been stopped in its tracks.
        Some of what follows is just my opinion, with a lot facts presented as well. The new intended primary owners of the Pilots, Max and Dewey Soriano were projecting that 1969 season attendance would be well in excess of 1,000,000 in an era when that was considered to be very good. Sick's Stadium had an expanded capacity of 17,000 (up from 11,000 in the PCL Seattle Rainiers time) on opening day of 1969 and work continued on the park for 2 months after the start of the season to give it a final capacity of 25,420 by June of 1969. That right there is a striking point on how unready the Pilots were for opening day, that their park gained over 8000 seats in 2 months DURING A SEASON? They clearly would have been much better off to start in 1971 as was originally expected. (The original expansion agreement called for the Pilots to expand the park to 30,000 seats, money got too tight too quickly for the expansion to ever be completed. The Pilots went to the AL and asked to amend the agreement down to 25,000, they reluctantly agreed. The largest crowd the Pilots EVER drew was just above 21,000.)

        This is a direct quote from Wikipedia:

        "The stadium expanded to 25,000 seats by June, but many of those seats had obstructed views. There were no field-level camera pits, so photographers had to set up their equipment atop the grandstand roof. The clubhouse facilities were second-class. Also, no upgrades were made to the stadium's piping, resulting in almost nonexistent water pressure after the seventh inning, especially when crowds exceeded 10,000. This forced players to shower in their hotel rooms or at home after the game. The visiting team's announcers couldn't see any plays along third base or left field. The Pilots had to place a mirror in the press box, and the visiting announcers had to look into it and "refract" plays in those areas. By the middle of the season, it was obvious that Sick's Stadium was completely inadequate even for temporary use."

        The fans stopped coming under these conditions, Final attendance was appx 678,000 or only 8371 or so per game. If you have projected your incoming cash flow on appx 17,000 a game over the season & you only average 8371 per game... you better have awful deep pockets to make up the mammoth shortfall and the Sorianos group didn't.

        As to why they weren't investigated financially more closely, I think that there were 4 factors in play:

        1.) Everyone expected MLB in Seattle to be a huge success and the cash flow projections were accepted by the AL as a probable certainty. (Think Milwaukee Braves in 1953 and the wild runaway success that new city had, which wasn't far in the past in 1969.)

        2.) Part of the ownership group, as one of the minority stockholders; was Bill Daley***, former majority stockholder of the Cleveland Indians and a man well known as a result to the AL brass. If he was coming in on this, the owners probably thought they had all the indirect due diligence they needed.

        3.) When the franchise was granted, it was for 1971... not 1969. The missing 2 years clearly really hurt the ownership very badly in terms of marketing and Stadium prep time.

        4.) This was a different, pre mega money era of MLB. In 1972 or so the AL approved Nick Mileti's purchase of the majority of Cleveland Indians stock from Vernon Stouffer and his group made the Sorianos look like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates in comparison financially.

        *** Daley only wanted to be a minority investor. He met Soriano in 1964 when he was exploring moving the Cleveland Indians to Seattle. (As a native Clevelander, TG he sold the team to Vernon Stouffer instead!) He loved the city but thought Sicks' Stadium was totally inadequate. (When Charlie Finley visited Seattle to explore a move of the A's there, he was asked what he thought of Sicks' Stadium while touring it. He replied "It's very aptly named." and never came back.) Daley would come to sorely regret he didn't better remember his 1964 opinion in 1969. The Sorianos ran into money trouble early when the expansion fee was higher than they had projected and banks wouldn't loan them enough to cover it. They asked Daley to up his share in the team and he agreed, probably reluctantly. As a result, at the outset of the 1969 season he had 47% of the stock, the Sorianos retained 34% so Daley became the largest single shareholder.

        As more cash was needed during 1969, his share would rise to 60% but late in the year he balked at putting in any more, pretty much dooming the team to bankruptcy unless a Seattle "white knight" businessman or group came along. One did and a deal was made, but the Bank of California decided to call a loan to the Pilots of $3,500,000 and the "white knight" couldn't afford the 10 million he agreed to pay for the team AND the 3.5 mill loan too. So the deal fell apart, pretty much leaving only Bud Selig of Milwaukee on the playing field. The "white knight" was Seattle movie theatre chain owner Fred Danz. Another less well capitalized bid by Edward Carlson of Western Hotels Corp was made at the 11th hour to keep the team in Seattle as a non-profit corp. The AL owners absolutely hated that idea and shot it down. Only Selig was still in the picture and with no prospective Seattle owners left, the AL was ordered to either let Selig buy the team or take on responsibility for the Pilots themselves; by the Federal judge hearing the case in bankruptcy court. Naturally, the AL owners threw in the towel & let Selig buy the team and the Pilots passed into history.
        Last edited by Calif_Eagle; 05-21-2015, 09:08 PM. Reason: To Add Content

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Big Mike View Post
          That I concur.

          My main question is, in their rush to expand to Seattle, why didn't American League officials bother to take a closer at the Pilots' financial situation before they gave Seattle the green light to begin operations (particularly with regard to the delays in selecting a suitable site for a domed stadium). For that matter why didn't the league try to pull the plug on the Pilots before the start of the 1969 season? In hindsight this debacle could have been stopped in its tracks.
          The AL owners couldn't pull the plug on Seattle. Time was too short. The schedule was made and so were travel and hotel arrangements by all the teams. It would have looked even more embarrassingly bush league then the fiasco of Spring Training in 1970 wound up looking. The Pilots ownership group tried mightily to hide their financial difficulties during the 1969 season and by and large succeeded although a close observer looking at the flaws of Sicks' Stadium may well have deduced something was wrong. But the press and media didn't descend on the Pilots situation until the season was over.

          Re the stadium, there two provisos to the AL expansion team agreement in addition to expanding Sicks' Stadium to 30,000 seats (later reduced to 28,500 then to 25,000) They were to get Seattle to pass a domed stadium levy which did pass. The other was turn a shovel in the ground by (I believe) Dec 31 1970 on the site for its construction. These 2 parts were going fine until a group sued to try and stop construction at the chosen site and were successful in getting an injunction to do so. All that happened *during the 1969 season*. The story was already underway and nothing would stop it now. They planned to play at Sicks' for the first 3 seasons. And remember, the franchise was originally granted to BEGIN play in *1971* not 1969. The early start killed the Soriano- Daley group.

          What the AL should have done was take the Buffalo group trying to get a franchise in the NL expansion of 1969, but they lost out to Montreal. KC could have been in the West and Buffalo in the East. Having a large 40,000 seats + baseball ready field, (ancient War Memorial Stadium, home of the city's IL AAA club) it could have been used much more easily and cheaply. That Stadium was horrendous by todays standards, but this was in 1969 and compared to Sicks' Stadium it was much closer to being MLB ready based standards of that time. But.... hindsight is always 20-20. What killed the club more than anything was the sudden move to 1969 which at first the Seattle owners were OK with, but it quickly proved to be a major disaster. Construction bids for Sicks' expansion came in way higher than anticipated, work couldn't even start until after the PCL Rainiers 1968 final season ended. Finally, Seattle experienced a much harsher than normal winter in 68-69 causing even more delays/cost overruns on the Sicks' Stadium expansion work.

          With Montreal going through the same problems at the same time for the NL's expansion, it probably didn't seem so bad to the AL. (Montreal did a much better job in solving their problems (Jarry Park) but their owner was far richer than the Soriano-Daley group. He was Charles Bronfman of the Seagram's liquor distilleries.)

          The two year early start killed the Pilots, but the subsequent lawsuit filed against the AL by Kings County and the City of Seattle won them a promise of an expansion team to begin when the City had a domed Stadium *in place*. That team of course was and is the Mariners.
          Last edited by Calif_Eagle; 05-21-2015, 09:19 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Calif_Eagle View Post
            Some of what follows is just my opinion, with a lot facts presented as well. The new intended primary owners of the Pilots, Max and Dewey Soriano were projecting that 1969 season attendance would be well in excess of 1,000,000 in an era when that was considered to be very good. Sick's Stadium had an expanded capacity of 17,000 (up from 11,000 in the PCL Seattle Rainiers time) on opening day of 1969 and work continued on the park for 2 months after the start of the season to give it a final capacity of 25,420 by June of 1969. That right there is a striking point on how unready the Pilots were for opening day, that their park gained over 8000 seats in 2 months DURING A SEASON? They clearly would have been much better off to start in 1971 as was originally expected. (The original expansion agreement called for the Pilots to expand the park to 30,000 seats, money got too tight too quickly for the expansion to ever be completed. The Pilots went to the AL and asked to amend the agreement down to 25,000, they reluctantly agreed. The largest crowd the Pilots EVER drew was just above 21,000.)

            This is a direct quote from Wikipedia:

            "The stadium expanded to 25,000 seats by June, but many of those seats had obstructed views. There were no field-level camera pits, so photographers had to set up their equipment atop the grandstand roof. The clubhouse facilities were second-class. Also, no upgrades were made to the stadium's piping, resulting in almost nonexistent water pressure after the seventh inning, especially when crowds exceeded 10,000. This forced players to shower in their hotel rooms or at home after the game. The visiting team's announcers couldn't see any plays along third base or left field. The Pilots had to place a mirror in the press box, and the visiting announcers had to look into it and "refract" plays in those areas. By the middle of the season, it was obvious that Sick's Stadium was completely inadequate even for temporary use."

            The fans stopped coming under these conditions, Final attendance was appx 678,000 or only 8371 or so per game. If you have projected your incoming cash flow on appx 17,000 a game over the season & you only average 8371 per game... you better have awful deep pockets to make up the mammoth shortfall and the Sorianos group didn't.

            As to why they weren't investigated financially more closely, I think that there were 4 factors in play:

            1.) Everyone expected MLB in Seattle to be a huge success and the cash flow projections were accepted by the AL as a probable certainty. (Think Milwaukee Braves in 1953 and the wild runaway success that new city had, which wasn't far in the past in 1969.)

            2.) Part of the ownership group, as one of the minority stockholders; was Bill Daley***, former majority stockholder of the Cleveland Indians and a man well known as a result to the AL brass. If he was coming in on this, the owners probably thought they had all the indirect due diligence they needed.

            3.) When the franchise was granted, it was for 1971... not 1969. The missing 2 years clearly really hurt the ownership very badly in terms of marketing and Stadium prep time.

            4.) This was a different, pre mega money era of MLB. In 1972 or so the AL approved Nick Mileti's purchase of the majority of Cleveland Indians stock from Vernon Stouffer and his group made the Sorianos look like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates in comparison financially.

            *** Daley only wanted to be a minority investor. He met Soriano in 1964 when he was exploring moving the Cleveland Indians to Seattle. (As a native Clevelander, TG he sold the team to Vernon Stouffer instead!) He loved the city but thought Sicks' Stadium was totally inadequate. (When Charlie Finley visited Seattle to explore a move of the A's there, he was asked what he thought of Sicks' Stadium while touring it. He replied "It's very aptly named." and never came back.) Daley would come to sorely regret he didn't better remember his 1964 opinion in 1969. The Sorianos ran into money trouble early when the expansion fee was higher than they had projected and banks wouldn't loan them enough to cover it. They asked Daley to up his share in the team and he agreed, probably reluctantly. As a result, at the outset of the 1969 season he had 47% of the stock, the Sorianos retained 34% so Daley became the largest single shareholder.

            As more cash was needed during 1969, his share would rise to 60% but late in the year he balked at putting in any more, pretty much dooming the team to bankruptcy unless a Seattle "white knight" businessman or group came along. One did and a deal was made, but the Bank of California decided to call a loan to the Pilots of $3,500,000 and the "white knight" couldn't afford the 10 million he agreed to pay for the team AND the 3.5 mill loan too. So the deal fell apart, pretty much leaving only Bud Selig of Milwaukee on the playing field. The "white knight" was Seattle movie theatre chain owner Fred Danz. Another less well capitalized bid by Edward Carlson of Western Hotels Corp was made at the 11th hour to keep the team in Seattle as a non-profit corp. The AL owners absolutely hated that idea and shot it down. Only Selig was still in the picture and with no prospective Seattle owners left, the AL was ordered to either let Selig buy the team or take on responsibility for the Pilots themselves; by the Federal judge hearing the case in bankruptcy court. Naturally, the AL owners threw in the towel & let Selig buy the team and the Pilots passed into history.
            Here's some more history regarding the Pilots -
            Attached Files
            Last edited by Tailwind Tommy; 11-09-2015, 09:04 PM.

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            • #7
              I can't help but remember Charlie Finley' s comments when he toured Sicks Stadium while looking to move the A's. He said the name was appropriate. Lol.
              A look at the other 1969 owners.
              Bronfman was a millionaire who could handle any problems that may arise.
              Kaufman seemed to be a genius in the way he built his team and got success faster than the others. His city already had plans in place for a new stadium, too.
              C Arnholt Smith was another story. He ran into both financial and legal problems within years of founding the Padres. He had to sell the team and they were about to move to DC. Fortunately Ray Kroc came along. It helped that San Diego already had a brand new stadium and wasn't going to have the problems Seattle experienced.
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