The Seattle Pilots Came and Went Within a Year

Published on January 7th, 2023 12:46 pm EST
Written By: Dave Manuel

The story of the Seattle Pilots baseball team. Professional baseball in the city of Seattle seemed like a no-brainer idea in the 1960s.

At the time, Seattle was the third-largest city on the West Coast and was home to a baseball-crazy population.

The Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League were extremely popular, and people assumed that a Major League Baseball team would be no different.

In fact, the Cleveland Indians were so intrigued by the Seattle market that they very nearly moved there in 1964. The Kansas City Athletics also nearly moved to Seattle later in the decade.

In 1969, the Seattle Pilots joined the American League as an expansion team, and their success seemed certain.

A year later, the Pilots were gone.

What happened?


The Seattle Pilots faced a number of issues from the onset.

The largest?

Their owner simply didn't have deep pockets.

The initial "owner" of the team was Dewey Soriano, though he didn't have enough money to pay for the Pilots' franchise fee.

Soriano had to go to the former owner of the Cleveland Indians, Bill Daley, to cut a deal.

In return for putting up most of the Pilots' franchise fee, Daley received a 47% stake in the Pilots.

Soriano, however, still didn't have the capital to properly run a franchise (especially a new one), and this would ultimately be the Pilots undoing.

Another issue? The Pilots weren't ready to be a franchise yet.

The original deal was for the Pilots and Kansas City Royals to join the American League in 1971. This would have given the Pilots time to figure something out in regards to a stadium, but Missouri Senator Stuart Symington had other ideas.

Symington did NOT want Kansas City to have to wait until 1971 to have baseball again, so he put pressure on the league.

I want the Royals playing NOW, not in 1971.

The American League wouldn't allow for just one new team to join, as it would create an uneven number of teams, so the Pilots and Royals joined the American League in 1969 instead.

This was a disaster for the Pilots, as they were forced to play in Sick's Stadium, which was woefully inadequate to house a Major League Baseball team. The Pilots and state of Washington were in the process of getting a stadium approved in the state, though that process became bogged down in protests and politics.

Despite attempts to quickly renovate Sick's Stadium to bring it up to MLB standards, things went sideways. Delays limited the number of seats that were available to fans, there were issues with the water pressure in the stadium, and the scoreboard didn't even work for a period of time.

The Pilots had terrible attendance figures - in fact, their numbers were some of the worst in Major League Baseball.

It didn't help that the Pilots weren't very good on the field, as they went 64-98 in their first and only season.

The team lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in their initial season, and Bill Daley refused to put any more money into the team.

The team was stuck - a new stadium was years away, and Sick's Stadium had a number of issues that would cost money to fix. The team needed money, and none was available, so Soriano started to look to sell the team.


Soriano would strike a deal with Bud Selig (who would eventually become league Commissioner) to sell the team for $10.8 million.

Selig would not keep the team in Seattle - instead, he wanted to move the Pilots to Milwaukee.

There was immediate backlash from politicians in the state of Washington, and the remaining owners of the Pilots had second thoughts about the sale. A number of potential local buyers for the franchise came forward, though none of the deals worked out for various reasons.

The Pilots would be declared bankrupt less than a week before the start of Opening Day in 1970, which would force their sale to Selig.

The team was immediately relocated to Milwaukee. It was on such short notice that the Pilots' old uniforms were used, even though the team was now the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Pilots were history.


The story of the Pilots wasn't over, as the City of Seattle, King County and the state of Washington sued the American League for breach of contract.

The situation dragged out in the courts for over 5 years. Eventually, a settlement was reached that saw the city of Seattle receive another franchise - the Seattle Mariners, who started in the league in 1977 and remain there to this day.

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