The Mets aren’t the only team in the midst of a golden anniversary.
While the Mets were making their Amazin’ run to the 1969 world championship on the East Coast, the Seattle Pilots — an all-but-forgotten team now known as the Milwaukee Brewers — was sputtering along in the Pacific Northwest. They lasted only one year before hurredly moving to Milwaukee during spring training in 1970.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is their story:
Major league baseball expanded in 1969. The Pilots entered the American League along with the Kansas City Royals, while the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos (now Washington Nationals) came aboard in the National League.
The Pilots played in aptly named Sick’s Stadium — a minor-league park named after brewery magnate Emil Sick, who had the stadium built in 1938. The club’s nickname came from the Emerald City’s involvement with the aeronautics industry.
MLB demanded that a new, preferably domed, stadium be finished within three years as part of the expansion deal. In the meantime, Sick’s Stadium would have to suffice. Seating would eventually expand to 25,400 by June 1969, although the team never played before more than 20,000 at home except for a May 28 game against the Orioles (21,679) and the franchise-record 23,657 against the Yankees on Aug 3. The Pilots’ home opener drew 14,993 to watch the White Sox on April 11.
The expansion draft to stock the Pilots’ roster brought a few decent players to Seattle: Tommy Davis and Don Mincher provided some punch at the plate. Gene Brabender and Diego Segui were steady enough on the mound.
Despite the team’s short stay in the majors, the club’s most lasting impression would come off the field, as to how the world of sports would be perceived by society. For example:
• Former Yankee Jim Bouton (21-7 in 1963) resurfaced with the Pilots, trying to resurrect his career after blowing out his arm by learning how to throw a knuckleball. Bouton began the 1969 season in Seattle (before being traded to the Astros for Roric Harrison and Dooley Womack). The righthander had decided to keep a no-holds-barred diary, something never done before in the sports world. Until then, sportswriting of all forms was sanitized by an author’s desire to keep any “scandalous” behavior from the game’s fans. Non-varnished cursing, drinking and carousing would ruin a player’s — and the game’s — image. That was about to change. Bouton gathered material for “Ball Four” in 1969, and the book would be released in June 1970. Bouton told the Los Angeles Times in 2010 that when he visited a major-league clubhouse there would be “one or two old coaches sitting in the corner. I can see them glaring at me. But the younger players come over to me: ‘Hey, I read your book in high school . . . I [wanted] to be a major-league baseball player. You made me stick with it.’ ”
• As a Pilot, former Met Greg Goossen had his most productive season (.309, 10 HR, 24 RBIs in 52 games) of a six-year MLB career. Goossen is probably best known for being on the receiving end of a classic Casey Stengel “Stengelism” when the Mets manager pointed out to assembled reporters that “This is Greg Goossen. He’s 20 years old, and in 10 years he has a chance to be 30.”
• Ray Oyler was one of the worst hitters since the dead-ball era, batting .135 while playing shortstop and helping the Tigers make it to the 1968 World Series. But manager Mayo Smith famously replaced him with outfielder Mickey Stanley in the Fall Classic. Oyler was made available in the expansion draft, and the Pilots took him in the third round. Oyler, who had a six-year major league batting average of .175 with 15 home runs, homered in the Pilots’ second game at Sick’s Stadium. He went on to hit a career-high seven round-trippers, due mostly to the 305-foot leftfield foul line. He became a fan favorite, and a “Sock-It-To-Me” fan club was created (borrowing the popular “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” line).
• The ringmaster of this circus was manager Joe Schultz, who got his one-and-only chance to oversee a major-league franchise (he was interim manager for the Tigers in 1973). One of Schultz’s most memorable “Ball Four” exchanges was on a visit to the mound, while giving advice as to how to go after a hitter: “[Bleep] him. Give him some low smoke and we’ll go and pound some Budweiser,” quoth the manager. That line became Schultz’s catch phrase. Despite Bouton’s jibes, Schultz endeared himself to his players for his combination of encouragement and humor.
The Pilots flirted with a .500 won-loss record early in the season, but a brutal July-August sent them crashing to a 64-98 finish and last place in the AL West Division.
Construction and financing woes continued to plague Sick’s Stadium and by March 1970 —just weeks before the new season — the Pilots’ parent company filed for bankruptcy.
Milwaukee auto dealer Bud Selig, once a minority owner of the Milwaukee Braves, formed a group to bring baseball back to Milwaukee. They bought the Pilots and moved them to Wisconsin in time to start the 1970 season— as the Brewers.
ABOUT THE PILOTS
AVG: Tommy Davis, .271
HRs: Don Mincher, 25
RBIs: Tommy Davis, 80
PITCHERS: Gene Brabender (13-14) and Diego Segui (12-6, plus 12 saves)
RHP Diego Segui is the only PIlot who also played for the Mariners.