Writer’s Workshop: “Inside Pitch: Insiders Reveal How the Ill-Fated Seattle Pilots Got Played into Bankruptcy in One Year”

Source: Amazon.com

Hey, guess what? I’m going to do a couple of the prompts today: talking about the last book I read and writing a post prompted by the word “fate.”

This year has not been friendly to anyone, with almost everything being shut down because of Covid-19, and it’s been particularly rough on baseball fans, because the season was supposed to start at the end of March and here it is, almost when the All-Star break was scheduled, and there has yet to be one inning of the National Pastime played. I’ve been keeping busy and getting my baseball fill by watching old episodes of Home Run Derby, old World Series films, and whatever games I can find on YouTube, and re-reading books like Ball Four by Jim Bouton. That book looks at his 1969 season, when the American and National Leagues each added two teams, split each league into two divisions and introduced divisional play.

Bouton played for the Seattle Pilots that season, one of the two franchises added to the American League. It turns out that it would be the only season for the Pilots, as the team went broke and had to be rescued by a new owner, Milwaukee car salesman Bud Selig, who bought the team and assumed its debt before moving them to Milwaukee and making them the Brewers. I never quite understood why that happened until I read Rick Allen’s book Inside Pitch: Insiders Reveal How the Ill-Fated Seattle Pilots Got Played into Bankruptcy in One Year. It tells the story of a couple of young men who held pretty high positions in the Pilots organization and the lengths that they went to, that were nevertheless not enough.

Expansion hadn’t been planned until the early 1970’s, but a situation forced the leagues into doing it earlier. Charlie Finley, owner of the Kansas City A’s, got the approval of the other American League owners to move his team to Oakland beginning with the 1968 season. Kansas City, that was at the time building a new ballpark for the A’s, threatened to sue unless they got a team by 1969. So expansion was moved up to 1969, and the Pilots suddenly had months rather than years to secure financing and put a team on the field.

With that inauspicious beginning, the Pilots never really had a chance. Their home park, Sicks Stadium, wasn’t up to major league standards, though they did the best they could. They had done well in the expansion draft, snagging a young player named Lou Piniella, who could very easily have become the face of the franchise had the general manager not traded him to Kansas City. They had some good young players, but the team was generally composed of fading stars, journeyman players, and other castoffs. They did finish the season and did about as well as expansion teams ever did in those days, but 1970 was a question mark: could they raise the money needed to pay off their debts and be financially stable in 1970 and beyond?

The answer was “no,” and Seattle lost the franchise in 1970 to Milwaukee. Which ended a lot of worry on the South Side of Chicago, where White Sox fans were convinced that Arthur Allyn would sell the White Sox to Bud Selig, who would then take them to Milwaukee.

Losing the Pilots didn’t go over especially well with people in Seattle, who now were ready to sue the American League because they had been promised a baseball team and now didn’t have one. There was talk that the White Sox, who were then for sale, would be sold to the Seattle group and move there. Ironically, Charlie Finley, who had caused all this drama, said that if the White Sox moved, he’d move the A’s to Chicago.

The book itself was just fair, maybe 3 out of 5 stars, but was good for the information it had.

19 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: “Inside Pitch: Insiders Reveal How the Ill-Fated Seattle Pilots Got Played into Bankruptcy in One Year”

  1. It’s unbelievable how disruptive this virus shutdown has been. I can’t wait for things to go back to normal, sports can resume and people can be healthy!

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    1. The quarantining and social distancing is really getting on my nerves. There are rumors that the numbers have been deliberately inflated to make it seem worse than it is, that deaths from any cause are being counted as Covid-19 if the person tests positive, and that cases are being double-counted in some situations (for example, if a person tests positive, self-quarantines, and still tests positive). If any of this is true, I’m going to be furious…

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  2. Enjoyed this, John. Shared it with The Husband who has been spending a lot of time watching NY Yankee game re-runs while waiting for July 23rd when the Yanks kick-off their 60 game season.

    Nice work, combining two prompts!

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  3. I’m not a huge baseball fan, but it’s the one sport I know enough about to actually watch and understand without scratching my head too much (football and basketball are also exciting, but I literally do not understand, even after being told, what some of the phrases mean and why certain calls are made). I really enjoyed when my sons played. Even though you aren’t able to watch new games, it sounds like you have a lot of resources for indulging in the sport in their place!

    Kim

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  4. How convoluted and the players must have been on pins and needles. I hope the players were able to still play somewhere. My brother probably knows about this team

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    1. They took care of the players, otherwise they would have all become free agents and there wouldn’t be a team. They became the Milwaukee Brewers, so everything ended up for the best.

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  5. Interesting history, John. I don’t remember the Pilots, but I was just graduating from grammar school in the summer of ’69 so baseball wasn’t really something I was into. I mean, I watched the Giants with my dad but as far as the rest of the league went, I was clueless. I am looking forward to the start of the “season” in a few weeks. It won’t be the same and the stats mean nothing but it will be better than watching reruns.

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    1. I remembered them because they were in the AL West with the White Sox, so they came to Chicago several times and the Sox went there several times.

      As I told Dan, half a loaf is better than none. It might be a farce of a season, but some interesting things could come of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ball Four is one of my favorite books ever. I’ve read it so many times I’ve lost count.
    I may check out this book because it would be interesting to see how they ended up like they did. If not for Ball Four they would have been largely forgotten.

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    1. It’s a quick read and the history is interesting. I was 13 when the Pilots played, and didn’t really understand the dynamics of how baseball operated at the time. Had the AL held out on expanding until 1971, they would have a better chance of survival (either that, or they might have ended up somewhere else anyway).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I will search it out. I always wondered why they played in that park. I guess they had no other choice. I did like the uniforms for some reason.

        With Ball Four looking back I think the owners and commish were more upset with their portrayal (financial wise) than the greenies or the hotel activities

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        1. I think they had planned on building a new stadium but the timetable wouldn’t allow for it. As it was, Sick’s Stadium wasn’t entirely ready on opening day. It had been a minor league park and needed to be upgraded to major league standards. Which is interesting, because when the Angels started they played in Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, which had been a minor league park (it’s where they staged “Home Run Derby”).

          Bouton did talk a lot about contracts and players being fined, didn’t he?

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          1. I’ve seen pictures of it…it was a bit sparse. Oh I remember Wrigley in LA…I love those homerun hitting contests back then. No BS just hit the ball.

            Yes he talked about how cheap the owners could be. He was right…if they would have given a little more they might not have lost control as soon as they did.

            A good player could not disclose how much they made but they would publicize Mantle’s because it was huge…everyone thought everyone was making good.

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