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.