Buzzie Bavasi was one of the last of the old-time baseball men. In a career spanning 60 years, he was general manager of the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers before becoming president of the expansion San Diego Padres and later an executive vice-president with the California Angels. He personally knew virtually everyone of note in the game during that period and had more access to the behind-the-scenes working of the game than anyone else I can think of. I interviewed him by telephone in June 1994 and was so impressed by his knowledge, recall that, frankly, I could have talked baseball with him for another month. Buzzie Bavasi passed away in May 2008.
Is it true that you could have had a National League expansion franchise in Seattle?
Bavasi, circa 1969.
Walter suggested that I take a look at Seattle. I did, as a matter of fact, and my family came with me. Two of my boys, my wife and I went up, stayed at the Doubletreestayed there for two, three days and looked around the stadium. After looking at it for a while, number one, there was no office space. Number two, I didn't think there was room for adequate concession operations. The thing that cooled me on it was, there was no parkingnot adequate parking for 25,000 people. Without parking, baseball today is just in trouble. I think the only club that doesn't have any parking is the Cubbies and they've got the elevated train right there. After I got up there and I saw the plans for the new stadium, it just wasn't what I had in mind for a baseball stadium because of the parking. I decided to put my lot with C. Arnholt Smith, the San Diego man.
I've read that it was Walter O'Malley who decided that the National League should not to fight the American League for Seattle.
Oh, no. That's not true. Walter's the one that wanted me to go to Seattle. The way he put it, it was something to stick to your ribs. Instead of a salary, you should own part of a ballclub. He was all in favor of Seattle. He'd rather us go to Seattle than San Diego, because San Diego, he felt, was part of his territory for television and radio rights.
Were the NL owners angry that the AL decided on its own to expand for 1969?
When Walter went to Africa, he thought I was going to Seattle. He didn't know I was going to San Diego until he came back from Africa and he was disappointed to be honest with you. But he still voted for it.
Sorry to press this point, but you definitely were interested in Seattle? It's sometimes hard to see the whole truth based just on newspaper accounts.
Initially I was interested, but Mr. Smith down here made me such a good offer. He gave me 32 percent of the club. It was such a good offer that I just had to forego my interest in Seattle.
Who were the people in Seattle you were talking to?
The one I was referring to was Dave Cohn.
Did Senators Symington, Jackson or Magnuson put pressure on O'Malley to back off on possible NL expansion in Seattle so the AL franchise could go forward?
I remember Senator Jackson. He came to L.A. and talked to Walter, but by that time it was a foregone conclusion that the American League was going into Seattle.
In 1973, when Smith was going to sell the Padres, it looked like Joe Danzansky...
From Washington. Offered twelve-five for it.
...it looked like he was going to buy the club and move it to Washington D.C.
He did buy it. But Smith didn't know he had to get permission to sell. Smith didn't realize and he called me up one day and said he said, 'I sold the club.' I said you can't do that. First of all, you don't own the club, the league owns the franchise. You own the territory. All you do is rent it, really. The league tells you what to do. It's not like football where you can do whatever you want to. The league never gave permission for C. Arnholt Smith to sell the club.
Do you know if the Indians were serious about moving to Seattle for the '65 season?
So it may have been a negotiating tactic.
It's not as easy to move a club in baseball as it is in football. You've got to have permission from the league members and it's not easy to do.
The Kansas City Athletics moved to Oakland in 1967.
That's right, but keep in mind they already had somebody who wanted to put a club in Kansas City at the next expansion date.
Did you have an opinion of that move. Bowie Kuhn called it an idiotic decision.
Of course. You had one good baseball town, now you had two mediocre baseball towns.
That was about the time that Senator Symington started talking about revoking baseball's anti-trust exemption.
That's right. If it hadn't been for Symington, I don't think there'd be a club in Kansas City today.
You knew Harold Parrott.
He worked for me for years, in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and San Diego. To be honest with you, I never read the book, The Lords of Baseball, I think it was called. I never read it because I got mad at Harold for writing it. Baseball had been very good to Harold, kept him going for a number of years. I didn't think he had a right to write things that he did. He came to me after he got fired.
[Note from Mike: Parrott was the Pilots' manager of ticket sales, the same role he played with the Dodgers. His book is not flattering to Dewey Soriano. I can't speak to its accuracy, but it's an interesting read and is currently in print.]
Did you know the Sorianos very well?
I knew Dewey. I liked him.
Were they well liked by the other owners?
They weren't around long enough for many people to make a decision on them. But you've got to keep in mind, they couldn't compete with the Wrigleys, the Galbreathsyou know, those multi-millionaires of the days. With the size of their ballpark, there's no way they could have competed with those people. I don't think it was a matter of like or dislike, I think people felt sorry for them. Dewey had a good reputation in baseball. Max, I don't know about, because no one knew Max in baseball. Dewey's rapport with the baseball people was good. He lacked one thing that a lot of clubs lack today: money.
Were you at the meetings where the move of the Pilots was discussed?
They took it up in joint meetings, because both leagues had to approve. Somebody, it may have been Walter O'Malley, said should we move, we should be ready to put another club in Seattle: 'to protect our rear ends'that's the way he put it.
What was the mood of the owners? Were they concerned about the situation?
They were concerned about the Sorianos' financial background. They just didn't think they had the wherewithall to make it a success. And they were right and I think Dewey would admit that.
Were they angry?
I think the Executive Council thought that they were doing the Sorianos a favor.
Sandy Hadden was legal counsel for baseball and he allegedly said that if the City sued over the Pilots' move, Seattle will never get another team. Is that true?
In the last meeting I was in, I'm sure it was Walter and John Galbreath who said should we move the club, then at the next expansion, Seattle should be considered. That was to get everybody off the hook. But I don't think that it was ever said&3133;if Sandy said it, he had no authority to say it. Knowing Sandy as I did, I don't think he would have said that.
Did the owners take the lawsuit seriously?
Oh, they took it seriously all right. Number one, it could have been a black eye to baseball, it could have been a financial setback for a lot of them. I know that the thinking was that if it should come to a case where some judge had to make a decision, Seattle would get another franchise. That's what the battle was about. That's the way it turned out.
Were the owners disappointed with the attendance in Seattle?
Yes, because we had minor league clubs that did that well. The Montreal club in the 1950s did 650,000 or 700,000. The Kansas City team did well. We owned the Los Angeles club, they did 600,000. That's what concerned everybody in comparison.
In The Seattle Times, you said one year was not a fair test.
It absolutely wasn't. First of all, what did that ballpark hold? 20,000? I do not think baseball did anything to help the Soriano brothers. I don't think they did things arbitrarily, but I don't think they went out of their way to help them.
Why do you say that?
The attitude of the meetings. It wasn't that they disliked them. People who never ran minor league clubs, who never ran ballclubs before were involved and they didn't realize that it takes time, it just takes time to let people in your area understand that this is a major league franchise. We didn't have time to get the people in Vancouver interested in the Seattle baseball club. You can't do it in one year, it's impossible. That's why I say they didn't give the Sorianos enough time to acclimate themselves.
Why did Seattle do so well in the minors and not the majors?
That's just like Montreal. We did six, seven hundred thousand every year and everybody thought it was going to be a great town. Well, as soon as they got in the big leagues, it wasn't a great town. Montreal was a minor league town, Seattle was a minor league town for so many years. All of a sudden they went big-time. There were a lot of people in Montreal, and I'm sure Seattle, who resent the fact that the big leagues invaded their territory. And here in San Diego.
The Padres didn't draw well their first years.
Because major league baseball was not a novelty down here. If I wanted to go to the baseball game and I lived here, I'd go to Anaheim 80 miles away to see a game. I didn't have to stay here.
How can Seattle draw 677,000 and Denver draw 4.5 million?
What else is there to do in Denver? There's no fishing, there's no sailing, there's no boating. There's no activity in the summertime. In Seattle, there's so many things to do in the summertime.
Why did the owners consider Seattle "a plum?"
First of all, it was virgin territory for television. Everybody thought it was going to be a great territorylike Denver. Number two, they thought people would come in there by the thousands on the weekend from Vancouver, Spokane, from all the cities around there. Within three and half hours driving time, you've got a lot of people.
Why did so many cities try to get teams in the early 1960s?
In the '50s and '60s, baseball was in good financial stead. A lot of clubs were making money because they aren't paying players what we are today. Television just started to take effect. We owned, the Dodgers when I was there, we owned the Atlanta minor league club and we sold it for $250,000, so that the people who bought it could become a major league club. We sold it to the parties who were interested in the Continental League. Of course then, it didn't get off the ground and Mr. Rickey knew he wasn't going to get off the ground, but he was just hoping something could happen. First of all, he had Jack Kent Cooke with him and Cooke had been turned down because he wanted the Mets. He wanted to move his Tornoto minor league club to New York and they wouldn't let him do it. I don't think Jack Kent Cooke or Mr. Rickey really thought they had a chance to start the Continental League.
Why were they doing it then?
They were trying to get Jack Kent Cooke a franchise. They thought that might be a way to do it.
Where did William Shea fit in there?
Bill Shea? He was the lawyer. As a matter of fact, he was the one that got New York to build Shea Stadium. He was a good friend of the Dodgers, he used to come to the games all the time.
If you don't mind, I'd like to do a little free association. I'll throw out the names of some owners and you tell me your impressions of them. Let's start with Bob Short.
Bob Short was a baseball fan who knew very little about the game. Great in the trucking industry. He did one thing that every baseball owner should have done: turned his operation over to baseball people. He never came to very many meetings, but when he did, he always had something to say and he made sense.
I think his interest was financial more than anything else. I think he was concerned about the finances of the Baltimore club rather than anything else and did everything to protect his own interests. I'm not sure that he knew enough about baseball to concern himself about the game itself, but he was a good financial man.
Charlie Finley was great. Charlie said what he thought, although he wasn't always correct. He did things the way he wanted to do them and that was it. It was his ballclub and Charlie felt he could do anything he wanted with itand he got away with it and was successful. Charlie proved that you didn't need 100 scouts, all you needed was five good ones.
You said in your book that baseball has become more a business than a sport.
I just can't believe that any player is worth $6 or 7 million. Because I compare them with the players I had. I don't see a Gil Hodges or a Duke Snider or a Jackie Robinson or a Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle around today. I don't see any of them. The most I paid Jackie Robinson was $38,000. It's a business on both sides. Players today are motivated by money. In the '50s and the '40s and the '30s, they were motivated by pride.
How much does a major league team mean to a community?
I can tell you just by spring training how much it means. I went down to Vero Beach and put that camp down there in 1947. First year, there was 4,000 people in that town. Today, it's about 70,000. Take the city of Yuma. There was 12,000 people over there when we went in with the Padres to train. Today, there's about--in the area--about 120,000 people. It's a remarkable asset to the community. When we were in the World Seriesthe first World Series out here in Californiawe played here for three days, it was two, three and two. We had the three games in L.A., the city said those three days were worth $155 million to them. You've got to figure out transportation, food, hotels, shopping, tickets, it's a big business. You take a town like Seattle. When a visiting club comes in there, they don't only bring the 50 people working for them. They bring in maybe 50 or 100 fans. Another thing. Seattle has a Chamber of Commerce. They spend a lot of money advertising for the city of Seattle. Here, you get datelines for 162 times a year. Every paper in the country, it says "Seattle" if you play a game. Where can you buy that kind of publicity?
Does it mean something to a community beyond money, though?
I think a lot of it is pride, of course. Every city's proud to have a major league franchise, whether it be football, basketball or hockey, whatever it is. I think the biggest thing is money--not only for the city itself, but for the people in town. I'm talking the restaurants, hotels, taxi drivers, everybody's making money.
Does the anti-trust exemption still mean anything to baseball?
I don't think it means a damn thing myself, but they seem to think it does. They were afraid that a club would pick up and move from town to town. That's one thing they were afraid of. Well, let them move from town to town, but don't play them, that's all. We think of silly things: how would the minor leagues be affected? The minor leagues wouldn't be affected at allit would help the minor leagues. You take that Senator Metzenbaum from Ohio. He was the one that started this investigation. He didn't do it seven years ago when he had a piece of the Cleveland club, did he?