Fred Brack has a deep resume as a reporter and editor. In addition to his stints at the New York Post and Los Angeles Times, he has co-authored two cookbooks and contributed to many national magazines. In 1976, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer assigned him to cover the trial that arose from the Pilots' move to Milwaukee. I spoke to him by phone in January 1994.
Was there much interest in the trial?
Oh sure, there was a great deal of interest because of baseball as a subject; the flight of the Pilots from the city of Seattle after one season; the fact that the Kingdome was going to be sitting there without a prime tenant all of that hyped interest. This trial, in terms of courtroom drama, though, really didn't have much. It did involve some well-known personalities, of course, the president of the American League and various baseball owners, so that in and of itself drew interest. When these fellows would appear for their day on the stand, usually I could get a little more space in the newspaper to write about the testimony.
Did the national media cover this story?
I don't recall that there were any national reporters from other publications at the trial itself. I think they picked it off the wire services, which were primarly a re-hash of my writings for the P-I or someone writing for the Times or the Everett paper. I covered the trial from beginning to end.
I'd like to do a little free association. I'll throw out a name and tell me if anything comes to mind. Texas Rangers owner, Bob Short.
What I remember most vividly about Bob Short is not his testimony. In fact, the testimony, by and large, I don't remember from anybody, because it was somewhat tedious, going through details. Nobody rose in the courtroom and shouted out, as in Perry Mason, 'okay, you've got me, I confess!' As I covered the trial, I tried to humanize the participants with descriptions and so forth. I recall saying that Bob Shorteither his complexion or his waistline, or bothspoke of good bourbon and beef. The day after he testified, he saw me in the hallway ouside of the courtroom and laughed and came up to me and said, "it was scotch, not bourbon." He was very jovial about it.
[Note from Mike: I asked about Bob Short because he was one of the owners least sympathetic to keeping the Pilots in Seattle. In 1972, he would move the Washington Senators to Texas, the last major league team that moved until the Montreal Expos transferred to Washington in 2005.]
How about Joe Cronin?
Let me set some background here. The most vivid impression I have of the trial was to watch what I came to understand very early on was a genius as a trial lawyer and that was Bill Dwyer. While I covered trials from time to time in my newspaper career, most of the time I was an editor so I didn't have a heck of a lot of courtroom experience as a reporter and nothing had prepared me for a big, complex case like this and nothing had prepared me for Bill Dwyer.
Our impressions of attorneys are formed by fictional pieces in movies or television or books or hearing interviews with some of the more flamboyant trial attorneys who are contemporaneous with usin my case, people like Mel Belli or Louis Nizer. Here comes Bill Dwyer and he was so mild-mannered, so well-behaved in the courtroom, he was the absolute opposite of flamboyant. He was respectful of everybody in the courtroom--the judge, the other attorneys, the jury, press, everybody. He was very polite. He was so well-prepared, that it was breathtaking. Most attorneys in a trial dealing with a difficult subject, the long depositions, discovery processes and lots of documents and everything they have stacked around if they're examining a witness and they have to refer to a deposition or something, they fumble through papers, they try to find documents and they ask one of their associates who passes them notes and so forth. Bill Dwyer was so well-prepared and had such a brilliant mind that, in my memory, he never did that once in the trial. When questioning a witness, he could pin-point, without pause, say, 'isn't it true that you testified in your deposition...' Bingo. He could do that from memory. He was so well-prepared that it was just awesome.
He also examined witnesses with no flamboyance. His general pattern in examining a witness was to stand behind the counsel table with his suit coat buttoned and his hands loosely held behind his back, a very level voice and very respectful, deferential evenhe was dealing with the lords of baseball after allbut firmly ask them questions. I don't recall where I heard this, but as I recall, the judge in the case, at one point in the trial, fairly early on asked Bill Dwyer in judge's chambers, 'would you like me to interupt these witnesses and tell them to respond to your questions?' Bill's answer was 'no, that's fine, let them say what they want to say.' The reason he did this is that it was clear Bill Dwyer had devised a legal theory behind this case that was unique in courtroom annals in America. To buttress the evidence for this theory, he relied on the testimony of the witnessesthe lords of baseball. He would ask them questionsvery good questions, never long, difficult, never argumentative as you see in courtroom cases on television or in movies. He would ask them simple questions but very pointed. The witnesses would, if they comprehended the question, which often they did, would begin to squirm and try to avoid answering that question because to answer it directly and forthrightly would not do their case any good. It would buttress Bill Dwyer's case. So, they would go on at great length to try to evade and they'd spin out stories and they'd go off and they'd forget and everything else. And Bill Dwyer would never interupt them. He would never say, 'just answer the question.' He would let them go until they ran out of breath. And then he would say very quietly, but firmly, "now, the question was " and re-state the question. And then they would go on frequently and do the whole thing againa five-minute answer, a six-minute answer was not unusual. And Bill Dwyer would say, "now, the question was " and re-state the question. They couldn't evade answering the question, they couldn't evade truth. That was the impression that was made so vividly in that courtroom: they couldn't evade the truth. I do recall a couple of occasions, I think, the judge himself got impatient and just leaned over the bench and said "that wasn't the question."
With that as a background Joe Cronin takes the stand, a forward-faced amiable man with a well-known name for those people like me who were baseball fans and knew the history of baseballthe famed Joe Cronin, there he is sitting up there and testifying as the president of the American League. He was one of the few people, the only one in my memory, who consistently evaded questions but I'm not sure he knew why he was evading them. I'm not sure he, frankly, was bright enough or understood the issues in the case well enough to know where his testimony was hurting or where it was helping. His answers, if they tended to ramble on or evade the point, were not necessarily made because it was a deliberate evasion, it was just because perhaps he did not understand it.
At the end of this, what was clear during Cronin's testimony was that he was doing great damage to the American League's case, even though he was the American League president. At the end of his testimony, when he was dismissed from the stand, he rosein front of the juryhe rose from the witness stand, climbed down, walked across the courtroom and stuck out his hand and shook Bill Dwyer's hand in front of the jury, after making a fool of himself, frankly, in his testimony. To me, that was a breathtaking moment and the most vivid moment I've ever had in a courtroom because it's hard to imagine anything like that happening. To go to the opposition attorney and shake his handin front of the jury! Now, what did the jury think of that? Well, they must have thought, 'gee, this Bill Dwyer must have a pretty good case.' I still find it almost unbelievable that it happened, but it happened and it was delightful to watch.
I wonder why did he did that?
I think if you ask Dwyer, he would say Cronin was just a genial fellow and he was used to being nice to people. Hanging around lots of men in social and business occasions and just used to being jovial Joe Cronin. But also because Bill Dwyer had been so respectful and deferential to him as he examined him. He probably felt at the end of his testimony that he and Bill Dwyer had just had a hell of a good conversation. From that moment on, I knew that Dwyer would win the case if it ever went to the jury.
What other memories do you have of the trial?
Interviewing the jurors afterward. These are what would be described in the media as 'ordinary people,' dealing with this case of great importance and a complicated case with lots of testimony and difficult things to understand and theories you have to grasp and hypotheses and so forth. I was impressed by the jurorshow seriously they took it; how well they understood the case and the issues in the case; how well they recollected the testimony; and how firmly they were on Bill Dwyer's side. I phrase it that way, as opposed to saying 'on the State of Washington's' or 'King County's side,' or 'the side suing baseball,' because a good trial attorney becomes the personification of the case in a jury's eyes. It sways the jury. You kind of pick out the lawyers you like best in some ways, regardless of the testimony and you kind of pull for them to win. I think that's a fairly common psychology and recognized as such. This jury was clearly in Bill Dwyer's pocket from almost the opening moment from his opening statement.
Do you remember the attorneys for the American League?
They were not from Manhattan or Beverly Hills or anything, but there was a certain impression that 'we're famous, big-time, powerful attorneys here from the big city of Cleveland and we've come to Everett to deal a little bit with you yokels in this case.' There was just a little tinge of that kind of attitude. As I recall, they were one of the leading anti-trust law firms in the country. There was a frustration level as the trial went on. You could see it growing in them in their manner in the courtroom as they jumped up, 'I object, your honor!' The tone of voice and so forth. My impression was that they probably thought they were major league and they found themselves in over their head going up against Bill Dwyer. I also suspect that the reason they were in the courtroom at all was that they probably told the American League, 'oh look, you guys, we'll go win this one for you, this will be easy, you don't have to worry about this one.'
What were your impressions of the owners?
They were confident, clearly and perhaps a bit arrogant. These are the lords of baseball. These are powerful people in their own world. They're CEOs, they're entrepeneurs, they're owners. They own baseball. It's theirs, it's not the national pasttime, it doesn't belong to the fans or the public or anyone else. So, their attitude in any kind of a contest like this is always like the barons of medieval Europe. They're above reproach, above question, above discussion. This is their business, they can do whatever the hell they want. That's an attitude which prevails today and has prevailed as long as I've followed baseball and any kind of public spotlight falls on them.
We, the fans and sometimes the press tend to look on these fellows as stewards of the game and sometimes they present themselves that way for a public relations ploy. But that's not the way they see it. They were clearly impatient with being in this case, being called to Everett to testify, for God's sakes. Bud Selig, for example, who was the principal in the Milwaukee Brewers, which had been the Seattle Pilots. Bud Selig is, I think, by conventional standards, a very bright fellow--and I think Bill Dwyer found him so. I looked at him and found him appalling with his arrogance. He sat there with his legs crossed, Gucci loafer dangling off one toe and very impatient with Bill Dwyer, very argumentative on the stand. While he was fluent and clearly bright in a conventional manner, if I had been a juror, I would have been annoyed with him. He would have irritated me a great deal because of his attitude, which was he wanted to argue with every premise, every question. He just seemed impatient with the whole idea. Who do you think you are, putting me on the stand? They are not an egalitarian society. Baseball owners as a whole, and most of them individually, are not very appetizing people in an egalitarian society.
Who did you think was right in the case?
It was clear from the testimony in the case and the evidence in the case, that the American League had grievously wronged the citizens and voters and taxpayers of the State of Washington, the County of King and the City of Seattle. There's no question about that, that they had induced or helped induce these taxpayers to build this stadium, promised them a team and never gave the team a chance to succeed in the city of Seattle. They simply jerked it out without regard for their obligations in what was clearly an implied, if not an explicit contract with the citizens and taxpayers of the state of Washington and King County. Bill Dwyer did a brilliant job of doing that. This was a novel legal theory that he pursued that they had this contract. He did a magnificent job of demonstrating that during the trial, up to the point where the American League caved in.
Did the settlement come as a surprise?
I think that the jury was surprised. My impression, in talking to jurors, was that they were a little disappointed. Because the case then had been taken out of their hands and the decision had been taken out of their hands and they had devoted themselves to this case with such seriousness and had done their duty so well to that point that suddenly they were just waived away as minor actors.
Were you disappointed?
I was perhaps a little tired of sitting in the courtroom every day on those hard wooden benches. As a baseball fan, I was happy to see major league baseball coming to Seattlewhich was, after all, the objective, not to get a big pile of money. Money provided nothing for the people of the area and a baseball game did.
Was there a lot of public support for taking the case to trial?
Sure there was public support, both in terms of baseball fans and taxpayer. If you were a baseball fan or a taxpayer you had to feel that you had been screwed by the American League.
What do you see as the importance of a major league team to a city?
It's probably overrated in saying you can't proclaim yourself a major league city without a major league team. It may also be true that the economic impact of a major league team is probably generally overstated because of those studies that tend to be done by people who support the idea of having a team. I see studies that are done by people who are consultants or academics who are not hired or on the side of baseball and they tend to come up with different figures on the economic impact and they tend to be lower.
My feeling about the benefit of a major league baseball team is, it has a tremendous impact on a community in terms of its public festivities. Their going to a baseball game is an act of community celebration. It's a community activity. You go there with tens of thousands of other people from the community and you cheer on your guys, your team. It's a way of community-building. There's a sense that you're part of a larger community than you are when you're stuck in your home or your apartment. Human history goes back a long time and these sorts of festivals, often athletic festivals, bring us together in an important part of our social organization, because they exist in all civilizations, at every level and it's one of the most important things that a large city has to offer its citizens. Clearly it means something to us as social animals to come together and have these kinds of festivals and celebrations. It means a heck of a lot on that level.
Does baseball's famed anti-trust exemption also bring responsibilities?
First I don't think it should exist, purely on the basis that it was clearly an erroneous decision by the Supreme Court. A strange decision. The original decision was written by Holmes, a famous jurist and it's a blot on constitutional history and the Supreme Court. In my view, that stain should be removed for that reason alone. I'm not sure it conveys more responsibilities on the owners of baseball than they would otherwise have. I think they have huge responsibilities toward the nation and their cities and their fans and the taxpayers and the citizens and they just don't see it in those terms and it's unfortunate.
What are those responsibilities?
They are stewards of the game, they don't own the game and this is a bit difficult for them to understand. They don't own major league baseball even though it's copyrighted and trademarked and all that. Major League Baseball is part of the warp and woof of the history of this country. In fact, for lots of people in this country, their sense of history of their nation is carried to them by their sense of history of baseball. It's baseball that provides continuity and historical perspective for lots of citizens. Owners come and go and players come and go and fans live and die and baseball survives. Any time a person owns a baseball club, they didn't begin it, they didn't begin the sport and when they leave this mortal coil or leave baseball, baseball goes on without them. I think that baseball owners have a responsibility of stewardship of the game, of keeping the game vital, alive, close to the fans, economically viable and spreading the game. I think, for example, we have far fewer major league teams in this nation than we should have. Many more communities could support and would support a major league baseball team and they ought to have it. If you live in Montana someplace or upstate New York, you're rooting for team that may be hundreds or thousands of miles from where you are and it's nice to have your own team in your own community and we should have many more.