I met Dewey Soriano in August 1994, at his daughter Cathi's home in Seattle. Of all the interviews I had planned, I was looking forward to this one the most, because no one had better first-hand knowledge of the inner-workings of the Pilots. Cathi had warned me on the phone that her father was in the early stages of Alzheimer's Disease but I wanted to go ahead with the interview anyway and she agreed. I'm not sure whether I caught him on a good day or he still had good long-term memory at that point, but I had done extensive research beforehand and so I knew that his recall was very good. Before we started, he said not to hold back if I had any tough questions and he answered everything I asked. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and he seemed to also. Dewey Soriano died in 1998.
Why were you calling for a domed stadium in 1957?
We get rain here in Seattle at certain times and it was necessary to take care of the people. I wanted a domed stadium where they could go sit down there and enjoy.
Branch Rickey and Bill Shea were trying to get the Continental League together about the same time. Did you have any contact with them?
No. There was some talk about trying to take in Seattle and there were people in Seattle who would say that they were interested in this and they were interested in that, but it was just to get their name in the paper.
Jumping ahead a little, was Gabe Paul serious about moving the Indians here in 1964?
He was very serious about it and the question was the agreement that they had in Cleveland.
Do you remember how the accompanying ticket drive got started?
What they do on the major league level, he was wanting to see if it could be done here. Gabe Paul was a good guy to sit down and talk and he would tell you exactly where you were making your mistakes. He actually liked Seattle very much. He liked the idea of going out in the harbor and fishing. He liked that.
Buzzie Bavasi said Gabe Paul wasn't serious about moving to Seattle.
All I can go by is Gabe Paul and Gabe told me, "look, Dewey, I am ready to go." In Cleveland, they were having a tough time as far as getting good crowds like they used to have. When Gabe tells you, you have to believe him because he would never lie to anybody.
Were you going to go to work for the Indians if they moved?
Gabe and I were very good friends. He asked me to think possibly about coming out. I said "I've got to be very honest with you, I pilot ships." I was working here and doing different jobs and there just wasn't a finer place to work. Gabe Paul and I were great friends, but it wasn't what I wanted on the major league level.
[Note from Mike: Soriano was a licensed ship's pilot.]
There was a rumor that the Milwaukee Braves were also considering moving here before deciding on Atlanta. Do you know if that's true?
I heard that, but I never saw it.
Did you and Max appy for a National League franchise in 1965?
We did. We just felt very strongly, hey, we wanted to see it in Seattle. It would have been good. They had a good bunch of players in the National League and that's the thing that helps you draw in your attendance.
What came of it?
Some of the teams then in the National League really went to work and stopped our growth. They said, we have more people, which they did in the larger cities. Joe Cronin came to me and Max and he felt that our time would come and he was very strong about it. He said, look, I'm going tell you right now, I figure it's going to be here in Seattle.
Did you have any idea that the American League would expand?
I could not see that they wouldn't. It had to come sooner or later.
Was there really a fight between the leagues for the Seattle territory, with the National League wanting a team here for Buzzie Bavasi and the American League wanting you?
That was a newspaper creation.
Max said Bavasi was never mentioned by Joe Cronin or anyone else.
But the fact that the National League was interested in the territory helped you?
Yes. It didn't hurt us in any way.
[Note from Mike: Dewey and Max Soriano agreed on this point, but Bavasi said that he could have put a National League team in Seattle. It's just my opinion, but I think the discrepancy arises because there were discussions at the major league level of which the Sorianos were unaware.]
Were you involved when Charlie Finley was thinking about moving the A's to Seattle.
I met Mr. Finley at the airport and he talked and talked, but he was very serious about it.
[Note from Mike: Here's a 1967 letter from Charlie Finley, in which he tells Seattle officials what it will take for the A's to move to Seattle. About a month after this letter, he decided to move to Oakland.]
How helpful were the American League owners when you applied for an expansion franchise?
Most of the American League owners would tell us anything they could do for us, they'd like to help us, because they wanted us in the league. The people in baseball were very fair to us and we had to have help from them. Certain players we wanted to get off their clubs, we would work out deals and, when we could, start moving players.
Before you got the team, you and Max purchased Northwest Guaranty Savings & Loan. How did that help your status with the league, if it did?
Max did a good job raising money and that's what he was doing there. Showing strength to the rest of the American League clubs and the commissioner. The commissioner was very interested in everything we did and wanted to make sure that we would hold our ground and do a good job.
How did you first get hooked up with Bill Daley?
Through Gabe Paul. Gabe and Mr. Daley were very close friends and he had an interest in the Cleveland club. He came out here and saw what we were doing and liked what we were doing.
So, he approached you about being part of the Pilots?
Yeah, he was very interested.
How did that work?
I told him we'd have to sit down and talk about whether we could work out something or not. He was just an honorable man to deal with, he was a terrific guy. He loved baseball.
Did he come out here in 1964 with Gabe Paul?
He came out here himself and he came out here with Gabe Paul.
How much was Daley worth financially?
Many millions. I couldn't tell you how much. He was substantial.
Paint me a picture of the 1967 meeting where you got the franchise.
The meeting lasted several days. We were so excited about being considered and then coming out with a franchise. They needed another club and they had seen what we were doing. We wanted to come into the major leagues strong.
What goes on at those meetings?
They would ask questions and we would answer and tell them what our stability was. There was no problem at the time, because we sent a monthly record to the major league clubs, so they knew where we were standing. They wanted to hear from us because our investments and everything else were very good. We could come up and show them this is what we've so much in the bank from such-and-such a time to such-and-such a time. When they came in, they figured hey, we're going to make money here.
[Note from Mike: The record to which he referred concerned his operation of the Pacific Coast League's Seattle Angels.]
Did you have any doubts that you were going to get the franchise?
Not at that time, no. Gabe Paul helped us tremendously. He knew so much about our club and the owners and everything else. It was very important to have him with us, because he knew everybody for so many years and they all had tremendous respect for Gabe.
This was April of 1967?
Yeah. The big thing was to have enough money to do the job that you have to do on the major league level. We had people that were very much interested in seeing baseball come to Seattle, which was important for all of us.
How did you feel when the franchise was officially awarded?
I was happy as heck. It was a thrill to have major league baseball in our area. Gosh. You don't sleep very much, I'll tell you that, because you get going and playing and you want to get players that can really help the club.
Whose idea was it to bring Mickey Mantle and the other players out?
I went to Joe Cronin and told him that it would be very helpful. He said, okay, we'll get them for you, because he agreed with us. We took them all over the area and every place we went it was a loaded room. People wanted to hear them and it was wonderful for us.
Where did you take them?
We took them to high schools and the University of Washington, we took them all over the city, we took them to Boeing, we took them every place we could in Seattle. The interest was tremendous.
Were you nervous that the 1960 and 1966 stadium drives had failed?
I just felt it wasn't sold right. This is what we sold it on: this is another ballgame and we're going to win it.
Did it help that the American League had already awarded the franchise?
Yeah, everything's a help where you can get anything like that.
[Note from Mike: Dave Cohn was on the stadium site committee and accused the Sorianos of wanting a site south of the city because they owned property there and would benefit financially. He claimed that he was promised a chance to buy a minority interest in the Pilots but the Sorianos shut him out. You can read his side of the story.]
Moving onto the domed stadium, Dave Cohn said you and Max owned property at one of the south sites.
Dave Cohn does not know what I have or what I don't have and he's completely wrong. He was unhappy because we did not take him in.
Was Cohn promised a chance to buy part of the team?
His name was not brought to me about getting into the club. I would not have accepted Dave. I did not like the way he operated. He and I did not get along personally. I just didn't care for his thinking, it wasn't professional. He knew nothing about stadiums or anything else, how to build them or what would be best for us.
So, nobody in baseball mentioned him as a must-have partner?
No. Had they done it, why, I would have to say that I would have a talk with him, but nobody had. So, we kept our distance from him.
Were you worried that it was taking so long to find a site?
No. As long as it was on the major league level, we were happy.
Were you close to the people behind the Forward Thrust initiative?
We talked, but not too much.
Can you tell me about the situation in Tempe with E.B. Smith?
We didn't know him very well or his ways of doing business. We didn't want to get involved with somebody that wanted to keep everything but not tell us anything, so it just didn't work out. We had a lot of people that were against us because we didn't live in that area or something, but we did have our club there in spring training.
Why didn't the Pilots draw better at home?
I can't say, because we certainly tried. We talked all over the area, trying to get people to come out and see the team play. When there was a strong team coming in, we always picked up some because they wanted to see the good players on the other team. There's no question when you come in like we did, you had to be like a number one team and we never had the players to put us up to number one.
Was Sick's Stadium really in terrible shape? For example, I've heard the toilets wouldn't flush in the late innings.
They were very bad and you'd go to the City and ask them to do something and ask them to do something and we got nothing done. They'd say, 'we've already taken care of that' and they hadn't. The City was horrible. It was a disgrace. You couldn't sit down because the seats weren't even fixed. We begged the City to get things straightened out, but they never would do it. They had an agreement that they were going to do it, but they never showed up. You'd go into the left field bleachers and it was horrible out there. Mr. Sick was very unhappy because he wanted everything done first classbecause the city had promised it and they didn't do it! I got ripped a few times on it and I have to be the one to get ripped because I'm the that was doing all the talking. I would tell Mr. Sick anytime I had a problem coming up and he was very unhappy with the City because they would fumble everything.
Why do you think that was?
That's something I'll never know, because they wouldn't tell me. They certainly did not honor their contract that they had with us or anything else. It was a bad situation and it should never had gone that way. Maybe they didn't like us. They may have had some other people that they wished had the club instead of us. I have strong feelings about it because it could have been a much better arrangement as far as we were concerned. We'd go out there and it'd be all muddy around home plate. It was a bad arrangement and that was too bad because they could have put it in good shape and it would have been very helpful to us and the visiting team. Maybe it was a tough time, but, hey, listen, we could have done much better if the stadium was brought to first class condition. Players can get hurt pretty good, too, when they play in a stadium that hasn't been built properly.
Were people indifferent because you and Max weren't part of the establishment?
Yeah, we sometimes weren't asked to be in meetings with the establishment, but what we were doing was really good for the entire Pacific Northwest, the state of Washington and even down to Oregon and up to Canada.
Were the ticket prices too high?
I didn't feel it was unfair, because he had to make so much in income. The people that came out never told me that the ticket price was too high.
What was your reaction when Daley told fans that they had one more year to prove themselves?
That wasn't a good statement and I told him it wasn't a good statement, because that hurt. To prove themselves? From an owner? I'm gonna give you one more year? He and I differed on that because I wanted the team to grow and I knew we needed some help. I told him, I said, "that makes it awful tough for everybody in the game." He said, 'do you think it shouldn't have been said?' I said, "Bill, I have to tell you, I don't think it should have ever been said." The fans here, you can't knock them for the number of times that they've been out to the ballgame and that's what bothered me.
Why didn't Daley kick in more money to keep the team going?
I thought he was going to. I told him we were going to need more money for the club. I don't know whether I may have made him unhappy there, but there are times when you've got to come up with some money to make sure that everything is in good working order.
He could have at least guaranteed the loans to keep the team here.
His problem was that the City never did do what they had promised to do, so you had a conflict. He would go over everything they promised to do and they didn't and this would make him very unhappy.
Was he angry?
Once he decided that he wanted out and offered to sell his share in the team to local owners, no one stepped forward. Why do think that was?
I don't know. Some of those people were darned interested in bringing major league baseball, then when you ask them to purchase an interest, they would drop off. I don't know why, because they wouldn't express it to us.
How do you feel about the charge that the team was mismanaged?
We weren't mismanaged. Everything that we did money-wise, we controlled that with Mr. Daley or the owners. I would talk to my friend Gabe Paul and he said, if you can get that player, you've got a good one coming and things like that. I wanted to win and I wanted to get the club into the first division--get them up high and get more people coming to the park.
I think they meant financially.
I wasn't deeply concerned about it because I figured we could pay off the loans the way we were coming. I honestly felt very strongly. There were people who actually had told me that they were really interested in the baseball club and they wanted to buy us out. But they didn't come up with the money to buy us out. We wanted to win, we wanted to stay and everything else, but when everything was worked up, we just didn't get the help that we needed to take care of the loans.
In his book, Harold Parrott said you were a fast buck artist and were taking advantage of Daley.
(laughs) You didn't take advantage of Mr. Daley.
When you found out that Sportservice wouldn't be able to be the concessionaire at the new stadium without going through a competitive bidding process, you said that if Sportservice didn't go into the dome then the Pilots wouldn't go into the dome. Was that really a factor in the team moving?
No, no. Some people were making statements, but they didn't know what we had sat down and done. I didn't want to lose anything here, because I wanted baseball here. That's the problem you have, a lot of people are second-guessing, but they don't know what you had to do or how you can come out of it. We wanted the club to be here and in first class condition.
Were you surprised when the owners said no to the Carlson group and left you in charge?
Yeah. It surprised me. One day you're no good, the next day you're back in the game. It's kind of a strange thing, you know?
Were they just trying to buy time?
They were also checking our books and they found we were not bad operators. That's the important thing of it. When they looked at all the papers and everything we laid before them, they had to change their statement, because, first of all, we weren't bad operators. Max worked like heck on it, I worked awfully hard.
The League appointed Roy Hamey to oversee the operation, but some say that he was really sent here to run the team into the ground so they could move it more easily.
No. Roy Hamey was a good operator. I knew him for a long time and he was a good man.
How did you feel about suddenly being the bad guy?
Well, you don't like that. We never thought we were bad guys because we did bring the team out here. Our only problem was big problem with the city not finishing the work that they had promised. We tried to do everything we could to bring outstanding baseball here. Yeah, we got hurt when we were knocked, because it was not a bad operation.
Minus depreciation of player contracts for tax purposes, the Pilots only lost $150 to $200 thousand That's not much.
Yeah, but when you don't have any money, it's a heck of a lot.
Not to William Daley.
He wasn't a well man and he was thinking about getting out. He and I walked down the street downtown, Pike Street, and he said he had baseball and home and this one out here and he just felt it was too much for him. It was a tough arrangement to lose him.
How did the deal with Milwaukee come about?
I went to Milwaukee and Selig met me at the airportin fact, I slept at his home that nightand I could see now that money would be found and money would straighten out that whole thing. And that's what happened. It was a good thing for them and it was a good thing for us. As badly as I hated to be out of baseball, the thing to do was to get out because we didn't have the money to continue.
So, Daley knew that you were trying to sell the club?
Oh yeah, because wanted us to sell. He just said, keep me posted. We said, they're here at the World Series, why don't we sit and talk to them because they're looking for a club. So we got together and talked and made we a deal with them and we shook hands. Bill Daley was with me 100 percent after I told him we shook hands. We didn't do anything that was wrong in my opinion. We made some money off the sale so it helped us take care of some of the bills that we owed.
The owners knew there was a deal, even though they said the Pilots would stay?
I'm sure they did, because I'm sure that Bill would talk to them.
Why would they say that?
I didn't know they were making those kinds of statements. I don't know how the hell we could stay; we didn't have any money.
Do you regret things not working out?
Baseball was my life. I used to work out there when I was a kid, selling food and everything. I played with the Rainiers, the Seattle club. It was just a wonderful sport the way I looked at it. I never dreamed that we'd get so far, because it takes a lot of money to run a club. I know that. We certainly did our best. Max worked awfully hard; he did a good job.
Do you have a really good memory from that time?
The fact that we were in was a tremendous thing for us and Joe Cronin helped us there. I had tremendous respect for him and I'm sorry he's gone. He really helped us every way he could. If it wasn't for Joe we wouldn't have had any chance to probably get in there.