Seattle attorney Jerry McNaul's involvement in the Pilots story didn't come until after the team had left for Milwaukee. He was tabbed by William Dwyer to help him represent the State of Washington in the lawsuit against the American League, which resulted in the Mariners coming to Seattle in 1977. I interviewed Jerry in his downtown office on January 10, 1994.
How did you first get involved with the case?
I had been at the firm a matter of a few weeks when Bill Dwyer, much to my surprise, asked me what I was doing and asked me if I would go down to Tampa, Florida and serve a restraining order on the American League and its member clubs, to prevent them from moving the franchise out of the City of Seattle. That was around January or thereabouts, 1970, and then I worked with Bill on the case from that point to the conclusion.
How did the owners take to being served?
Let me set the scene for you a little bit. I arrived in Tampa and the only thing we knew was the hotel where the meeting was supposed to take place. I still recall sitting in the lobby of the hotel, feeling like I was in a "B" grade movie--with a newspaper conspicuously blocking my face, listening to the club owners milling around in the lobby, saying things to the effect that, "we hear that there's going to be somebody from Seattle down here serving us today and what should we do about it" and so forth. It dawned on me then that I would play hell getting into the conference room where the League meeting was to take place if I waited for those people to beat me there. So, I was able to find out which specific room the meeting was going in to be and went into the room, introduced myself to the League attorney who was already there, told him why I was there and then over the next thirty minutes or so, the individual club owners began filtering into the room. The League attorney was a complete gentleman about it, explained at the beginning of the meeting who I was and why I was there. Here I am, a kid of about 25 at the time, I had practiced in D.C. for a couple years, but this was the beginning of my private practice, and I stood up in front of the room and had a list of the representatives of each of the clubs and I would say, "would Mr. Autry please step forward?" Mr. Autry would step forward and would hand him the summons, the complaint and the restraining order. And "would Mr. So-and-So step forward?" I served them all with only about three exceptions. I recall serving Jerold Hoffberger of the Orioles as he and I were in the men's room together in adjacent urinals. [Washington Senators owner] Bob Short wasn't in the meeting at the time that I handed the restraining orders and papers out, but he and I walked side-by-side for about 150 feet down the aisle in the hotel with news cameras poring as I explained to him why I was there and he refused to accept the service of the restraining order. Finally, I basically just dropped it at his feet and said, "you're served." Apart from Short, they were all complete gentlemen about it.
Did the owners take the suit seriously?
Depends on what point in time you're talking about. I have to believe--and this is more intuitive than anything else--that at the beginning, they regarded us being more of a nuisance that posed an obstacle that it would take some time potentially to get around. I doubt that they had very much concern about the merits of the case, other than delaying their efforts to get the team out of Seattle. Dwyer is a masterful attorney and was creative in terms of coming up with a legal framework for the case and then developing a discovery record. I have to believe by the time those suede shoes arrived in Everett [Note from Mike: The trial was held at the Snohomish County courthouse in Everett], with us having survived most of the pre-trial motions, that they had to have some substantial concern. Bill took most of the depositions of the club owners and I took quite a number myself, but I have to believe that when they went through the experience of being examined under oath, they had to have some concern about it. Has anybody told you about the transcripts of the League meetings?
There are only portions in the court records.
The American League's attorneys had a court reporter present at each of their League meetings and they took down a verbatim transcript of what was being discussed. The League attorneys would use those transcripts in preparing the "official League minutes," which often times, for search of a better word, were sanitized versions of what really went on. Bill and I discovered that they had these transcripts...I still remember what a gold mine those transcripts were of what really was going on at a number of the key League meetings.
One of the most important meetings was one in January of 1970 in Oakland. Slade Gorton and Eddie Carlson and a group of leading political and business and community people from Seattle went down. They had a non-profit concept to keep the team in Seattle--a wide-based group of people in Seattle would buy the franchise operate it on a non-profit basis, which at the time was the anathema of major league baseball. You get very little of the flavor of what happened at the meeting [in the minutes] where the Carlson group and Gorton made their proposal to baseball. But the transcript of that meeting sheds an entirely different light on what was going on and the mentality of the League at the time. For example, when you read the transcript--and I'm going by memory now, this is 24 years ago--but I can tell you in substance what occured and that was the League invites the Seattle group in. The Seattle group makes their proposal for non-profit baseball in Seattle. The League's respresentatives respond in the presence of the Seattle group to the effect that, "this is the best thing that we've heard for a long time, nothing could please us more, it gives us an opportunity to keep baseball in Seattle which is what we obviously want, we are absolutely delighted. Now, gentlemen, all you have to do is satisfy these 11 or whatever conditions in 48 hours," or whatever the time frame was, "and then we'll be pleased to vote and we would expect an affirmative vote on keeping the team in Seattle. Carlson was a real shaker and mover and was able to get things done. But the interesting thing is--again, reading the transcript of the meeting--no sooner had the door closed than Bob Short made the statement to the general effect that, "well, I hope we gave these guys enough rope to hang themselves." We always felt that that would play rather well to any jury of regular people. Carlson and his group did, in fact, satisfy the conditions substantially and the League had no interest in selling.
How was this case different from the lawsuit that followed the move of the Milwaukee Braves to Atlanta?
The Milwaukee Braves case had a different legal foundation than ours. So much of our case dealt with the fact that American League representatives came out and participated in the Forward Thrust bond issue campaign and encouraged the electorate to vote to build a new stadium and were telling the electorate that "if you build a new stadium, if you commit yourself to doing that, you will have major league baseball playing in that stadium from the get-go." That was the third time that that domed stadium issue came on the ballot. Each of the other times, it had lost. On this occasion--and we believe because of the assurances of a prime tenant for the facility--the electorate voted it in. In a sense, the American League and its member clubs had made a commitment, whether its described as a contract or its described on promissory estoppel grounds, to have a prime tenant for us if we were to build a stadium--and they had breached that commitment. That wasn't the case at all in the Milwaukee litigation.
Did the League urge the stadium issue to pass?
Cronin was out here, Carl Yazstremski was out here on behalf of the League and they actually made statements that were published with an eye towards them being published and relied upon by the electorate on that stadium issue.
Between the time the Pilots left and the trial began, there were rumors that a couple of other teams, including the San Francisco Giants, might move to Seattle. Was baseball serious about putting another team in Seattle before the trial finally started?
I don't think the League was ever serious about putting another team in Seattle, other than as a means of extracating itself from our lawsuit. To the extent they were talking about putting another franchise here once the stadium was open, I think the only reason for that was because of the lawsuit. And that, of course, is what eventually happened--I believe the first time in the history of major league baseball that one of the leagues, in this instance, the American League voted to expand unilaterally. The two leagues had always expanded in tandem up to that point. They decided to expand unilaterally to create a new franchise in order to buy their way out of the suit.
Why did the local governments decide to go to the expense of a trial?
They were faced with the prospect of having a $40 million-plus facility without a prime tenant and that's a pretty scary prospect, particularly when you're dealing with taxpayer dollars.
Once the trial started, what was the mood inside and outside the court room?
One of the memories I have is several of the club owners coming up to Everett, which is a town of really regular people in it. These fellows are coming in with their major egos on their shoulder and their white bucks on their feet and lots of gold necklaces and things of that sort. We felt good about the case as we were going into the trial. We'd survived most all of the key pre-trial motions. We had some really good testimony, particularly based on those transcripts and we thought the evidence was coming in well. So, we felt good about it and I think at the same time, the League had to feel bad about how the case was going. I think that's the only reason they wanted to settle the case. The media interviewed several of the jurors after the case was settled and the jurors apparently were ready to string the American League and the clubs out. They were really upset. Now, in fairness, I say that based on the fact that we had presented a portion of our case--not the whole case--and the League hadn't had a chance to present its case. On the other hand, a lot of our witnesses were the American League club owners themselves and the League had an opportunity to and, in fact, did cross-examine their own people. They had a chance to have their side of the story told, even though it was in our case. I think it is instructive that the jury was very upset with what happened here. The mood in the courtroom, I think, at least we felt it was very much in our favor.
What was the A.L.'s legal strategy?
First of all, they were represented by very good, capable attorneys. Dave Wagoner at the Perkins firm was an experienced trial lawyer and a very bright guy. They also had the League attorneys and a major firm representing the League. They had to know that they couldn't out-work us, they had to know that we would do a good job. But I suspect what they did think was that going into it, that as a matter of law, even if our evidence was sexy, we wouldn't be able to win it--the legal principles weren't in our favor. When the jury applied the facts that they found to the instructions of the law given by the court that they'd win. But I think as things went in, they'd have to rethink that position.
I'd like to toss a few names at you, free association style: [Oakland A's owner] Charlie Finley.
Completely unpredictable and completely uncontrollable. I remember his deposition went for two days. Bill took it. I was there. It was at his [Finley's] office in Chicago. I still remember that at the end of the first day's deposition, Finley mentioned to Bill and myself something to effect of what were we doing that night and suggested that he bring in a couple of call girls for us. Larry McDonnell represented the City of Seattle and for some reason, he offered Larry a baseball bat and offered Bill and myself call girls. I don't think Larry got the baseball bat and I can assure you we didn't get the call girls--Bill and I both told him no.
[American League president] Joe Cronin?
Really a nice fellow that in a different setting would have been somebody you would have loved to gone out and had a beer with and talked baseball with. Fundamentally, a very honest guy that was caught in a very difficult situation.
[Milwaukee Brewers owner] Bud Selig?
My recollection of Selig is one of the guys who had white shoes on when he arrived in Everett as well as some gold jewelry.
[Note from Mike: Sportservice was the largest concessionaire in the world and one of the Pilots' biggest creditors, having loaned the team $2 million as part of its original financing. The intent was that Sportservice would be the concessionaire once the domed stadium was built, but an unexpected roadblock appeared in the form of a local law requiring competitive bidding for such contracts. Dewey Soriano said that if Sportservice didn't go into the new stadium, then neither would the Pilots. Dwyer and McNaul used this as evidence that there was a conspiracy involving the team and Sportservice.]
[Sportservice executives] Jack Zander and Jeremy Jacobs?
I don't have any really good recollections of those people. Legally, they were a really important part of our case and factually, they were important as well, because they basically funded the State's efforts [Note from Mike: Sportservice paid about $200,000 to be let out of the lawsuit, money which was used to pay for the State's continuing claim against the American League.]. By the time the dust settled, the state came out, I think, very well because they came out with a franchise, which is what they really wanted and they got most of their litigation expenses paid and that was through Sportservice.
There was a contention that the real reason the Pilots moved was because of Sportservice.
The concessionaire had relationships with an awful lot of those club owners. I don't think anybody would probably argue if each one of the club owners was hell-bent on keeping the franchise in Seattle, that Sportservice could dictate its removal. But on the other hand, when its a fairly closely-divided issue among the club owners, Sportservice could be a determining factor.
Were any of the witnesses particularly uncooperative or even untruthful?
I do know that we used the transcripts and other written materials to refresh a lot of their recollections when they gave answers that were inconsistent with their prior statements--and that applied to quite a few of the club owners, including Short, Finley and some of the others.
What was the A.L.'s biggest mistake?
Voting to move the franchise without really giving Seattle a chance to prove that they could and would support the team--particularly in light of their promises to the community that we would have a team playing in that stadium.
[Note from Mike: After the Danz and Carlson bids to purchase the Pilots failed, and amid rumors of a relocation in February of 1970, the American League announced that the Pilots would would stay in Seattle, run by the Sorianos and Daley, who would be loaned $650,000 to get them through spring training and into the start of the season. It was a short-lived promise; a month later, the Pilots were on their way to Milwaukee.]
Was the $650,000 advance to the Pilots a ploy?
I don't think at that point, the League intended to keep the team in Seattle.
In terms of things that just pop into one's head, I remember two things: One was deposing a fellow by the name of Bud Campbell, who was the local head of the Bank of California, who had financed the club. During the course of the deposition, it was either on or off the record, Campbell made a statement that I have had the occasion to use since. [I asked] "Why did you pull the rug out from under the team here?" I remember Campbell saying back, and fairly smugly saying, "Mr. McNaul, we're following the old banker's adage that he who has the gold makes the rules." Another thing that comes to mind. I was deposing Ewing Kauffman, the owner of the Kansas City club and again, either on or off the record, I asked Kauffman, who struck me as being a real public-spirited and decent human being, why it was he bought the franchise to begin with. He said something to the effect of "Well, Mr. McNaul, as you know, I own a pharmaceutical company and my wife thought I needed a hobby." And that's why he spent the $7 million or whatever it was that was necessary to buy the franchise.
[Note from Mike: In February of 1970, the American League sent former Yankees and Phillies general manger, Roy Hamey, to Seattle to oversee team operations. Among his actions was negotiating down the fee for radio broadcast rights, costing the team about $600,000 a year. Speculation in Seattle was that Hamey was sent to sabotage the team, to make it easier to move.]
Was Hamey sent to destroy the Pilots?
That was sure suspicious. It didn't quite pass the smell test. Whether that was what they had in mind or not, we'll probably never know, but it sure didn't smell good.
It seems like you had a tough time getting financial information from the owners.
They fought like hell. Despite their public nature, they're still private businesses and they were very reluctant to have opposing counsel poking through their accounting records.
Would you have won had the trial gone to its conclusion?
Absolutely. But on the other hand, had we won, if we ever got another franchise in Seattle, it would have been several years. The League may have been angry enough at us had we won that they would have appealed and it would have taken two or three or whatever years to resolve the appeal. Even if we won, those guys could afford to pay a judgment. They may very well have just said, "to hell with Seattle, we'll pay the judgment and you ain't gonna get major league baseball in Seattle. We would have won, but I think that settlement was a good one because it gave our area what it wanted.
Can you tell me about the settlement process?
It came together real quick. Things were going well for us at trial and quite a lot to our surprise, the American League made a proposal that they'll give us a franchise if we drop the lawsuit. That was sort of the sum and substance of it. Then it was more a question of just documenting the agreement. One thing was a major concern was that we may dismiss the lawsuit, we'd get a franchise and in another year or two, they might move the team again. You can argue that let it happen once, shame on them, let it happen twice, shame on us. So, again under Bill Dwyer's direction, we had as close to what you can describe as an iron-clad lease to keep that team in the new baseball facility.
Did political pressure from senators Jackson and Magnuson help?
It would be pure speculation in terms of what was going on with the club owners in their minds. My sense of it is that may have had some impact, but I think the main thing had to be that they could see a disaster coming based on what was happening in Everett.
Does baseball have a responsibility to a community beyond leases?
We're talking about private businesses who have enjoyed a public-granted monopoly. I guess the most charitable I could be to the club owners would be to say that they have an obligation in making their decisions, to consider the public interest and to deal with the public in a candid and honest fashion. That was lacking in regards to the American League's treatment of Pilots.
Why didn't more people go to Pilots games?
They were playing in a minor league stadium and I have to believe that was quite a lot of it. Seattle prior to that time, had a history of being a very good baseball town. The Triple-A club had an incredible draw for years and years and years. Sick's Stadium probably wasn't up to snuff as a major league stadium and you couldn't very well expect people to pay major league prices to go to a Triple-A type stadium. On the other hand, people knew that that was only to be a temporary stadium. The League really didn't give us a chance to show we could support ball in a major league stadium.
Do you ever feel proud that you helped bring the Mariners here?
[Laughs] Depends on the season! This last year I felt really good. I went to some games and I thought, "Jesus, we really made a difference here." There have been other seasons where I sort of whispered to friends that we had something to do with it.
Was this your toughest case?
No, but it would have to rank at or near the top of the list as being one of the most intriguing and fun ones.
Do you have any special memory from this case?
I remember how stunned Bill and I were when we first found out about the transcripts. That was a turning point in the case, because that meant that we didn't have to simply accept what these fellows decided to tell us as to what happened at these key League meetings. We had some accurate measure of what really happened. When we found out about those tapes, we were really excited and then when we got into them, it dramatically changed the flavor of the case. By the way, I don't know if anybody has mentioned this, but our trial judge did just a terrific job in a case that raised lots of novel legal issues. Of course, at the time, I thought he was an old fart, but with the passage of 25 years, looking back at it, I realized he wasn't very old at all.
You mentioned David Wagoner, who represented the American League. What do you think was his opinion of how the case was going?
I don't know, but I suspect he came close to getting ulcers at Charlie Finley's deposition. It was so obvious that the lawyers couldn't control this guy. What he was going to say, he was going to say, whether his lawyers were sitting on him or not.