Bill Sears was one of the first people I wanted to talk to when I started researching the Pilots' story. In 1954, he became the first PR director for the Seattle Rainiers, then came back to minor league baseball with the Seattle Angels in 1966 and was the PR director for the Seattle Pilots, during which time he created the classic video, The First Voyage. I spoke with Bill by phone on January 1, 1994 and again in May 31, 1994. Both interviews are included here.
How did you first get involved with the Pilots?
I had been working for the Seattle Angels. I went to work for them in 1966, which is the year that we won the pennant. Then I worked through '67 until the end of the season and then I left the Angels to go out on my own doing consulting/public relations work of that type. And I was doing that during the winter of that year that they got the stadium bond issue on the ballot. It was actually the third bond issue that was to build a stadium. This particular one happened to be part of an overall civic improvement program called Forward Thrust. There had been bond issues in 1960 and 1966, both of which failed.
Bill Sears, 1969.
What can you tell me about the 1960 and 1966 bond issues?
The '60 bond issue was poorly-financed and poorly-organized and it was just one of those things where the time hadn't arrived yet. There was a committee of four people: Victor Rosellini, a Seattle restaurant man; Jack Gordon, who was head of the Restaurant Association; Dave Cohn, who was also a restaurant person and Paul Friedlander, the jeweler. I was hired as the paid guy to put the thing together, but we had a campaign budget of about $4,000 and even in those days that was pretty slim. We fired our best shot but the Municipal League went against us; they didn't even look at the Stanford Research report, which was favorable. We got about 48 percent of the vote, so that died in its own juices [Note from Mike: bond issues required 60 percent or more to pass.]. Then it laid pretty dormant until '66 when it was resurrected. It had a little more civic support at that timeTorchy Torrance and a lot of the business people were behind it and so we had some additional help. I worked on that along with a fellow named Mel Anderson, who's now deceased and a lady by the name of Marlene Jones, who's now with the Visitor's Bureau. It got a lot of support but we were running at the same time as an important school election and The Seattle Times came out and endorsed both issues, but it said if you had to make a choice between the two, you'd vote for the school thing. Well, that didn't help and we got 52 percent and that was the end of that. Joe Gandy was the chairman of that drive. He was the automobile dealer in town and one of the leading lights of the community.
Then it just kind of simmered for a while and there were a lot of different efforts put together to try to do this thing. There was a lot of talk about private money and two or three groups said they could do it without using voter money, but they never got off the ground and it was mostly talk. Then Jim Ellis and his people came forward with this Forward Thrust concept. That was to incorporate a whole bunch of things under one umbrella and sell it that way: parks, swimming pools, rapid transit, which failed, and a couple of other things and the stadium. A lot of people feel that the stadium was really thrown in there as a glamour issue to get out the vote and to get the attention on the sports pages for the election and that they really were ambivalent whether the thing passed or not. But they needed to get a substantial turnout to validate the election. The focus of it had been really crystalized into the fact that it was a multi-purpose stadium, that it was not being built just for baseball and football. Because there was a lot of opposition in the electorate to building a stadium so that rich people could finance teams and play in there for low rent and all that sort of stuff. When it became apparent that it was also going to host the home show and the boat show and all these other activities, the support base was enlarged and so the thing passed with about 62 percent of the vote.
Shortly after it passed, the American League made it official and awarded the franchise to Seattle. That was great except that the stadium wasn't due to be ready until 1971. So that was when expansion was really scheduled for: '71. The same time that they gave Seattle a franchise, they gave one to Kansas City. Kansas City's franchise Finley had moved to Oakland, so they were without a baseball team. Not too long after the awards were made, a senator from Missouri, Stuart Symington, who was extremely powerful, got antsy and after partying with some of his friends one night, they got to talking about this thing and they said, 'We should have the franchise now and not have to wait two years. We've got a stadium and everything.' Symington got on the phone and called Joe Cronin, who was then president of the American League and told him that, 'We want the franchise now.' And Cronin was saying, 'Well, we can't give it to you now, we awarded it in two years and the Seattle stadium ' And he says, 'Well, we don't care about Seattle, we want the franchise now.' They couldn't just implement one franchise because that would throw everything out of kilter. Symington threatened to go on the floor of Congress the next day and move to remove baseball's anti-trust exemption and that, of course, got their attention in a hurry. So, they awarded the franchises effective the 1969 season. Well, Jesus, we were in a box. We had no stadium other than Sick's Stadium, which was totally inadequate. So, the city agreed to make a deal with the Sorianos and Pacific Northwest Sports to improve Sick's Stadium. The initial plan was to get it to 30,000 seats and the cost of the rent for that time period, until the stadium was built, would be sufficient to amortize the improvements. The city owned the stadium, it was free and clear. Pacific Northwest Sports agreed to that, I think it was like $750,000 a year was the rent on it. They went ahead and started work to improve the stadium so that we could open in '69. Dorm Braman was the mayor then and he got into a big fight with the contractor about half-way through the project and the work stopped on the thing and it was just a disaster. We were in spring training and we were getting reports that the stadium wouldn't even be ready by the time we got up there--and it wasn't. It was ready enough for us to play in, but they were still putting seats in on opening day. We were able to accomodate about 16,000 people and that was it, for what should have been one of our biggest day of the year.
Is it true people were lined up waiting for their seats to be built?
To a degree that's true, but that was a little bit inflated. They weren't numbered seats. The carpenters were pounding the nails in, putting in the planks for the seats and as they worked, they'd admit a certain amount of general admissionI mean, they weren't general admission tickets, they were reserved tickets but they had to sit where they could find a seat. It was a travesty. Part of the right field fence hadn't even been completed; there were people standing out there watching the game for nothing. It became a political thing with Braman, so they started off on the wrong foot right away. There developed quite a bit of animosity between the city government and the ballclub.
Why did Braman get into a fight with the contractors?
It was some interpretation over costs. The contractors said that they were supposed to get more than he was giving them and they had a work stoppage. That's what bogged the thing down. Then finally under pressure, the City finally caved in or at least made an accomodation with them and got the project started again. They were taking tremendous heat in the media for this big brouhaha that was threatening to stop the opening day.
There seems to have been a big dispute between Lew Maitlin on the Pilots side and Don Johnston on the City's side.
The relationship between the City and the ballclub was poor from day one. The stadium was so inferior that we were constantly running into problems trying to operate there. I don't think that necessarily was Don Johnston's fault. Don was the head of the Seattle Center and he worked for the Mayor, but he was a good operator and probably the best person they've ever had there. Then he left and went to Louisville and to become the same position with the exposition center there in Louisville and another JohnsonI can't think of his first nametook his place. He was an assistant or something and he moved up and they had more problems with him than anybody. We had many, many instances of breakdowns in the operation of that facility. It was very difficult to get them to respond, to do anything.
What were some of those problems?
This stadium was a minor league ballpark, designed for a maximum of 14,000 people. When Emil Sick built it, it was for a minor league team. With the success over the years, off and on, they'd fill it at 14,000 and sometimes a little overflow. But it was never designed to accomodate 20 to 25,000 people, which we had on a few occasions there. So the toilets would get taxed beyond their limits. The pipes wouldn't handle the water flow. In fact, up in the press box, we had a standing joke up there that you couldn't flush the toilets until the pressure built up until about the seventh inning. We used to called it "the Seventh Inning Flush." The toilets would back up and we got all kinds of women complaining in the front office and there was nothing we could do about it. We'd pass the complaints on to the City, but they didn't know what to do. I don't know what you could doyou couldn't tear the plumbing out in the middle of the season! That was the principal problem we had. The field itself was probably one of the best in the league. In its day, it was the best minor league ballpark in the country. The playing surface was excellent, everybody liked that. The proximity of the seats to the playing area was great, too. There wasn't a bad seat in the house. We put in the wooden bleachers and the work was not the best. The wood they got was not the best, they'd get splinters. We had two or three occasions where people had sat down and tore their clothes on a sliver. One guy had a brand new suit he came in, we had to replace it--he'd ripped the seat right out of it just about. We had to import Sani-Kans to take care of the additional seating in the bleacher areas and that was unsatisfactory. One guy got locked in there one night. I guess he had a little more beer than he needed and he fell asleep in the damn thing. They threw the locks on all of them when the maintenance people finished up and this guy was passed out in the john and nobody knows he's there. He wakes up in the morning and he's pounding on the door and some guy comes by and opens the door and this guy comes running out and it scared the hell out of him. That was the kind of things that characterized the Pilots' modus operandi. It was just a series of errors and problems and really a big part of them originate from the playing facility.
Was condition of stadium why the Pilots didn't draw more fans?
I think it had a lot to do with it. I think that a lot of people went there and then didn't come back. I'm firmly convinced that that was a deterrent for them to go to the park. From another standpoint, it was an excuse for them not to go. They'd say, 'Well, I'm not going to go out there anymore, the stadium's in terrible shape' and everything like that. So if somebody needed an excuse not to go to the game, they could use the stadium as one of them. Hell, they're doing it now with the Kingdome. I think there's some validity to it, though. It certainly was not a great place for a woman to go if you wanted to dress up in a nice suit or dress or something and go to the game and sit on some of those planks.
Why did Seattle lead the Pacific Coast League in attendance, but there was so little support for Pilots?
It was a different time. The years that you're talking about were the late '40s, early '50s and of course the late '30s when Jack Lelivelt was the manager and they won the pennant three out of four years and they had Edo Vanni and Jo-Jo White. You've got to remember, this was the only show in town aside from Husky football, which even in those days was played in a 36,000 seat stadium. So it was the thing to do. They had good teams then and a lot of people were back from the War and were anxious to do things and to see baseball. It rode a crest there from the post-War years up through the early '50s. In 1950 Paul Richards was the manager. The following year Rogers Hornsby was hired to manage the club and they won the pennant and, of course, they had a big turnout. Then after Hornsby leftwent up to the big leaguesSweeney had been managing in Portland and he came in and managed for a couple years. About that time, the attendance started to decline a little. Then in '54, was when Dewey Soriano was hired and he became the general manager. Baseball was then on a decline in the minor leagues. San Francisco and Los Angeles were pounding the drums to be given major league teams and get out of the Coast League. Dewey hired Jerry Pritty as the managerhe had been with the Yankees, I went to work in February of '54. We had a terrible year, the weather was just brutal. At 5 o' clock every night, it would cloud up and start to sprinkle. You never knew if it was going to rain or not. We ended up drawing about 140,000. I mean, it was just awful. So the next year they fired Pritty and Fred Hutchinson, I think, got fired at St. Louis or wherever it was that he was. So Dewey Soriano, who was a childhood friend of Hutchinson, prevailed on him to come back here and manage the club for a year, until he could find something in the majors. Fred came out here and did a hell of a job. Emil Sick, who was a great Hutchsinson fan opened up the wallet and they went out and got some ballplayers that they needed. Vern Stevens to be one, he was on his way down from the Red Sox. Lou Crutlo, who was a pitcher for the White Sox and won 12 games for us during an important time. We ended up edging Los Angeles for the pennant.
We televised every home gameevery gameand some from Portland on Channel 13, which was owned by Elroy McCaw at the time, and we still drew about 500,000. Winning had an awful lot to do with it, but there was a certain something about that team. And, of course, Hutchinson's presence really added to the legitimacy of the thing and it caught fire in town. I think the TV helped immensely. People watched it on TV and liked it so well that they decided to go out and see games in person. Then the '56, Hutch went up to majors. They brought in Luke Sewell, who'd been a well-known baseball name as a manager. But it wasn't the same and we lost some players and we still had a fairly decent team, but it wasn't anything like it was before. We didn't draw bad, but it was not anywhere near the equal of what we did with Freddy there. From that point on, the decline started. Sewell was canned after one year and they brought in Lefty O' Doul and Lefty was a famous name in baseball and they did pretty goodthat was '57 and '58and then O' Doul left and about that time, there started to be a change in the ownership. The Brewery started losing interest in the ballclub as a viable promotional tool for their beer. Cedric Tallis had come in as general manager and Dewey took over as president of the Pacific Coast League sometime in '59, I think. A year or so went by and the ballclub was sold to the Red Sox.
The mayor wanted to tear the stadium down. At that time, the Thomson Expressway was still alive and was supposed to run through part of the outfield. [Note from Mike: The Thomson Expressway was a sort of ring road, first proposed in the 1950s, that would have linked Interstate 5 and state highways 99 and 520. In 1972, Seattleites voted to not build it and also killed the Bay Freeway, a proposed viaduct that would have eliminated the famous "Mercer Mess" that still frustrates drivers almost four decades later. The Bay Freeway was also supposed to eliminate the traffic problems anticipated when the Kingdome was to be built at the Seattle Center.] There was a lot of opposition to that. What happened was that the city got money from the outdoor recreation agency to turn the place into a park and a recreation area. The plan was that part of it would be softball field and the other part would be a tennis center. They were able to keep the park alive as a structure for the Red Sox to use. Then the California Angels came in and took over--but the California Angels came there only because Dewey Soriano prevailed on them to do that. He was president of the league and he didn't want to lose Seattle as a franchise. He particularly didn't want to lose it because he had eyes on major league baseball and he didn't want somebody else coming into the territory that he didn't know or trust because he wanted to be involved in putting together the major league baseball thing. He was pretty close to Fred Haney and Marvin Milkes, who was Haney's assistant, and Gene Autry because they had minor league teams in the Coast League.
They took over the Seattle Angels. Pacific Northwest Sports purchased the franchise from the California Angels and operated it to keep the territory from being violated. In other words, if it had been another minor league club operating there and they moved in, then they'd have to pay reparations to that team for invading their territory. By getting the team from the California Angels, ensured that they didn't have to pay reparations [Note from Mike: Pacific Northwest Sports didn't have to pay reparations to the owners of another team, but did have to pay the Pacific Coast League for the loss of the territory, the amount of which was later the subject of a dispute.] and it also gave them the framework for a Class AAA minor league team that they would move later to another location. Well, they moved it to Vancouver B.C.
Right, the Mounties.
Yeah and made that their AAA farm team. But in '68, they operated the Angels there in Sick's Stadium. Then with the completion of the season is when they started work on the stadium.
What was entailed in your job as the Pilots' public relations director?
When I started out, I had just the responsibility of dealing with the media: set up the press box, all the press facilities, did all the news releases and supervised all the interviews, radio/TV stuff and all aspects of that particular phase of the operation was under my purview. Actually, it was just a two person staff, myself and my secretary. The promotion and publicity was handled by a fellow by the name of Harold Parrott, who had at one time been a travelling secretary for the Brooklyn Dodgers for Buzzie Bavasi. Well, he was with Branch Rickey. Marvin Milkes had hired him to handle the promotions.
Parrott had some nasty things to say about Dewey Soriano in his book. Can you tell me about that?
Well, Dewey tied a can to him. The reason he tied a can to him was he wasn't doing anything. Harold's a nice man and everything but he never really did anything of any consequence that warranted what they were paying him. Marvin Milkes sold Soriano on hiring him; I don't think Dewey really wanted to hire him in the first place. He told Dewey, 'Harold will come up here and sell a lot of season tickets and sponsorships and a lot of stuff for you' and everything like that. And he got up here and he didn't. So they were carrying him at a pretty good salary and it was just a drain. I would guess somewhere around in July, Dewey canned him and obviously that's why Harold didn't particularly care for him. That was the crux of the whole thing, he was sold a bill of goods on the guy and he didn't perform.
How was Rod Belcher's role different from yours?
Rod, at that time, had left the TV/radio industry and opened a partnership with a guy by the name of Art Coleman. They opened up an advertising/PR agency. Coleman had been a former KJR type. The two of them together opened up this business. I gave Rod the right to handle our advertising, what little advertising we did. Also, he had written the theme song for the Pilots, Go, Go You Pilots and had not only written it, but they had had it made it into a record, a 45 rpm record and they were promoting that. I also used Rod to help with some promotions-this was after Parrott leftand he also did a thing for me, he would go down after the game and do interviews. We had a phone device set up in my office where you could put something on it and then if the radio people wanted it, all they had to do was dial a number and that would kick in and then they could record it off of that. So they'd get a radio interview with Harmon Killebrew or somebody like that.
When Parrott left, did you start overseeing promotions?
The bulk of the promotions by then were pretty much over with, although I did a couple of them. Toward the end of the season, the ballclub was pretty much committed, I think then, to leaving. They were trying to salvage everything they could attendance-wise. We had a rock group and some DJs out there doing a promotion out on the field, throwing a ball through a glove with a hole in it.
A lot of people don't realize that going into August, we were in third place, only six games out of first. So when we got a spate of injuries just about that time, Rich Rollins went down, Don Mincher was down and we lost somebody else, all three key guys in our line-up and we had to bring in some minor league players to fill those spots. Well, hell, we went from third place to last in a hurry. The attendance started falling off considerably when we went into a tailspin. You get into late August and September and those are the dog days and if you're not in the hunt, that's when the attenance really starts to decline and it fell off measurably then.
When did you first suspect that things weren't going to work out?
I wasn't privy to anything that was going on. When the first story broke in the paper about the team might move to Dallas and Lamar Hunt was interesting in buying it, that was the first I heard about it. I knew what problems Dewey and Max were having and I didn't push it. I just went along and I did my job and I didn't pursue it or ask them anything about it. There were some anxious times there. They had one time where they appeared they were going to have a little trouble making the payroll. But they managed to pull that off.
It must have been hard to get positive press after the stories appeared.
It was, but nothing had been confirmed and everybody was denying it. Even the American League was denying it, so it was still speculation. The interest did wane, I'm sure that that contributed to it.
Even though they were underfunded, their financial picture was really not all that gloomy. In other words, they were in a deficit situation position, but the cash flow situation was like a couple hundred thousand that they were in the tank for. They listed, I think, when they were in bankruptcy court, losses of one point four million, but a lot of those were player contracts. [Note from Mike: He was talking about amortization of player contractsin other words, a team can write off a certain amount of a player's contract each year by counting it as a business loss. This is a huge benefit of owning a baseball team. The amount that could be written off was settled, coincidentally, in the case of Selig v. United States, 740 F.2d 572 (1984), which I believe to be the last lawsuit directly involving the Pilots.] Their actual cash operating loss I think, was $250,000. That doesn't seem like a lot of money, of course, it was a fair sum then. It was not the kind of money that the Sorianos could go down and write a check for. Bill Daley, who was the Chairman of the Board could have written a check for that out of petty cash, but he chose not to do so. There was another side to that that never really surfaced after it was all over with. Daley had put up the initial money and was quite involved and instrumental in the operation of the team, although he didn't show around here very often. I got to know him a little bit and I thought he was a fine man; I enjoyed him immensely.
The crux of the thing came down to one situation that really contributed immensely to the decision not to try to save it. That was a press conference that was held out at the stadium. I think it was a luncheon and a press conference and Mr. Daley was there. All this talk about the team moving and everything like that came up and he handled it very well. But he made a statement, he said, 'I know there's a lot of interest in baseball in this town and this is not a year to be a yardstick for' and he said 'I think we ought to give Seattle another chance.' It was kind of an innocuous statement, but Hy Zimmerman and Georg Meyers grabbed that and it was a second-day angle for them because this was an afternoon press conference and the story appeared in the paper in the morning. They blasted Daley pretty hard for even suggesting that they should be giving us a chance. Zimmerman's story I recall was we should be giving Daley another chance. Meyers wrote a column which the headline said 'Bill Daley, Won't You Please Go Home' and that was the final nail in the coffin. He told Dewey, 'They obviously don't care for me being here. I see no viable reason to shore this thing up' and bailed out, or at least said, 'We're going to go ahead and move this team, sell it.' You can speculate all you to want whether that had not been written whether he would have stepped into the breach, but he was not diabolically inclined to move this thing. I really think he could have been talked into keeping it here for at least another year.
[Note from Mike: I've heard the newspaper theory from a couple of others as the reason why the Pilots moved, but I'm not sure that I buy it. Granted, Daley was willing to move his hometown Cleveland Indians to Seattle in 1964 in order to get a better financial deal, but it seems unlikely that someone as successful as Daley would be so thin-skinned as to chuck the whole thing because of a newspaper column. Another theory is that Daley's health was declining by this time. He died in 1971, but no one I spoke to said they noticed anything wrong with him in 1969. It's possible that he felt he made a mistake by getting back into baseball ownership or that the Pilots were simply a bad investment and he was cutting his losses. It's all speculation, thoughthe biggest question about the Seattle Pilots story and one to which we will probably never have an answer.]
Why was there no TV contract for the Pilots?
There is a lot of debate about that and I didn't get involved in it at all, but my understanding is that Channel 13 or Channel 11one of themwanted to do it, but they claimed that the Sorianos were asking for too much money. Then again, that's their side of the story. I've never asked Dewey about it, so I don't know. But had there been a TV contract, I doubt if it would have been significant. The radio contract was outstanding. KVI paid a lot of money for the radio rights, something like $750,000, I think. For those days, it was big. Lucky Lager was the principal sponsor, they took a quarter of it. In those days, TV was not like it is now; they were a little tenative about whether they could make it work or not.
What can you tell me about the high ticket prices and goodwill tour?
I organized it; I was on it. It was about the second week of January. Chico Salmon, the shortstop was with us and, of course, Jimmy Dudley and Bill Schonely. Don Mincher was on it and I'm not sure whether Rich Rollins was there or not. I think a couple of them, like Rollins might have stayed in Seattle doing some promotional work. There was at least three of us, plus Dudley and Bill Schonely. We started the tour with a sportswriters meeting in Rosellini's 610 restaurantthe old restaurant down at Sixth and Pine and we had a Greyhound bus and we went to Ellensburg and then up over Snoqualmie Pass and it was snowing like crazy and there was a lot of snow all over the road and we stopped at the top of the Pass and Mincher was scared to death, he'd never seen anything like this before. On the other side of the pass, Eastern Washington, the roads were like glazed ice. We went into Yakima, over to the Tri-Cities and up to Spokane, we made the whole circuit. We did some over on this side, over to Bremerton, up to Bellingham and I'd taken Joe Schultz up to Oak Harbor, Mount Vernon, Anacortes earlier on the tour.
The ticket prices, now that was one of the big mythologies of this whole episode. It got started with a column John Owen did on the ticket prices, saying that the Pilots had the most expensive tickets in the league. What he was pointing to was a six dollar ticket. It had six dollars printed on the ticket, but they were season tickets. In Sick's Stadium, we had about 2,000 box seats, so we made the price of the box seats six times however many home games we played, 80, which would have been like $480, but they discounted that if you bought season tickets. It came out to around $400 or maybe even less than that. That was our marketing gimmick to say if you buy season tickets, you can save X number of dollars. But there was never a six dollar ticket for sale, nobody ever went up to the box office and bought a six dollar ticket. That story, once it appeared, it was just another excuse for people not to go to the games.
Why did people need an excuse?
There was a tradition of minor league baseball, but you're not going to survive on the crowds that minor league baseball draws. There were not enough of what I would call real hardcore baseball fans in this area to support a major league team. So you have to depend on those who are interested and maybe they listen to the games on the radio and decide that, 'Well, we ought to at least take in a game or two.' The fans, the ones who go maybe 10, 12, 14 games a year, who would be in Boston and places like that, they were few in number. We sold 2,000 season tickets, but you sell most of those to companies. Not too many individuals buy season tickets for baseball because the cost is prohibitive.
What can you tell me about The First Voyage?
That was done as a promotion piece to use during the off-season, when we went out on speaking engagements and things like that. It wasn't a highlights film, but was more of a documentary about the team. We did it pretty much ourselves. I shot quite a bit of the film myself and then Ted Simpson, who was at Channel 11 then, I hired him to do a little and then I got Phil Sturholm from KING, he did the final stuff on it and pulled it all together for me. Just about that time was when the team took off for Milwaukee, so it was kind of academic. I did show the film at the sportswriters luncheon one time. In fact, John Owen wrote a column about it, tongue-in-cheek, it was quite good. I put it together on the anticipation that there'd be a second voyage. Somebody said I should have retitled it, "The Last Voyage."
Why do all the stills and film look like they were taken from the roof?
That's where the camera platforms were. See, the pressbox was built up on top of the roof; that was the only place we had where we could put it. We even had some problems there, because the broadcast booths were on each end and they had a little trouble seeing the foul line. A ball hit very close down that foul line was hard to see. But we were really somewhat screwed for space. I designed the box and it was extremely difficult to do and then they had to do a whole bunch of support work on the roof.
It was a volatile time for baseball with so many teams moving.
The guys who supported the move of the Pilots to Milwaukee, there were several, but two key guys, one was Bob Short in Washington and the other one was John Allyn of the White Sox, both of them wanted to move their teams. They figured if they could get Seattle moved, the precedent was there that they should be able to move. Short subsequently did move to Texas. Allyn tried to move and ironically, the White Sox came very close to moving to Seattle--not with Allyn, but they were going to be purchased and moved. But Bill Veeck stepped in at the last minute with a group and they kept the team in Chicago.
Who was behind the possible move out here?
There was a guy by the name of Milt Odom, who was a beer distributor in Alaska, who was eyeing the thing and who made a presentation for an expansion franchise. There was a group that Dave Cohn had put together that also was trying to get the team here, but his group didn't have much substance. Odom and, of course, Danny Kaye's group were the leaders. I think Kaye and them were prepared to buy the White Sox and move them here if the league would approve it. It was almost fait accompli. We were at the meetings in Milwaukee and that's where it started. Ted Bowsfield and I were there and I was in the lobby and I ran into Lee McPhail, who was then president of the American League and he asked me, 'Where's Ted Bowsfield?' I said, "I think he's in his room." He said, 'Have him call me right away!' So I got to a phone and I called Ted and I said, "I just ran into Lee McPhail and he wants you to call him." So he did. McPhail asked Ted, 'How do you guys feel about Chicago? If we can get Chicago to move to Seattle.' Ted said, 'Hell, we'd love it.' That was a pretty good ballclub and all in one piece and ready to go. And he said, 'I'm sure our people would jump all over that.' Then, there was the winter meetings in Florida where Slade Gorton, Bill Dwyer, myself and Ted and a couple other people were back there. Veeck was making his last-minute push and he didn't have any money, but he'd finally lined up some Chicago people that were willing to put up the money to keep the team there.
My research on the 1960 stadium drive led me to a second telephone interview with Bill, on May 31, 1994.
Whose idea was the 1960 stadium drive? How did it come about?
According to my recollection, the guy whose idea it was, was Dewey Soriano, who as early as 1957 had made a statement that Seattle needed a domed stadium to get major league baseball here. There were some stories about it, but nothing really much happened. I wasn't involved in it other than I had been working with Greater Seattle during the summer, this was with Seafair and I was working in the winter time up at Seattle U., so I was kind of just watching what was going on. In 1960, I went to work for the Pacific Coast League and Dewey Soriano was the president at the time. Just about that time, a group of people formed together to try and push the stadium thing.
Were John Franco and Les Brainard involved?
If they were, they were on periphery, in that they may have been working with Victor. I probably dealt more with Jack Gordon than anybody because he was kind of steering most of these guys. They got about $4,000, of which they paid me a fee of $1,000 to handle all the publicity and promotions on it and kind of act as executive secretary. That was the organization right there. We didn't have a big campaign crew or anything like that. Everything we did was mostly in the papers and from publicity handouts--stuff that I sent out.
[Note from Mike: John Franco and Les Brainard were other well-known Seattle restauranteurs, the owners of Franco's Hidden Harbor, on Westlake Avenue and Les Brainard's, on 2nd Avenue, respectively. If, like me, you're among the Seattlehistory-obsessed, you can put "brainard' in this page and see photos of his restaurant!]
Were the four an official group?
No, they were just kind of interested citizens who decided to pick up on what was appearing in the paper at that time, the stories that Hy was writing. Whether they ponied up the money themselves, I'm not even sure of that. There was no big ground-swell, or stuff about let's form a committee or anything. This was just done and then they launched it. But they had a good forum in that Hy Zimmerman was really all out for it and he wrote an awful lot of stuff about it and the P-I assigned Rolf Stromberg to it and Rolf tried to keep up with Hy a little. so they had good coverage. We had everything but the votes. The Municipal League didn't support it and they just out of hand dismissed it. They never even looked at the Stanford Research report.
Why was that?
They thought it was a bad idea and there were a lot more important things to do and they wouldn't even waste their time with it. I know they never looked at the report because I had the report in my desk at the time. Dave Cohn went down and met with them, but he didn't give them the Stanford Research report. I don't know why. I know we only had one copy. The papers used it and wrote about it and everything about what the report said, which was highly favorable toward building a domed stadium. It was only $15 millionof course, $15 million in 1960 was substantive.
What is the Municpal League?
The Municipal League is a citizen's group that evaluates issues and candidates and then makes recommendations which subsequently are published in the paper. They send out a brochure, too, I think. They were an arch-conservative group at that timethey denied it, but they were. They've subsequently broadened their base of philosophy and taken in Democrats and other people on the left side of the aisle and they have a little better cross-section of opinion now. Of course, they became a law and a power unto themselves and the newspapers picked up everything they said. The successful candidatesthey ones they endorsedslapped stickers all over their signs saying, 'rated outstanding by Municipal League.'
What things did you say to people to get them to vote "yes" on the stadium issue?
We really didn't tell them much of anything other than to try to promulgate the benefits of the stadium: what it would do for the community, what it would mean in our hopes to get major league baseball and professional football. That's probably one of the reasons that we weren't successful, we could have broadened our sphere of operations to bring in home shows and things that would have a broader interest. But at that time, the boat shows and home shows were in the Armory, which is now the Food Circus at the Seattle Center. They weren't like they are now, so we probably had some trouble justifying that happening. We were fairly narrow. It was always that, 'Why should we spend our money, the taxpayer's money, to build a palace for rich sports owners?'
What else did you do?
We did bumper stickers and things like that, the routine things. With that kind of money, we were somewhat limited in what we could do. We couldn't buy any advertising on the radio or stuff like that. We printed flyers.
What was the mood of the people working on it? Was this something you believed in?
Yeah, I certainly did and I believe that the committee didI know Dave did and Victor and Jack Gordon, it was significant for them because it meant new business. And Paul Friedlander was kind of a civic activist and he was solidly behind it. We had a lot of grassroots support, too, from people who wanted to see it: volunteers would take signs and put them up. The newspapers were behind it, but they weren't behind it. The Times was, at that time, extremely conservative. They didn't knock it, because their guy Zimmerman was writing all these stories, but they didn't editorially support it or come out that 'the Times really believes in this thing.'
Were these stories going from 1957 on or mostly in 1960?
The stories in the newspapers started surfacing around that time. There'd be an occasional column, mostly Hy Zimmerman because he was really a believer. He covered minor league baseball at the time. He was from Chicago and had worked at the Tribune and had done some work on baseball back there.
It seems that this was mostly a restaurant thing.
The restaurant people and the hospitality industry had a fairly good stake in it. It meant more dollars to them and more dollars in the community, no question about that. I think there was a broader base of support than that within the commercial community, but these were the ones that took the bit in their mouth and decided to run with it. You have to understand that even in 1960, this was really a conservative community. It took a lot of doing to get these guys off their butts to put on the World's Fair in 1962. The community had an awful lot of naysayers in it at that time. They were just getting liquor by the drink in restaurants. This community was about 15, 20 years behind San Francisco. They all went down to San Francisco and they liked to go down there and party and everything like that, but they were pretty stiff-necked when they got home.
Why did people vote against the stadium?
Bond issues were difficult to pass, even for schools. I think that they couldn't see the benefit to the community. There was no promise of a team and they had Sick's Stadium and they had minor league baseball and there really wasn't that ground-swell of enthusiasm at that time. The complexion of the community's changed so much since then. We went through '66 and only got 52 percent of the vote. In 1968, we finally did it, but there was a lot of new people in the community. A lot of people moved here from different parts of the country that were a little more progressive.
What was your mood after the defeat?
When when were going into this thing around election day, I didn't think we thought we were going to do it. We were hopeful, but we just weren't getting the support. There wasn't any sort of groundswell of opinion for ityou could get a sense for those things. When it failed, we kind of went into withdrawl and it remained dormant for quite a while, between '60 to '66 and then it started to surface again. By that time, the establishment people started to get a grip on it: Torchy Torrance and Joe Gandy, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce and a whole bunch of those people who were active in Seafairdowntown establishment people. They got their teeth into it and started pushing it. That threw holy water on it and they started getting some support from the newspapers and everything like that. Although the Times buried us on the day before the election in '66. Ross Cunningham wrote an editorial saying that the Times supported the stadium and they supported the schools, but if you felt you had to choose between the two of them, he would recommend that you vote for the schools. That just buried us and we ended up with 52 percent.
It seems like there was bad blood between Joe Gandy and Frank Ruano.
Frank Ruano wanted in the worst way to be involved in this thing. He went to Gandy and volunteered to work as co-chairman or assistant chairman and Gandy sloughed him off and it really made Frank sore. He got it in his craw and instead of being with them, he was against them. He claimed he was all for a stadium, but not the way they were doing it and this and that and this was a bad deal and everything and he helped bury it, no question about it, because he managed to get a lot of coverage. There was nothing the matter with Joe. He was a typical establishment, downtown guy who took an active part in Seafair, he was a former King Neptune. He was a car dealer and it was good for business, too. So, they prevailed on him to head this stadium drive. I wrote his speeches for him and his TV commercials. Held up the cue cards. He wasn't a magician; he had the establishment support and everything, but the one thing he didn't have was the people's support. I mean, he had 52 percent of them, which is damned good. In most places, that'd passed it.
How involved was he?
He was involved heavilyof course, he also helped bury it right at the start. He and a fellow by the name of H. Dewayne Kreager, who had been the head of the economic development department of Washington state, under Al Rosellini and the two of them went on TV on KOMO in a debate situation with a couple of local attorneys who were against it. Actually, they were more the devil's advocate than against it, but they did their job and these two guys, Gandy and Kreager, just butchered it. That was the talk of the town afterwards, what a bad job they did. A lot of people got turned off. We had subsequent debatesin fact, I was in one with one of those guys on Channel 9 and, at least according to the people who evaluate those things, I turned it around. I buried him. I had done my homework and I had a lot of stuff from Houston and things like that that he couldn't respond to. Then Bert West, who was the general manager at KVI radio, he and Gandy went on a later show and I had prepped them pretty good with all the stuff that I had, that I used and they did very well. But the first impression is the one that counts a lot and that's the one that hurt us. We had a hell of a time recovering from that, we really didn't recover from that.
Do you know what the Governor's Sports Advisory Council was?
Yeah. I was a member of it. It started not too long after Al became governor. Al was very supportive of getting major league sports here and he formed a committee and got a lot of the key people in the community involved in the thing. I don't know what they accomplished, if they accomplished anything. We had meetings, but I can't honestly think of one thing we brought here.
Do you remember who else was on it?
A lot of people. It was kind of like a thing to be on it. You knew somebody and you told them you were on the thing and they'd say, gee, I'd like to be on that and you'd call the governor's office and they'd put them on it. It was ceremonial in many respects.
One last question: would the Pilots have worked if they had started later than 1969
Yeah, because we probably would have had the domed stadium built by then. The stadium was scheduled to be built out by the Seattle Center. That was where they had made the decision they were going to put it, out there where the car barns are. [Note from Mike: He means the old Metro Transit base across from the Seattle Center, where the Gates Foundation is currently building its headquartersand coincidentally, the site of Seattle's first Pacific Coast League stadium.] They had the plans drawn, the bonds had been sold, the project manager hired and they were underway. What happened was, that when the Pilots left town, Ruano sponsored an initiative to rescind the decision of the site selection committee and, in effect, stopping the construction of the stadium and negating the bonds. He couldn't actually do away with the bond issue because it passed by a vote of the people in King County. He was smart enough not to mount a campaign to overturn that, which would be really tough to do. He figured if he could get them to stall the project at the Center, or stop them from building at the Center, then the thing would kind of strangle the whole thing. 'We don't have a baseball team anyway, so why are we building it? We don't have a football team anyway, so why are we going to build this?' He got this thing on the ballot and it was done cleverly enough so, whether it was done by accident or not, it meant that if you voted "yes," you meant "no." It ended up that they voted that they didn't want it at the Center. He went over to the Center during the day, he and his people he had working for him, with these initiative sheets and had people sign them. The thing was, 'You don't want a big stadium here that's going to ruin the Center and there'll be crowds and you won't be able to come to the Center because of the traffic' and this and that. These people just signed it, 'Yeah, yeah, we don't want to do that.' But the stadium was still alive. The bonds had been sold and they were collecting the hotel tax money and everything else. Now, the recession had hit this town big time, so nobody really wanted to bite the bullet on a stadium when all these people at Boeing were out of work. Well, John Spellman became County Executive and he got together with the construction unions and, of course, they wanted all the work they could get. They finally determined that they would put the stadium down where it is now and Ruano fought that bitterly and went to court and he finally got run off the thing by a decision that was made in a court in Port Orchard. They went ahead with it, but Spellman had no franchiseno baseball or football or anything. I was with the Convention and Visitor's Bureau at that time and we entered into a contract with the county to help them get one.