More than any other newspaperman, Emmett Watson seemed to capture the soul of Seattle. Initially hired as a sports writer for the defunct Seattle Star, he wrote about the city for over fifty years in the P-I and Times. He played high school baseball with Seattle legend, Fred Hutchison and also had a brief career (two at-bats) with the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League. Watson was supportive of his good friend Bill Dwyer in the State of Washington's lawsuit against the American League. I thought he would have an interesting take on the situation and interviewed him by phone in June of 1994and I was right. Emmett Watson passed away in 2001, at age 82.
Why did the Pilots draw so poorly when the Rainiers drew so well?
Was the condition of the stadium after the renovation a factor in the low attendance?
It wasn't very good, but I doubt if that kept very many away. They had some problems with the toilets and they had some problems here and there and there were a lot of accusations flying around with the city involved. I seriously doubt if that kept anybody away.
Was the price of tickets a factor?
People felt they were too high, but they were used to playing minor league prices. The prices did come as something of a surprise.
What was the mood of the community after we got major league baseball?
There was a lot of enthusiasm. They had a downtown parade and the usual thing. Dewey Soriano and his brother Max got some guy, Bill Daley, out of Cleveland and they had two or three other small ones in there and just by sheer gambling, he got this franchise and brought it in here. He didn't have the money to survive that first year, which wasn't great, with the start-up costs and everthing else. Finally, the franchise did go bankrupt. A lot of people have bad-mouthed Dewey Soriano because of that, but Dewey deserves far more than that. Dewey did take a big, big gamble with his family fortune to get the Pilots started. If you had not had that, you wouldn't have the Mariners today. Because as soon as they moved that franchise out, the lawsuit took over. Slade Gorton and Bill Dwyer sued the American League and it was a dramatic trial. About in the middle of that trial, the American League realized they were going to lose, because Bill Dwyer was just absolutely intent on winning this case and he'd done a tremendous research job on it.
One of the lawyers from the American League came over to Bill at a moment during the trial when there was nothing going on and said, 'well, you don't want money, do you? You want a baseball team.' Bill said, 'yes, we want a baseball team and no b******t.' He did. By God, they settled it by promising to put a major league team in here. That also led to Toronto being brought into the league. Toronto owes its franchise to Bill Dwyer because they couldn't just increase by one, they had to put another team in to make a balanced schedule. All that started with Dewey Soriano. If he hadn't had the nerve to go ahead and do it, we wouldn't have had that stadium. The domed stadium was built on the promise of a franchise by the American League. The American League sent people out here to promote the bond issue. They sent Joe Cronin, they sent Mickey Mantle, they sent Carl Yasztremski, three or four of them are out here pumping them up. Telling people you're going to have major league baseball if you pass this stadium.
What was the public mooddid people want them to stay?
A lot of them were angry, a lot of them were disillusioned. This didn't go on just two weeks, this went over a period of two or three years. There were fights over where to put the domed stadium and whether or not to build it at all and on and on and on, but it was the promise of major league baseball that got that stadium built.
Was the reason they included the domed stadium in Forward Thrust because they needed a hot issue to get out the voters?
I can't verify that, but I think that's true, that it was a sexy issue. They were going in for other stuff, unsexy things, like rapid transit, sewage disposal and God only knows what. Some parks were in that and they were supposed to be one of the sexy items.
Were people in favor of Forward Thrust?
I think so, oh yeah. Sure. It passed. I think the only thing that really failed on it was rapid transit. We're still enjoying the parks we got out of that.
Was the domed stadium just a thing of the downtown establishment?
All cities have their negative side and Seattle certainly had it. Ah, this is just a big fraud, we don't need a World's Fair here and so on and so forth. If you go on thinking like that, finally, you'll never have anything. There were a lot of naysayers on that one and a hell of a lot of arguments about where to put it. That would, of course, logically follow no matter where you are. Some wanted to put it out at Interbay--where they've got the fill in there, which probably would have been a good place. Some of them thought it should be out in the suburbs and some of them thought it should be out by the Seattle Center. There were lot of them that wanted it over by where the car barns are in the Center. I was personally against that because I felt it would mean traffic strangulation out there.
What were some of the problems people had with the King Street site?
One of the objections they raisedand this was people writing letters or calling up, there was nothing organized about itthat the sidewalks would collapse from all these people walking down to the Kingdome. It just made you laugh. Some of the merchants didn't like the idea either. They didn't think it was not going to help their business and so on. When you come right down to it, I think the stadium just made Pioneer Square. There's a lot of restaurants down here that wouldn't be down here otherwise. I live right here it's fun. I just watch them every time they play at home, they go right by my window. These are kids and families and they've got balloons and sweatshirts and there's a kind of gay atmosphere about it and they come back. If the Mariners win or if the Seahawks win, they go into the bars and celebrate. Hell, McRory's got rich off it.
Some newspaper columns came up in the lawsuit.
I remember Zim [Hy Zimmerman of "The Seattle Times"] wrote a column telling Bill Daley to go home and it p****d Bill Daley off. I don't recall what I wrote; I was probably teed off at the American League, but I don't remember anything that really hurt them.
Did that have anything to do with the team moving?
No, I really don't think so. I think Daley wanted out. He was, after all, a native of Cleveland, he was getting very old and he didn't want to come in here and throw more money into it and that's all the money there was, what Mr. Daley had.
What can you tell me about the Carlson plan?
That was a pretty good plan. He really rallied the community. He got everybody in on it, he got the Teamsters in on it, all that. All these pledges and so on. The whole idea was that all profits, if any, would go to the artsto the symphony, to stuff like that. But the American League wasn't going to go for that one, they just turned it down.
He seemed like quite a guy.
He was a hell of a man. We don't have them like him anymore.
What about Joe Gandy?
He made some money with his Smith-Gandy agency and he lived out in Broadmoor and he was a convivial guy. He was kind of appointed to run the World's Fair and made a little name for himself, did a good job. Then he tried to run for governor and he got beat. Joe was a good guy but he really was not a big player.
During the trial, were people angry about the AL moving the team?
Sure they were. They were ticked off. They felt that it was very high-handed and it was, to jerk that thing out and move it to Milwaukee. They wouldn't dare do anything like that now, mostly because of that lawsuit. That was the first lawsuit to succeed against baseball. They were jerking franchises all over hell in those days. They took the Boston Braves out of there and put them in Milwaukee, they put the Washington team down in Texas. It was a real Scrabble game for a while.
What does a major league team mean to a community?
It's all economics. How many dollars does it bring in? What kinds of dollars does it bring in? Does it really provide employment? There's been a recent study about that very thing, having to do with some of this is myth. In other words, hat major league baseball doesn't do all they claim they do, or that its boosters claim it does. There are two different kinds of money. The Mariners are here. Okay, there's employment there for some people at the stadium. The Mariner players and executives themselves make good money and bring money into the community. The hotels and motels and restaurants and things like that benefit because people come from Vancouver and Yakima and all over heck. It can't be taken without a grain of salt, it has to be looked at.
Do you remember much about the opposition to the Queen Anne site?
There was quite a bit of residential opposition to it. Later, they developed a thing called the U.S.S.R. after the Soviet Union. U.S.S.R. stood for United something Queen Anne something. The whole idea was to keep high-rises away, view-blocking projects. They have pretty good zoning up there on Queen Anne.
That was about when Ruano got involved with the first effort to repeal the stadium commission recommendation.
I don't remember all the details of it. Ruano was, frankly, a pain in the ass. I think he was from South Park or something, but he got fixated on this thing.