Major League Baseball Returns to Milwaukee … Or, That Ballpark Is Sick

Did this Seattle ballpark help bring baseball back to Milwaukee?

Did this Seattle ballpark help bring baseball back to Milwaukee?

(This is the second part of my two-part article on the Seattle Pilots-Milwaukee Brewers move.)

By Glen Sparks

Sicks’ Stadium was never really Major League material. The steel-and-concrete stadium opened in 1938 as the home of the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Raniers. And, it was good enough for that.

Baseball had awarded an American League team to Seattle for the 1969 season, the Pilots. Sicks’, named after local businessman Emil Sick and aptly named at that according to some critics, was only supposed to be a temporary home. (The stadium was spelled “Sick’s” until the apostrophe change in 1950).  It turned into the saga by the sea.

For one thing, the single-deck structure didn’t seat nearly enough people. Workers scrambled to install extra seats, but there were still only about 18,000 on opening day, April 11, 1969. (When some fans arrived to the park, their seats had not yet been installed. It was a mess.)

Renovations continued through the season. Apparently, the original plan was to start play in 1971. This would have given Seattle more time. However, baseball also had awarded an A.L. expansion team to Kansas City—the Royals—following the A’s departure for Oakland. U.S. Senator Stuart Symington, D-Mo., demanded that the Royals begin play in 1971. This put the Pilots on the clock.  Baseball needed to make sure the league had an even number of teams.

The Pilots played just one season in Seattle.

The Pilots played just one season in Seattle.

Seating had expanded to 25,000 by June, but that didn’t solve all the problems at Sicks’. No one liked the clubhouses, and the water pressure quit to a dribble after the seventh inning. Players showered in hotels. And, the sightlines were terrible. Announcers couldn’t see any action down the third-base line.

Attendance ended up at about 678,000, 20th of 24 teams. On the field, the team finished a woeful 64-98. The owners, maybe to baseball’s good fortune, went bankrupt. When they put up the For Sale sign, they couldn’t find any local buyers, either. It was still a mess.

A group of Milwaukee businessman, led by car dealer Bug Selig, bought the team in bankruptcy court on March 31, 1970, for $10.8 million. Players rushed to Milwaukee to get ready for the season. And, to get new uniforms. Baseball was back in Milwaukee, as the Brewers.

Selig said he shed some tears during that first Brewers game, held April 7, 1970. More than 37,000 fans watched the California Angels thump the home team 12-0 at Milwaukee County Stadium.

“I still tell people that it was the only game that I didn’t care if we won or lost,” Selig said in a Dec. 24, 2014, article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I was just so happy that baseball was back in Milwaukee. And everyone else was happy, too.”

Scott Adelman photo/Robin Yount spent his entire Hall of Fame career as a Milwaukee Brewer.

Scott Adelman photo/Robin Yount spent his entire Hall of Fame career as a Milwaukee Brewer.

Post-script:

  • Selig served as owner of the Brewers until taking over as full-time commissioner in 1998. He retired from that position at the end of the 2014 season.
  • Baseball came back to Seattle in 1977, the first year of the Mariners. The team played for more than 20 years at the Kingdome, another stadium that was met with bad reviews. Finally, though, Seattle got it right. Safeco Field, opened in 1999, is considered one of the game’s top parks.
  • Sicks’ Stadium didn’t just go away. It hosted concert and other events, including minor league baseball again, before being demolished in 1979. If you’re ever up in Fairbanks, Alaska, and you want to take in some baseball, you can sit in a box seat transported from Sicks’. The stadium lives on.
  • The Brewers have won three division titles and one pennant (1982) while in Milwaukee. In 1998, the team moved from the American League to the National League. Great players such as Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Cecil Cooper, Don Sutton, Rollie Fingers and, yes, even Hank Aaron (1975-76), have won the Milwaukee Brewers uniform.
  • The Brewers played at County Stadium until Miller Park opened for the 2001 season. The team draws better than 2.5 million fans every year in a metro area with about 1.6 million people.
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