(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.
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.”
- 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.
By Glen Sparks
Happy birthday, Henry Aaron. Hammerin’ Hank turns 82 today. The great slugger is No. 2 on baseball’s all-time home run list, or still No. 1, depending on your point of view. This is a look at Aaron’s life and career in 10 bullet points:
- Born Feb. 5, 1934, in Mobile, Ala., Aaron played 23 seasons in the major leagues (1954-76). He hit 755 career home runs, 733 in the National League for the Braves (both the Milwaukee and Atlanta versions) and 22 for the then-American League Milwaukee Brewers.
- The Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues signed Aaron on Nov. 20, 1951. He spent three months with the Clowns in 1952 and is the last Negro league veteran to appear on a Major League roster.
- Aaron never hit 50 home runs in one season. He topped out at 47 in 1971. He hit at least 40 home runs eight times and led the league in 1957 (44), 1963 (44), 1966 (44, again) and 1967 (39). Aaron smashed at least 30 home runs in 15 seasons, the only player to ever do that.
- The right-handed slugger finished in the top five in MVP voting eight times, but he won the award only once, in 1957. Besides belting 44 home runs that season, he led the N.L. with 132 RBI and finished fourth in batting average at .322.
- Curt Simmons, a long-time pitcher, once said this of Aaron: “Trying to sneak a fastball by Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster.”
- Aaron ranks first on the all-time list in RBI (2,297) and first in total bases (6,856). He led the league in RBI four times and drove in more than 100 runs 11 times. He is third all-time in hits (3,771) and games played (3,298).
- Aaron smacked home run No. 713 on Sept. 29, 1973, the next-to-last day of the season. He had to wait more than six months before tying Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record of 714. That blast came April 4, 1974, off Cincinnati Reds hurler Jack Billingham at Riverfront Stadium. Four days later, in front of 53,775 fans at Atlanta’s Fulton-County Stadium, Hammerin’ Hank knocked No. 715 off Los Angeles Dodgers starter Al Downing.
- The Baseball Writers voted Aaron into the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot, in 1982, with 97.8 percent of the vote. Only Ty Cobb had been elected to Cooperstown with a higher percentage (98.23 in 1936).
- MLB created the Hank Aaron Award in 1999 to honor the top hitter in each league. Later that year, Aaron was named to baseball’s All-Century team. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. Statues of Aaron stand outside Miller Park in Milwaukee and Turner Field in Atlanta.
- The San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds hit career home run No. 756 on Aug. 7, 2007, off the Washington Nationals’ Mike Bacsik, to break Aaron’s mark. Bonds retired with 762 homers … and with a cloud of suspicion all around him. How much help did Bonds get from performance-enhancing drugs? Too much, many observers say. In the minds of many, Aaron remains baseball’s true home-run king.
Larry Hisle hit 166 home runs and earned spots on two All-Star teams in a 14-year Major League career. Now, the former outfielder does something even more important than smashing line drives off hanging curveballs. He mentors at-risk kids in the Milwaukee area.
I ran across an article about Hisle, written by Gary D’Amato in the Nov. 8, 2011, edition of the Milwaukee Journal. Hisle is on call at all hours to help young men in trouble. The 67-year-old goes to schools, jails, courthouses and rough neighborhoods. He asks cops, judges and principals for “the toughest nuts to crack.”
D’Amato also writes about Hisle’s own tragic youth, one that left the Portsmouth, Ohio, native an orphan at age 10. Hisle put all of his energy into sports, especially baseball and basketball. Now, he channels his past and his athletic energy into a passion for helping youngsters. “I just want children to be left with a better life than what I was left with,” Hisle says in the article. “I want them to experience the feeling I had in my life when I realized that I really mattered.”
Do you remember much about Hisle as a player? The Philadelphia Phillies drafted him out of high school. He spent parts of four seasons with the big club and hit 20 home runs (3.7 WAR) in 1969. He developed into a star during his five years with the Minnesota Twins (1973-77).
Hisle hit 28 home runs with 119 RBI and .a 302 batting average (144 OPS+, 5.1 WAR) in 1977. Contract talks broke down that offseason, and he left for the Milwaukee Brewers. In his first year with his new team, Hisle hit 34 home runs with 115 RBI and a .290 batting average (153 OPS+, 5.3 WAR).
A rotator cuff injury put a premature end to the slugger’s on-field career. He worked as a hitting coach for the Brewers and the Toronto Blue Jays before taking on his role as full-time youth mentor. Outgoing baseball commissioner and former Brewers owner Bud Selig offered high praise to his one-time employee. “What a wonderful human being,” Selig said in the Journal article. “He is one of the nicest human beings I’ve met in my entire life. And I really mean that.”