(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.
This is the first of a two-part follow-up to my three-part series on the Boston-Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves. (Yep, the math gets crazy sometimes.) You can read parts I, II and III here. This post reports on the franchise shuffling in major league baseball that followed Boston’s departure to Milwaukee. My next post will cover the Seattle Pilots-Milwaukee Brewers drama/fiasco.
By Glen Sparks
Next stop …
The Boston Braves’ move to Milwaukee in 1953 ushered in a round of franchise relocations that lasted more than a decade. Suddenly, owners were looking at U.S. maps, trying to swap problem markets for shiny, new ones. The following is a rundown on the relocations that followed the Boston-to-Milwaukee move, the first one in major league baseball since the Baltimore Orioles moved to New York in 1903 and became the Hilltoppers, (later, the Yankees).
The St. Louis Browns. Oft-forgotten in a city with the powerful Cardinals and usually buried in the standings, St. Louis’s American League franchise called in the moving vans in 1954. In this case, a bit against the prevailing grain, those vans headed east rather than south or west. The rechristened Baltimore Orioles played to great success following some early struggles.
The Philadelphia A’s. The team had fallen on hard times after winning five championships under legendary manager Connie Mack. Following a 107-45 campaign in 1931 and a 94-60 one in 1932, the A’s suffered through six 100-loss seasons (plus six with at least 95) over the next 20-plus seasons. They moved to Kansas City in 1955. The Midwest’s version of the A’s never had a .500 season and lost at least 100 games four times in 13 years.
Brooklyn Dodgers/New York Giants. You could write an entire book on this, and many people have. The bottom line is this: Major League baseball was going to be in Los Angeles at some point. Dodger owner Walter O’Malley negotiated with New York City officials—faithfully or not—and couldn’t come to an agreement. L.A. officials opened their arms and offered O’Malley some premium property on a hill north of downtown. The Dodgers needed another team out west and invited the Giants, who were playing in the dilapidated Polo Grounds. The teams began play in L.A. and San Francisco in 1958. Each franchise draws more than three million fans every year. That’s the very, very short version. Roger Kahn can give you the long version. Be careful, though. He had a dog in this race.
Washington Senators. “First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.” That’s what many people said about Washington, D.C., and Senators baseball. The team that once boasted the great pitcher Walter Johnson, that won back-to-back World Series in 1924-25 and that took the pennant in 1933 (losing to the Giants in the Series) crashed hard. Plenty of losing seasons were wrapped around a few winning ones in the years following the ’33 campaign. Owner Calvin Griffith moved his club to Minneapolis-St. Paul before the 1961 season and changed the team name to the Twins.
Milwaukee Braves. The fun didn’t last forever. Before long, the team fell both in the standings and in the stands. The team left for Atlanta in 1966. Read more about it more in Part II.
Kansas City A’s. Like the Braves, the A’s played in their new home city for 13 seasons. The A’s, though, didn’t enjoy nearly as much success as the Braves did. Attendance in Kansas City topped out at nearly 1.4 million, in the team’s inaugural season of 1955, and began on a gradual slope downward after that. Eccentric owner Charles O. Finley took his team to Oakland in 1968. The result: 16 division titles, six A.L. pennants, five World Series titles and an organization synonymous with Moneyball.
Seattle Pilots. It didn’t work out. (More about this in my next post.)
Washington Senators II. The nation’s capital got a new team as soon as the old one left. From 1961-71, the latest version of the Senators lost an average of 90 games every season. Two cool things: Frank Howard, all 6-feet-7 of him, hit some monstrous home runs. The so-called “Capital Punisher” won two home run titles. Also, former Red Sox great Ted Williams managed the club for a few years. His tenure including an 86-76 (.531) campaign in 1969. The team still finished fourth, but it was the best year for a Washington Senators Part II squad. Before the 1972 campaign, the team left for Arlington, Texas, in suburban Dallas and became the Rangers.
Since then, just one baseball team has left its home city. The Expos departed Montreal for Washington, D.C., in 2005 to become the Nationals, the third team since 1900 to make a go of it in the District.