The city of Seattle has a rich baseball tradition dating back to the start of the 20th century. Seattle teams were mainstays of the independent Pacific Coast League for decades. They drew enthusiastic fans who loved the game and dreamed that one day major league baseball would come to their town. After years of waiting, they finally got their wish in the spring of 1969. The Seattle Pilots, one of two American League expansion teams that year (the Kansas City Royals were the other) took the field to play Major League Baseball in the Emerald City. Although this motley collection of past-their-prime veterans and untested rookies didn’t play particularly well that year and lost 98 games, fans justifiably thought that the 1969 season was just the first in what would be a long and storied major league journey for the Pilots.
But they were in for a big surprise.
During spring training of 1970, as the Pilots players were preparing for their second season, Max and Dewey Soriano, the team’s beleaguered owners, sold out to Alan H. “Bud” Selig who moved the team to Milwaukee. The Pilots became the Brewers – a franchise that is still going strong today.
What happened? Why were the 1969 Seattle Pilots the only team in the modern baseball era to play only one year in a city? Opinions vary and recollections are hazy, but one thing is for sure: the Pilots may have only existed for one season, but they have not been forgotten. And now, on the occasion of the team’s 40th anniversary, the documentary The Seattle Pilots: Short Flight Into History will attempt to uncover the reasons why the team left Seattle and why this one-year team retains a place in the hearts of baseball fans four decades after they played their final game. Featuring interviews with ex-players, administrative staff, broadcasters and historians, this film will be a celebration of the team, its players and the fans who refuse to forget.
One ex-player who has already been interviewed for the film is Jim Bouton.
Bouton was a one-time pitching phenom with the New York Yankees in the early 60’s who was trying to revive his career as a knuckle-balling reliever for the Pilots. After the season, he published a controversial memoir of the 1969 season called Ball Four. The book was an immediate sensation and remains popular today. When compiling his Essential Baseball Library for ESPN, writer Rob Neyer said of Ball Four:
The funniest non-fiction baseball book, and there’s not really any competition. No self-respecting baseball fan should go through life without reading Ball Four at least three times.
Bouton’s book immortalized the Pilots by depicting them as brash, raw, fun-loving and, above all, human. They were men who loved the game they played and fought hard to hang on to their fragile baseball careers.
Just like the year 1969, the Pilots’ story is about dreams achieved and dreams shattered. 1969 saw man first walk on the moon, but also intensifying fighting in Viet Nam. The Woodstock festival was a huge success and a
cultural touchstone, while The Manson Family murders horrified the nation. Against this backdrop, the Pilots story played out – from the high of a brand new team playing Major League Baseball in Seattle, to the low point of losing the team to Milwaukee.
This documentary will be a long-overdue investigation and celebration of the
Pilots. It will be a way for baseball fans to truly understand what happened to Seattle’s one-year team and also meet the men who were part of that team and enjoy their recollections of a unique season in baseball history.