Who can forget those fabulous Seattle Pilots? The home of that ill-fated, short-lived expansion team, Sicks' Stadium, was another of those short-lived "mystery" stadiums associated with abrupt relocations and expansions, and bore much in common with Seals Stadium and L.A.'s Wrigley Field. It was originally called "Sick's Stadium," named after brewery magnate Emil Sick, who purchased the Pacific Coast League Seattle Indians in 1937, changing the team name back to what it had originally been, the "Rainiers." He single-handedly saved the struggling franchise from ruin, and built his team a new ballpark the very next year. In 1950, the name was changed to "Sicks' Stadium" (moving the apostrophe), reflecting the fact that other family members had become part owners.
By major league standards, the single-decked Sicks' Stadium was small had very short field dimensions. Originally (1938), the uncovered bleacher sections extended to each foul pole, with no seats beyond the outfield fence. Total capacity was 11,000 in the minor league days. To protect fans from the frequent rains in Seattle, nearly all rows in the main grandstand was covered by the roof. There was a small "batter's eye" dark background at the center field fence, and a miniscule scoreboard in back of the seating section beyond that. A photograph from the early years indicates that the original distance to the backstop was about 45 feet, but this may have increased by the 1960s.
In preparation for the Pilots' inaugural season in 1969, several additional rows were added to the rear of the bleachers along the third base side (the sightlines were terrible), and work was begun on bleachers in the outfield. In addition, a press box was added to the roof behind home plate. Because of bad winter weather, however, the expansion of the stadium was not completed by Opening Day, so the initial capacity was only 18,000. By June there was room for 25,420, and by August the capacity was up to 28,500. (Apparently, there were plans to expand the capacity even more, but it became a moot point when the Pilots went bankrupt late in their inaugural season; hence the hypothetical "1970" version diagram shown above.) The result of this hasty improvisation was a haphazard conglomeration, not unlike Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota. Not only was Sicks' Stadium old and cramped, it had old plumbing that was never intended to handle so many fans, so that the toilets often failed to flush and showers produced a mere trickle. The one positive aspect of Sicks' Stadium was that most fans got to sit very close to the field. The reason for the "staggered" depth of the left field bleachers is that there was a curved thoroughfare immediately in back of it; they squeezed as many seats they could into the tight space available.
There were some signs of hope for the Seattle expansion team in the first half of the 1969 season, and the Pilots even came to within a few games of .500 in June. Their biggest star was Tommy Harper, who stole 73 bases, the most by an American League player in 54 years. Perhaps a more memorable character was pitcher Jim Bouton, a former Yankee, whose infamous tell-all book Ball Four was based largely on his experiences with the Pilots. The Seattle team collapsed in July, however, and fan interest dwindled. The total attendance at Pilots' games was only 677,944, far below the expected one million, and the franchise was bankrupt by the end of the season.
The Pilots franchise was doomed by inadequate capitalization, the poor ballpark facilities, and bad relations between the the principal owners (Max and Dewey Soriano) and Seattle business leaders, whose support was needed to get the promised new domed stadium built. On March 31, 1970 a federal judge allowed the Pilots to be purchased (for $10.8 million) by a group of Milwaukee businessmen led by none other than Allan "Bud" Selig, who became MLB Commissioner in the 1990s. The team hastily moved to Wisconsin just in time for Opening Day, and changed their name to the Brewers. Seattle city leaders learned the lesson of failing to muster strong public support for a professional baseball team, which is why they overcompensated by building the extravagant Kingdome for the expansion Mariners franchise a few years later. In 1972, a second Seattle Rainiers minor league team began playing in Sicks' Stadium, and then moved to Salem, Oregon when the Seattle Mariners were born in 1977. Sicks' Stadium was demolished in 1979, and a Lowe's Home Improvement warehouse now stands in its place.
SOURCES: Lowry (1992, 2006); Pastier (2006); Mark Armour (ed.), Rain Check: Baseball in the Pacific Northwest (SABR, 2006)
FAN TIP: Dave Peck, Bruce Orser