Famed for its portrayal in Jim Bouton’s tell-all book Ball Four, the Seattle Pilots lasted one season—1969. While the Mets inched toward an improbable World Series victory against the Baltimore Orioles, the Pilots went 64-98. After the ’69 season, bankruptcy disrupted Seattle’s major league plans. New ownership—future Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig—brought the team to Milwaukee under the Brewers label.
Seattle became an MLB city for the second tie when the Mariners took the field on April 6, 1977. A 7-0 loss to the California Angels inaugurated the Mariners, joined by the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League’s expansion during the year of the New York City Blackout, the disco craze ignited by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and the death of Elvis Presley. In the Los Angeles Times, Ross Newhan wrote, “The young, inexperienced Mariners were outmanned in the field and at the plate, made errors that led to runs, failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities and were forced to go with pitchers who would probably be in some other line of work had it not been for the dilution of talent generated by baseball’s repeated expansion.”
Angels pitcher Frank Tanana dominated the Mariners—he struck out nine, walked two, and left nine Mariners on base. Diego Segui started for the Mariners, leaving the game after three and 2/3 innings; the Angels scored five hits and four earned rungs against the veteran pitcher, who went 0-7 in 1977, his last year in the major leagues.
It was not only the Mariners’ first game—it was the first MLB game in the Kingdome, a stadium following the pattern of indoor facilities for professional sports begun in 1965 with the Houston Astrodome. Seattle’s new stadium, while architecturally imposing, had a few trouble spots for the players. Newhan quoted Angels manager Norm Sherry, who opined, “Generally, it’s a very impressive place. But a few things do concern me. The dirt of the mound is so soft the pitcher almost disappears when he comes down on it. That has to be fixed. I think the fielders will have to be reminded constantly that they can’t take their eye off the ball or they’re going to lose it in all that gray of the dome. And there are two big ridges that distinguish the football sidelines. One runs through the outfield. The other funs along the left-field foul line. They could cause problems.”
Seattle sports fans induced the Kingdome in 1976, a year prior to the Mariners’ début, with a soccer game between the New York Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders. Additionally, the NFL expanded in 1976, providing footholds in Seattle and Tampa Bay; the Kingdome created a new outlet for Washington State’s football passion. According to King County’s web site, the eight-day Billy Graham Crusade at the Kingdom in 1976 achieved the largest attendance for a “specific event” with 434,100 recorded attendees. During its tenure, the Kingdome hosted the NCAA Final Four, the NFL Pro Bowl, and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. On March 26, 2000, an implosion captured by video both inside and outside the Kingdome marked the end of an era for professional sports in Seattle.
The Seattle Times reported, “Dust choked downtown for nearly 20 minutes, blocking out the sun and leaving a layer of film on cars, streets and storefronts. The dust cloud reached nearly as high as the top of the Bank of America Tower and drifted northwest about 8 miles an hour.” Nearly 4,500 pounds of explosives and more than 21 miles of detonating cord brought down the 25,000-ton Kingdom roof in 16.8 seconds.
Today, CenturyLink Field stands on the Kingdome site.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 21, 2016.
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