Seattle, King County, and State of Washington suspend lawsuit against baseball's American League on February 14, 1976, clearing way for Mariners.

  • By John Caldbick
  • Posted 2/12/2013
  • Essay 10321
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On February 14, 1976, the City of Seattle, King County, and the State of Washington conditionally settle their joint lawsuit against the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs. The settlement is announced after the Seattle City Council, the last holdout, votes 7-1 to accept its terms. Under the agreement, the American League will expand, allotting a team to Seattle as a replacement for the ill-fated Seattle Pilots, who played only the 1969 season before being moved to Milwaukee, triggering the lawsuit. The case took nearly six years to come to trial and ran for about a month before the settlement. Rather than being dismissed, the legal action is placed in abeyance pending the league's fulfillment of settlement terms and the establishment of a new baseball team in Seattle. William L. Dwyer (1929-2002), a highly respected Seattle trial attorney who would later become a federal district court judge, represents the State and County in the suit.

Seattle Baseball

The first record of an organized baseball club in Seattle dates from 1872, with a team called the Dolly Varden (the name of both a character from Charles Dickens [1812-1870] and a fish native to the North Pacific). It was short-lived, and  its fate does not appear to have been noted in any contemporary sources. From 1877 to 1879, an amateur team named the Alkis played on a makeshift diamond at the Seattle Race Course in Georgetown; its fate too remains murky. In 1890, just one year after the Great Seattle Fire, the city's first professional baseball team, called simply the Seattles, was born, but soon died in the run-up to the financial Panic of 1893.

From 1898 through 1910, the city would see teams named, among other things, the Klondikers, Rainmakers, Clamdiggers, Chinooks, Siwashes, Giants, Rainiers, and Indians. In 1907, Daniel E. Dugdale (1864-1934), a well-traveled professional baseball player, streetcar grip, and real-estate speculator, built Yesler Way Park at 12th Avenue and Yesler Way, the first dedicated baseball park in Seattle. Six years later he built Dugdale Park, the first double-decker baseball stadium in the country, in Rainier Valley. What might be considered the "modern era" in Seattle baseball started in 1938, when brewer Emil Sick (1894-1964) bought the Seattle Indians, re-renamed the team the Rainiers (also the name of a beer he brewed), and built Sicks' Stadium on the site of Dugdale Park. In 1960, Emil Sick sold the Rainiers as a farm team to the Boston Red Sox, which kept the name. In 1965 the California Angels bought the team and renamed it the Angels. 

Amateur black teams also found a home in Seattle and one, the Steelheads, played in Sicks' Stadium in 1946 as part of the all-Negro West Coast Baseball Association. It was short-lived, but by no means the only such team in the area.

The Seattle Pilots

The Pilots were brought to town in 1969 by brothers Dewey Soriano (1920-1998), a ships' pilot and former professional baseball player, and his brother Max (1925-2012), an attorney and successful businessman. They had been awarded the franchise two years earlier during the American League's 1967 winter meeting in Mexico City, but it came with conditions attached.

Sicks' Stadium was the only venue in Seattle remotely fit to host a major-league baseball team, emphasis on remotely. To secure the Pilots franchise for the city, King County had to commit to build a domed stadium to house the new team within three years. This would take a vote of the people, and the American League dispatched such stars as Mickey Mantle, Jimmy Piersall, and Carl Yastrzemski to convince the public to foot the bill. Although they had defeated similar proposals in 1960 and 1966, this time voters were won over, and in 1968 they approved a  $40-million bond measure to pay for the stadium as part of a wider civic-improvement package known as Forward Thrust.

But the team was due to start playing in Seattle in 1969, and Sicks' Stadium -- now more than 30 years old, much too small for major-league ball, and far past its prime -- would have to do for the time being. The City of Seattle allocated $1.73 million to upgrade and expand the old place, and work began on January 6, 1969, with the Pilots' first home game set for April, just four months hence. The original plan was to increase the ballpark's seating capacity from 12,000 to 28,000; high costs soon reduced this to 25,000. A new scoreboard, fences, and lights were also added.

A Brief and Troubled Life

After splitting a pair of road games against the California Angels, the Seattle Pilots' first home game was scheduled for Friday, April 11, 1969, against the Chicago White Sox. Workers were still rushing to add bleacher seats to Sicks' Stadium the day of the game. But at 2 p.m. Seattle pitcher Gary Bell (b. 1936), nicknamed "Ding Dong," hurled the first pitch toward the vicinity of home plate. It was a ball. The batter, Luis Aparicio (b. 1934), grounded out to shortstop on the next pitch, and Seattle went on to win the game, 7-0. It was not, sadly, a hint of things to come. Over the course of the season, the Pilots were 34-47-1 at home and 30-51 on the road.

But it was not the Pilots' mediocre record that was to cause problems. Sicks' Stadium, even after the improvements, was a huge disappointment. As tersely described by one Seattle sports scribe:

"There were less seats than promised, poorer seats than promised. It was, at the kindest, a ramshackle, makeshift affair" ("Sports Hy-Lites").

And the people of Seattle, with a well-earned reputation for often valuing process over progress, were having a difficult time deciding where to put the covered stadium the County had promised to build. The season was not even over before Joe Cronin (1906-1984), the American League's president, was hinting, none too subtly, that the American League was considering moving the Pilots to another city. Later disclosures would show that this had gone far beyond mere "consideration." To top it off, it was rapidly becoming clear that the Soriano brothers were well beyond their financial and managerial depth. By January 1970, an investment group headed by Seattle theater owner Fred Danz (1918-2009) was trying to buy the team, as was a separate group headed by hotel executive Eddy Carlson (1911-1990), who wanted to run it as an intentional non-profit. The league gave Danz a deadline of January 22, 1970, which he missed; Carlson's offer remained on the table, unaccepted and virtually ignored.

To deter the league from acting, Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman (b. 1935) threatened on January 22, 1970, to sue to keep the Pilots in Seattle. Uhlman's complaint was that the City, in hopes of gaining a Major League baseball team, had purchased Sicks' Stadium in 1965 for $1,115,000, and later, to secure the Pilots, had poured in another $1.8 million to make the improvements demanded by the league. The mayor's threat drew immediate support from Governor Dan Evans (b. 1925), King County Executive John Spellman (1926-2018), State Attorney General Slade Gorton (b. 1928), and the State's two Democratic U.S. senators, Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989) and Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983).

Off to Milwaukee

There are differing theories about what led to the decision to pull the Pilots out of Seattle, ranging from tepid fan support to conspiracy. The most widely accepted version is that the team's primary investor, William R. Daley (1892-1971), former owner of the Cleveland Indians, got cold feet shortly after the first season began when financial projections indicated that, far from being profitable, the Pilots would in all likelihood need additional infusions of money. Daley was a baseball man, but he was also a businessman, and he didn't get rich by pouring his money down a rat-hole. In September 1969, with the debut season still underway, Daley warned Seattleites that he would give them just one more year to show that the team was viable in the city. And, to indicate how serious he was, Daley refused to spend another cent on the Pilots.

By January 1970 it had become obvious that the American League had every intention of moving the Pilots, and Uhlman made good on his threat just one day after it was made. On January 23, 1970, the City filed suit to prevent the removal of the team. The named defendants were Pacific Northwest Sports, Inc., of which Dewey Soriano was president and Max Soriano secretary; Max Soriano individually; and Daley, who held a 47 percent ownership share in the franchise. 

By now the team was virtually broke. In February 1970 the American League had to advance the Pilots $650,000 just to stay afloat, and it was projected that this would all be spent by May 1. The Pilots would start spring training that year as Seattle's team, but the end was near, and more lawyers were waiting in the wings. The Bank of California, which was owed $3.5 million by Pacific Northwest Sports, demanded immediate payment when the team's insolvency became obvious. This was more than enough to tip the teetering Pilots into formal bankruptcy.

At first through rumor rather than formal announcement, it soon became widely known that the American League intended to move the Pilots to Milwaukee for the 1970 season. On March 13, 1970, Seattle attorney Alfred J. Schweppe (1895-1988) filed a suit to enjoin any such move. Three days later, the State of Washington brought out the big guns. On March 16, 1970, noted Seattle trial lawyer and antitrust expert William L. Dwyer filed an action on behalf of the State against the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs. He was granted an immediate temporary restraining order banning any imminent move of the team. There were now four different legal actions underway in two different courts  -- the City's suit, Alfred Schweppe's suit, the State's suit (all in King County Superior Court), and the bankruptcy in federal court.

The Big Gun

Although he had only been in private practice for about 14 years, Bill Dwyer by 1970 had earned a reputation as one of the finest trial lawyers in the state, with an admirable record of winning tough and complex cases. Perhaps none would be as challenging as the Pilots suit, which sought $32 million in damages. His co-counsel in the case was Jerry McNaul, a member of Dwyer's law firm, Culp, Dwyer, Guterson & Grader.

Dwyer's hiring was in large part due to State Attorney General Slade Gorton, who had testified for Dwyer's clients, John (1917-1979) and Sally Goldmark (1907-1985), in a 1963 libel trial that won nationwide notice and greatly contributed to Dwyer's growing reputation as an exceptional advocate. Gorton, although a Republican, had a great deal of respect for the Democrat Dwyer's intelligence and skill, and many years later he would nominate Dwyer for a seat on the United States District Court, a position that, after a two-year battle for Senate confirmation, Dwyer assumed in 1987.

State of Washington, et al. v. The American League

When the initial dust had settled, the number of legal actions had been reduced to two. King County joined as a plaintiff in the State's action in King County Superior Court, as did the City. King County joined the State as Dwyer's client; the City was represented by its corporation counsel's office. The bankruptcy was following its own course in federal court. Any effort to keep the Pilots in Seattle was doomed when, on March 30, 1970, federal bankruptcy Judge Sidney Volinn (1917-1998) ordered the team's sale to the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club for $10.8 million. The Pilots had been in Seattle seven days short of one year.

The forced move to Milwaukee tightened the focus of the case. From here on the plaintiffs would concentrate on recovering damages rather than fight the losing battle of keeping a bankrupt, and by now somewhat unpopular, team in the city.

In his complaint, Dwyer threw the kitchen sink at the defendants. There were multiple claims based on multiple legal theories and the alleged violation of no fewer than 10 separate Washington State statutes and three federal laws. The claims based on federal law caused the first significant delay in the action. The defendants moved to have the suit heard in federal court, arguing that the alleged violation of certain specific federal statutes compelled the move. When the King County Superior Court agreed that a transfer to federal court was required, the plaintiffs appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Dwyer didn't want to lose the home-court advantage, the very thing the defendants feared most, other than Dwyer himself.

A Bizarre Legal Conundrum

The futility of trying to explain in any great detail the nuts and bolts of the suit against the American League is demonstrated by the April 1972 opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that returned the case to the King County Superior Court. It starts:

"Appellants' complaint is long, elaborate, and not easy to summarize. It contains twelve claims based on four theories ... . The First, Second and Third Claims are based on the [American League's] violation of 'antitrust' laws ...

The court then tried valiantly to summarize the plaintiffs' claims:

"Paragraph 23 alleges that ... the American League and its member club owners ... have obtained monopoly power, and in general have artificially fixed the conditions for access to professional baseball by prospective players and club owners, and ... have restrained commerce in fields other than the exhibition of baseball ... .

"Paragraph 29 alleges ... violation of the Sherman Act, the Consumer Protection Act of the State of Washington (RCW Ch. 19.86), and other applicable antitrust statutes.

"Paragraph 31 ...  alleges that the [defendants] (1) fixed prices and excluded competitors ... ; (2) boycotted nonprofit organizations that seek to operate professional baseball clubs on a public service basis; (3) restrained trade in industries distinct from the baseball industry; and (4) exploited monopoly power in inducing franchise applicants and state and local governments to make substantial investments for the procurement of baseball franchises on the basis of false representations" (460 Fed.2d at 654). 

As complicated as all this was, the real nub of the case was noted by the appellate court in one tortuous sentence: 

"Paragraphs 33-49 ...  allege that ... the American League stated that it would give Seattle a baseball franchise if the people of King County provided a stadium and subsequently announced the award of a franchise to Pacific Northwest Sports, Inc., thereby inducing the expenditure of large sums of money by [plaintiffs], but that the League ultimately sold the franchise to the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, Inc., contrary to all of its promises and representations ...  ." (460 F.2d  654).

There also were claims based on fraud, breach of contract, and a small bevy of other legal theories, and the Court of Appeals ultimately found no compelling reason to burden the federal courts with the formidable task of unraveling things. It acknowledged that the federal courts had exclusive jurisdiction over claims based on the antitrust Sherman Act, but Dwyer's unrestrained mixing of state and federal claims created a situation that the appeals court characterized as "the kind of legal tour de force that most laymen cannot understand" (425 F.2d 654).

Put simply, federal courts are the only courts authorized to hear antitrust actions based on violations of the Sherman Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1–7). But when a case that was started in state court is removed to federal court, the federal court has only the jurisdiction that the state court had. Since the state court had no jurisdiction over claims brought under the Sherman Act, neither would the federal court, although its jurisdiction would have been unquestioned, and exclusive, if the case had been started in federal court in the first place. But now, since it would not have jurisdiction, the federal court would in this odd circumstance have no option but to dismiss the claims that were based on the Sherman Act, a truly bizarre result. The court of appeals, with obvious exasperation, noted:

"One would have thought that the purpose of removal in such a case is to get the case out of the court [i.e. King County Superior Court] that lacks jurisdiction to hear it and into the court [i.e. federal district court] that has jurisdiction, and to keep it in the latter court, so that it can be tried and a valid judgment can be entered"  (425 F.2d 654).

It is impossible to know more than four decades later if Dwyer was clairvoyant enough to have anticipated this legal conundrum and had drafted the complaint with it in mind. Whether intentional or fortuitous, he had so thoroughly blended the plaintiffs' claims, some based on state laws and some on federal laws, that it was virtually impossible to untangle them without fatally damaging the plaintiffs' entire case, and this was something the appellate court would not do:

"[W]e will assume that [the defendants] are correct in arguing that [the plaintiffs] have stated a claim or claims under the Sherman Act. It seems to follow that those claims should be dismissed. But there is a practical difficulty in doing that. The federal antitrust claims are not separately stated. They are inseparably intertwined with the state claims arising out of the same set of facts. And they are accompanied by other separately stated claims that are clearly not federal claims at all. Certainly the state claims should not be dismissed, and we know of no authority that would require that they be dismissed. The federal court not being allowed to proceed with the federal claims giving rise to its removal jurisdiction, the state claims should be remanded. The only practical way to do this is to remand the whole action [to the state court]" (425 F.2d 654).

Reading this opinion of the three-judge panel of the court of appeals, one can almost hear the sound of six hands being thrown up in the air:

"If the state court lacks jurisdiction ... the federal court acquires none, although it might in a like suit originally brought there have had jurisdiction" (425 F.2d 654),

By luck or design, Dwyer simply had outmaneuvered the American League. The entire case, federal claims and all, would be heard in state court. He had created, essentially out of thin air, state-court jurisdiction to hear claims that heretofore only federal courts had jurisdiction to hear. It was a major victory, but by the time the court of appeals ordered the case remanded to the King County Superior Court for trial, it was the plaintiffs' turn to worry.

Follow the Bouncing Ball

Back in his home court, Dwyer started worrying that the people of King County, the pool from which a jury would be drawn, might have bad feelings about the whole dispute, given all the turmoil, delay, and seemingly endless fights over where and when to build a domed stadium for a baseball team that had long before fled the area. (Before ground was broken for the Kingdome in 1972, more than 100 sites had been considered, there had been numerous rancorous public meetings and protests, and the King County executive had been sued.) Now the plaintiffs asked for a change of venue, and on August 7, 1972, the motion was granted and the case moved to Kitsap County. Even this move proved temporary; the whole thing ultimately ended up in the Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett.

With the litigation finally in a permanent roost, the lawyers for both sides could get down to the serious work of preparing for trial. Although it would take place in Snohomish County with a jury drawn from that county's rolls, Judge Frank Howard (1931-2006) of the King County Superior court would preside.

The Trial

Almost since the case had been filed, there was the hope that the litigation would force the league to give Seattle another franchise, and such a possibility was being discussed and negotiated  throughout most of the years between the time the Pilots left and when the trial started. The long-awaited courtroom showdown was originally scheduled to start in January 1974, but by agreement of the parties was delayed until the following year because the Kingdome had not been completed, and the American League had expressed a willingness to give Seattle a team once an adequate stadium was in place. In January 1975, the trial started and a jury was picked, but the parties again asked for a one-year continuance in hopes Seattle would be awarded a franchise. When this didn't happen, a new jury --  nine women and three men -- was selected, and on January 12, 1976, the court battle was finally on. Dwyer and McNaul represented the State and the County; Seattle corporation counsel Lawrence McDonell stood for the City. Attorneys David Waggoner of Seattle and John Ferguson of Cleveland, Ohio, represented the American League.

The trial, once it started, was not without drama, but seemed bathed in an aura of anticlimax. The Pilots were long, long gone; the Kingdome had been completed just less than two years earlier. On December 5, 1974, the National Football League had awarded a franchise to a local group to establish the Seattle Seahawks. To many, the trial seemed like picking at a barely healed wound, but there were compelling financial reasons driving it forward. And, as always, the hope that the American League could be intimidated into giving Seattle a new professional baseball team.

The plaintiffs all sought reimbursement from the American League for money spent or lost. The City of Seattle wanted to recover what it had paid to rehabilitate Sicks' Stadium and the rent it would have received from the Pilots had they stuck around. (The top draw to the Kingdome in its first year of operation was an evangelical revival meeting.) King County claimed that the drawn-out process of building a covered stadium had been undertaken for the primary purpose of keeping the Pilots in Seattle. The Kingdome was built but the baseball team was gone, and the County hoped to recover the revenue it would have realized had the Pilots remained in Seattle. The State of Washington, for its part, wanted the American League to indemnify it for all the potential tax revenue that was lost when the Pilots decamped to Milwaukee.

From the first day of the trial it was clear that serious negotiations were underway to bring another baseball team to Seattle, and that a primary purpose of going forward was to keep the American League's metaphorical feet to the fire. Among the first witnesses called by Dwyer were American League team owners and officials, representatives of the opposing side. As adverse witnesses, they could be questioned using the techniques of cross-examination, and they did not fare well under Dwyer's polite but aggressive interrogation.

Then, on January 14, with the trial in just its third day, the American League owners, meeting in Phoenix, voted to give Seattle an expansion-team franchise in 1977. Attorney General Gorton raised the possibility that the trial would be halted again. But there was no reservoir of trust between the parties; the plaintiffs were unwilling to suspend the proceedings based only on promises by league owners who, the plaintiffs believed, had lied to them before. And, to amp up the pressure, Dwyer announced that if a deal was not sealed before the end of January, the plaintiffs would not settle merely for a new team -- they would also want to collect millions of dollars in damages.

So on it went, day after day, while barely-behind-the-scenes negotiations took place. Dwyer continued to score points against the league with patient, probing questions. As the trial progressed, it became obvious that the case Dwyer had constructed for the plaintiffs was stronger than many thought it could be. Some of the first witnesses only reinforced that belief. Among other revelations, Allen "Bud" Selig (b. 1934), the president of the Milwaukee Brewers (the former Pilots), admitted that serious negotiations to remove the team from Seattle had started even before its single season in the city was completed, and at a time the league was publicly saying only that such a move was being "considered."

Meanwhile, the question of who would own a new Seattle team was being hammered out. A group that included Seattle radio-station and recording-studio owner Lester Smith (1919-2012), famous entertainer Danny Kaye (1913-1987), and four other investors came forward. It had the financial wherewithal that the Soriano brothers and Pacific Northwest Sports had lacked. By February 8, 1976, it was clear that a deal to bring a new expansion team to Seattle was virtually complete. But Dwyer's January deadline for settlement had passed, and he publicly insisted that a new team alone would not resolve the suit. It would take money, as well.

Finally, on February 9, 1976, a battle that had started more than six years earlier seemed about to draw to a close. The framework  of an agreement was announced on February 13, and the trial was put on hold until February 17 to allow the parties to work out the final details of a deal. But there was to be one  more hitch -- King County and the State agreed to forego any monetary settlement, but the City of Seattle was less willing. Finally, on February 14, after often-rancorous discussions with the other plaintiffs, the city council voted to accept a new team in full settlement of its claims. One councilmember, Tim Hill (b. 1936), cast the sole dissenting vote.

The Seattle Mariners

The Kaye/Smith partnership was awarded the new franchise, and plans for an American League expansion team to play in the Kingdome were finalized. But the plaintiffs in the lawsuit -- the City of Seattle, King County, and the State -- were still not willing to take the American League at its word. Rather than dismiss the lawsuit, it was again put in abeyance, this time until the projected April 1977 debut of a new team. Dwyer later recalled:

"We didn't dismiss the case immediately. We provided in the agreement that the trial would be recessed and continued for a little over a year -- until the opening of the 1977 baseball season, to make sure a team was out there in uniform, playing baseball" ("Seattle Sues Baseball").

On April 6, 1977, the new Seattle Mariners played their first game. The opposing team was the California Angels, and the Kingdome was the venue. Seattle's aging starting pitcher, Diego Segui (b. 1937), allowed six runs in the first three and two-thirds innings, and the Mariners went on to lose 7-0, the mirror-image of the Pilots' home-debut win against Chicago eight years earlier. They would finish the season as the second-worst team in professional ball, with a lamentable 64-98 record. It wasn't often pretty, but it was, at least and at last, baseball.


David Eskanazi, "Wayback Machine: Seattle Struck Gold in Dugdale," SportsPress Northwest website accessed February 5, 2013 (; Mike Fuller, "A Short History of Seattle Baseball," Seattle Pilots website accessed February 5, 2013 (; "Seattle Sues Baseball," Seattle Pilots website accessed February 5, 2013 (; "Sick's Stadium -- April 11, 1969," Back to Baseball website accessed February 6, 2013 (; "1969 Seattle Pilots Schedule," Baseball Almanac website accessed February 6, 2013 (; "Wilbur Gary Bell (Ding Dong)," Baseball Reference website accessed February 8, 2013 (; State of Washington, et al. v. The American League, et al., 460 F.2d 654 (1972); "Ballpark Expansion to Begin," The Seattle Times, January 4, 1969, p. 4; Hy Zimmerman, "Sports Hy-Lites," Ibid., September 9, 1969, p. 46; Hy Zimmerman, "Danz Ignores Deadline for Pilots," Ibid., January 22, 1970, p. D-1; Dick Rockne, "It's No April Fool's Joke," Ibid., April 1, 1970, p. C-1; "Baseball Suit Jurisdiction Argued," Ibid., November 10, 1971, p. G-6; "Baseball Case To Be Tried in Kitsap County," Ibid., August 8, 1972, p. A-8; Hy Zimmerman, "Peking, By Way of -- Snohomish," Ibid., October 25, 1973, p. H-2; Dick Rockne, "Baseball Suit Begins," Ibid., January 11, 1976, p. H-6; Dick Rockne, "Nine Women on Jury in 'Pilot' Suit," Ibid., January 12, 1976, p. B-1; Dick Rockne, "The Show (Baseball Trial) Will Go On -- Gorton," Ibid., January 15, 1976, p. F-1; Dick Rockne, "Pilot Sale Began During '69 Season," Ibid., February 6, 1976, p. C-2; Hy Zimmerman, "Instant Replay, Result Different," Ibid., February 8, 1976, p. H-1; Sam R. Sperry, "Money Must Accompany Team," Ibid., February 4, 1976, p. C-1; Sam R. Sperry, "Hill Explains 'No' Vote on Baseball," Ibid., February 14, 1976, p. A-3; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Baseball club forms in Seattle in July 1872" (by Greg Lange), and " Seattle Neighborhoods: Georgetown -- Thumbnail History" (by David Wilma), and "Dugdale, Daniel E. (1864-1934), Baseball Pioneer" (by Daniel Eskenazi and Walt Crowley), and "Sicks' Stadium (Seattle)" (by Alan J. Stein), and "Kingdome: The Controversial Birth of a Seattle Icon (1959-1976)" (by Heather MacIntosh), and "National Football League awards Seattle a franchise for future Seahawks on December 5, 1974" (by Walt Crowley) (accessed February 5-9, 2013).

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