The Seattle Indians? It Could Have Happened

As the Indians and Mariners do battle in Seattle, it’s worth remembering that at one point, this meeting might not have taken place. There was a time when the Indians nearly moved to the Emerald City.

Hank Greenberg left Cleveland in 1957 embittered but having built the team’s farm system into the envy of the major leagues. Greenberg tried to engineer the team’s move to Minneapolis, saying that Cleveland wasn’t a baseball town. After ownership vetoed the move, he sold his shares and quit as general manager. He later reunited with the man that hired him in Cleveland, Bill Veeck, with the White Sox.

Until 1953, baseball was played no farther south or west than St. Louis. But in 1953, the Braves left Boston for Milwaukee and the Browns left St. Louis to become the Baltimore Orioles, setting off a decade of shifting franchises, as the Athletics left Philadelphia for Kansas City and the Dodgers and Giants left New York for California.

The Indians also seemed to be on the precipice of moving, with rumors swirling about the team pulling up stakes and going to Houston or Minnesota. In the early 1960s, baseball started to expand – in part to put an end to the Continental League, a league that had been discussed and organized, among other reasons, to bring baseball back to New York City. Expansion teams in the early 1960s were established in Houston, New York and Minnesota – all cities that were identified as potential Continental League franchises.

But as the 1960s went on and the Indians slid into mediocrity, rumors about them moving didn’t seem to subside. Before the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta, there were rumors of an Indians move there. There was an agreement in place with owner Vernon Stouffer for the Indians to play home games in New Orleans. But the closest the Indians came to a move in the 1960s was to Seattle when Bill Daley owned the team.

The team’s lease with the city for Municipal Stadium would be up after the 1964 season, and Daley and general manager Gabe Paul engaged in a very public courtship with the city of Seattle. As the Indians appeared to be in play, Oakland and Dallas also made presentations for the team. It appeared that the city would not make efforts to improve the stadium, so Indians management went to Washington, where city officials offered to build a domed stadium by 1970. In the meantime, the Indians would play at Sicks Stadium, home of the Seattle Rainers of the Pacific Coast League. The stadium had a capacity of 18,000 – far too small for even a lousy major league team. The Indians were confronted with the same problem in Oakland, where Youel Field had 22,000 seats.

Ultimately, an agreement was reached with the city and Cleveland mayor Ralph Locher for a new lease, and the Indians stayed in Cleveland. In 1969, Major League Baseball expanded yet again, with teams in Montreal, San Diego and Seattle. The Pilots played in Sicks Stadium for a year before being bought by a Milwaukee used car dealer named Allan “Bud” Selig. The Pilots moved to Milwaukee to become the Brewers, and when baseball expanded again in 1977, Seattle got the Mariners, in part to settle a lawsuit by the city, county and state for breaking the Pilots’ lease. This time, the Mariners played in the domed stadium, which was built in anticipation of the new team – the Kingdome.

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