How the Seattle Pilots helped baseball come to Toronto
Who would have thought that the Toronto Blue Jays being granted a franchise had roots in Seattle and Milwaukee?
The story begins with the Seattle Pilots. “Seattle who?”, you ask? The Pilots were granted an AL franchise in 1968 with plans to begin play in 1971.
Due to various circumstances, including the creation of the Kansas City Royals, that date was moved to 1969. With only one year to prepare and only one minor league stadium to play in, the club was doomed from beginning. The Kingdom, the eventual home of the pilots, was approved but still to be built.
With only a year of preparation time, they began play in 1969. Their first year record was 64-98. The ownership was not rich by MLB standards. The season was a financial disaster and Milwaukee wanted a team. The Pilots and a Milwaukee group, led by then-car dealer and former Milwaukee Braves owner Bud Selig, struck a deal that was challenged in court.
The move and creation of the Brewers was not approved until six days before Opening Day in 1970. The Brew Crew played the first half of the season in the old Pilots uniforms with new crests, and the Brewers team colors today are a modified version of those colors.
So how do the Mariners come into the picture? Lawsuits, and lots of them, between AL and various Seattle and Washington state entities suing AL for breach of contract, and as with many lawsuits, there were no winners other than the lawyers, who were rumored to have bought multiple buildings and private. revenue aircraft.
They were placed on the courthouse steps in 1976, with Seattle being awarded another franchise, the Mariners, to begin play in 1977.
Giving only one franchise would have the AL with an odd number of teams and an unbalanced schedule. Toronto had been looking for a franchise for some time, almost becoming the Toronto Giants at one point. Ultimately, the big money ownership group of Labatt, Webster and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (or “CIBC”) was awarded the compensation franchise.
At the time, United States President Gerald Ford pressured Major League Baseball to give Washington, DC an expansion club instead of Toronto. At that point, Washington had been without an MLB team since 1972, when the Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers.
Despite rumors that Washington, DC would in fact acquire Toronto’s American League franchise and Toronto would acquire an NL club, nothing ultimately came of it.
With Toronto officially approved as the second expansion club of the 1977 season, the name Blue Jays was chosen in a lottery the team held in a “name the team” contest.
So that’s how the stories of the Pilots, Mariners, Brewers and Blue Jays intertwine. Just like the weather muse: a butterfly wing flying in Brazil ends up causing a tornado in Kansas a month later.