AS SPORTS DISASTERS GO, the Seattle Pilots were major league. In the summer of ’69, like paunchy, aging versions of the Bad News Bears, our first MLB club found new ways to lose in front of paltry crowds in a crumbling stadium for a manager whose go-to solution to on-field incompetence was to “go pound some Budweiser.” And then a year later they bolted…for Milwaukee.
But where the sports geek sees a season best left forgotten, Oregon-based documentarian Steve Cox sees heroes like pitcher Jim Bouton (who later wrote Ball Four, a dishy memoir about the team), oddball anecdotes (heard the one about the fan who got stuck overnight in a porta-potty?), and unanswered questions about the team’s overnight exodus from Seattle. So to celebrate the 40th anniversary of that crash-and-burn bit of baseball lore, Cox interviewed nearly two dozen players, historians, and even the team’s batboy, and spent his own money to produce The Seattle Pilots: Short Flight into History, available on DVD later this month at seattlepilotsfilm.com. The documentary takes a swing at answering what went wrong, but Cox’s biggest score may be discovering the one-and-done club’s persistent popularity. “There’s some nostalgia in Seattle,” Cox says, “but people all over the country fell in love with the team’s shaggy-dog story.”