Thursday, June 4, 2020

Review of "Inside Pitch"

It isn't often I will read any book of any length in one sitting, but that was the case with this short, excellent book on the Seattle Pilots and their one fatefull season in the American League, 1969.  Here is my review of "Inside Pitch"

“Inside Pitch: Insiders Reveal How the Ill-Fated Seattle Pilots Got Played into Bankruptcy in One Year” by Rick Allen

Baseball, professional, Pilots, management

Publish date:
June 5, 2020

180 pages

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

When Major League Baseball (MLB) added four teams for the 1969 season, one of those teams was the Seattle Pilots.  While the Pilots and their players have already been lionized in the legendary book “Ball Four” by Pilots pitcher Jim Bouton, little has been written or stated about the chaotic season in the team’s administrative offices. That is now changed with this book by journalist Rick Allen documenting the craziness in getting ready for that 1969 season.

The subtitle of this book could be re-titled as “How Not to Run Your Brand New Baseball Team.”  Much of the material written by Allen was obtained from interviews with two men who did long days and nights of work in the Pilots’ offices. Bob Schoenbachler, who could best be described as the team’s chief financial officer at the tender age of 21, having already been an accountant for Seattle’s minor league teams the previous two seasons.  Jim Kittilsby had already established himself in minor league baseball administration and jumped at the chance to return to his native Pacific Northwest area when Dewey and Max Soriano offered him a job with the Seattle Angels, the same team that offered Schoenbachler his job.

The Soriano brothers were listed as the principle owners of the Seattle franchise when MLB decided to expand by adding four teams in 1969. This threw off the timetable of preparing the area for a MLB team as it was thought the new team would start in 1971 or 1972.  Because Kansas City had just lost the Athletics to Oakland and was threatening legal action against MLB, it was decided to give Kansas City a replacement franchise as soon as possible in 1969 and to keep a balanced schedule, the Pilots would have to begin that same season.

This caused all types of headaches for the Soriano brothers and their front office staff, including Kittilsby and Schoenbachler.  What follows, through the eyes and memories of these two Pilots staff members, is a crazy season that started off with needing to add seats right up to the opening pitch of first game of the season. Some ticket holders had to sit in bleachers that had just been installed (they could hear hammering from the ticket booth outside Sicks Stadium) and freshly painted.

That Sicks Stadium was inadequate for MLB was just one of a myriad of problems that Kittlesby and Schoenbachler shared that doomed the Pilots from the start.  Very few of the revenue streams that fund a team were lacking for the Pilots either due to the timing of their start or the lack of interest.  There was also a severe lack of interest from both fans, as attendance fell far below expectations, as well from the business community.  When it became clear that another buyer was needed to keep the team in Seattle (from a directive by MLB), no one came forward.  The team was declared bankrupt and just before opening day of the 1970 season, the team moved to Milwaukee under a new ownership group headed by future commissioner Bud Selig.

Kittlesby and Schoenbachler moved with the team to Milwaukee and shared stories of the early days in that city as well, with Schoenbachler staying with the team an additional five years.  Their tales of woe for the Pilots franchise ran from sad to funny. Their recap of a popular promotion, Bat Day, was an example of a story that was both funny and sad, as the team did not order enough bats and these two, in addition to their other multiple duties, had to man the gates at the conclusion of the game and determine which families were carrying out too many bats. 

That is just one example of the issues plaguing the Pilots during their one year of existence and bringing these issues to light through two men who experienced them makes the book have an air of authenticity to it as well as providing entertainment. While it is a short book it was one of the few books I read in one sitting as whether it was bat day, last minute stadium repairs or incompetent front office staff working with these two gentleman, “Inside Pitch” tells the story about the Seattle Pilots that many people would not have known otherwise.

I wish to thank Mr. Allen for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
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