The Seattle Pilots are truly one of the greatest one-year wonders in the history of professional sports as the club lasted just a single season in Sick’s Stadium before being relocated to Milwaukee and becoming the Brewers. The team’s cardboard legacy is a relatively small one, but it all began with the 1969 Topps set which included players from all four of baseball’s expansion clubs that year.
While the city of Seattle had a long history of minor league teams and some Major League teams considered relocating there, the Pilots were a rag-tag group of players which had trouble winning games and drawing fans. The original intention was to have them join the American League in 1971, but the lack of a big league in Kansas City after the A’s moved westward, the pressure was on to bring the new Royals club to a new market and they would need to be joined by another squad ahead of schedule in order to have an even number of teams in each division.
As a result, the first Pilots team was a bit of a mess from management trickling down to the field. Many of these struggles were immortalized in the landmark book, Ball Four, which was written by Pilots pitcher Jim Bouton.
Controversial upon its release – especially from his fellow players and the baseball establishment, it tore back the curtain and let fans know what was really going on in America’s game. Today, it is regarded as perhaps the greatest sports book ever written, but it essentially ended Bouton’s career on the field.
Where Are the Logos?
Since Topps was releasing it early baseball card series in the time leading up to spring training and the season’s early contests, it meant that the 1969 Topps Baseball set could show some of the players Seattle and their expansion cousins in Kansas City, Montreal, and San Diego as members of their new clubs, but it would be a few months before they could actually be shown in their new jerseys.
At the time, Topps was also utilizing a lot of older photos due to disagreements with the budding MLBPA, only settling their differences leading up to the 1969 campaign when the trading card giant agreed to increase payments from $125 to $250 per player plus potential royalties as well. Later series would give some kids their first looks at the new teams in uniform.
The first Pilots cards were chosen from among the American League castoffs the team acquired in the expansion draft as it alternated selections with the Royals. Bouton, unfortunately, never made it into the set that year and there were a couple of omissions in Gene Brabender and Fred Talbot. Seattle’s players leading up to card 481 were either found without a hat or had a hideously airbrushed cap – typical for Topps in this era.
On the field, the Pilots did manage to win their first game against the California Angels, but struggled a bit out of the gate by going 7-11 during the month of April. In May, they went a respectable 13-13 and followed it up with a 14-15 record in June. From there, the wheels fell off – especially when they registered a 6-22 record in June.
Finishing the year at the bottom of the American League West with a 64-98 record, the Seattle Pilots were doomed – even with the city planning to build a domed stadium for the team. With ownership refusing to put in more funding to help the team stay afloat, a car salesman out of Milwaukee named Bud Selig made an agreement to buy the Pilots during the 1969 World Series and relocate them to Wisconsin.
Despite some court action which delayed the move slightly, Seattle’s team began spring training as the Pilots and declared bankruptcy to faciliate the move east and were officially rechristened as the Milwaukee Brewers. Topps, however, did not change the team name for Pilots players in its 1970 set – meaning that kids following the new team had to wait until 1971 to see the Brewers on cardboard.
Not Much Cardboard
All told, the Seattle Pilots left behind a brief legacy on the field and in the hobby. For those wanting to learn more outside of collecting the cards, picking up a copy of Ball Four will help give a fantastic perspective of what players went through on and off the field. Luckily for local fans, the sport would return once again to Seattle in 1977 with the birth of the Mariners.
Here’s a look at the Seattle Pilots players that can be found in the 1969 Topps Baseball set:
#17 Mike Marshall
Notorious for his refusal to sign autographs (even for kids!), the man who eventually became Dr. Marshall and a Cy Young Award winner to boot, it is only fitting that the chronologically first Seattle Pilots card in 1969 Topps belongs to one of the team’s quirkier characters. A late expansion draft pick out of Detroit, Marshall got into 37 games with the Tigers in 1967 before being exiled to the minors the following year.
Transitioning from a reliever to a starter for the first time, he tossed a complete game against the expansion cousin Royals on April 14, taking the loss in a 2-1 decision. He would get some revenge against Kansas City a week later with his first win of 1969. He blanked the Washington Senators on May 9 and took down the Boston Red Sox nine days after that. Unfortunately, that victory proved to be his last of the season as he finished with a dismal 3-10 record with a gaudy 5.13 ERA. He would not follow the club to Milwaukee, as he was sold to Houston not long after the season drew to a close.
42 Tommy Harper
Highly coveted heading into the expansion draft, Seattle picked Harper third overall knowing that he had some great seasons in Cincinnati before enduring a rough 1968 campaign with Cleveland. The first player to get a hit in franchise history, a change of venue definitely helped his production and he wound up leading the American League in stolen bases (73) while topping the loop by being caught stealing on 18 occasions. He stole multiple bases on 10 occasions, including four of them in the second half of a double header with the Chicago White Sox where the Pilots eked out a 6-5 victory at Comiskey Park.
The only Pilots player to get any MVP consideration (he finished 29th in voting), he spent two years with the Brewers after the move and led the A.L. in stolen bases once again in 1973.
62 Chico Salmon
A light .214 batting average sent Salmon out of Cleveland and into the arms of the Pilots with the 11th selection in the expansion draft. Naturally, such a high selection made him a candidate for a card with Topps, but he did not get a chance to make it into a regular season game with Seattle and some kids were left scratching their heads when they did not see him on the roster. He was traded off to the Baltimore Orioles for Brabender and Gordy Lund on March 31, 1969.
83 Mike Ferraro
The New York Yankees took brief looks at Ferraro in 1966 and 1968 and was almost an afterthought as a late choice in the expansion draft. His stint with Seattle was rather brief, lasting five games with an equal amount of plate appearances – with no hits and reaching base just once. Just 10 days after his last appearance on April 20, he was traded to the Orioles with Gary Schoen for Tom Fisher, John O’Donoghue, and minor leaguer Lloyd Fourroux. After his playing days, Ferraro stuck around the game and had partial-season stints running things with Cleveland in 1983 and Kansas City to close out 1986 after Dick Howser was let go.
111 John Morris
Morris had a 3-1 record over 32 appearances between Philadelphia and Baltimore prior to his arrival in Seattle, but he was not able to enjoy much success with the Pilots. Making it onto a Topps card for the first time in 1969, he only got into six contests with the expansion club and had a lofty 6.39 ERA in a relief role. He split the rest of the season between the PCL’s Vancouver Mounties and the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association. The stint with Indianapolis is puzzling as that club was affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds at the time.
135 Tommy Davis
Early in his career, Davis was a fantastic hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers as he won the National League’s batting crown on top making All-Star Game appearances in 1962 and 1963. He even had franchise record 153 runs batted in during the ’62 schedule, but found himself bouncing from the Mets to the White Sox and still hitting over .300 in the years before Seattle drafted him. One of the marquee names for the Pilots for most of the season, he was primarily a fixture in left field and hit .271 with a team-leading 80 RBIs. At the end of August, he was traded to the Houston Astros and the west coast club got Sandy Valdespino and Danny Walton in exchange.
178 Ray Oyler
The fifth overall pick in the expansion draft, Oyler had evolved into a regular at short for the Tigers and had finished second in the American League for fielding percentage at his position in 1968 before being part of a World Series-winning squad. As a result, he was counted upon to be a regular with the Pilots and it was hoped that he would give club some much-needed defensive stability. His offensive numbers were dismal that year thanks to a .165 batting average – but it was still an improvement of 30 points over the previous season and he chipped in seven home runs.
209 Larry Haney
The most notable thing about Haney’s card from the 1969 Topps set is the fact that the photo on the front is reversed. On the back of this card, Topps stated their belief that he was going to see a lot of duty with the Pilots after being picked up 32nd in the expansion draft. His best outing in Seattle by far came when he hit a home run to seal a 1-0 victory over California on April 28. He only played in 22 games for the club before being shipped off to Oakland for John Donaldson on June 14, 1969.
233 Steve Barber
Barber was one of Baltimore’s top hurlers throughout much of the 1960s and even won 20 games on one occasion before being moved to the Yankees during the 1967 campaign. After going 6-5 in 1968, he became a member of the Seattle Pilots via the expansion draft and became part of the club’s starting rotation when healthy. His first victory of 1969 saw him get in nine innings against Oakland on April 26, but he really did not start to see more action until August that year. He finished with a 4-7 record, but was released by the Brewers just before the 1970 season began.
254 Joe Schultz
Schultz only got into 240 games over a nine-season big league career split between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Browns from 1939 to 1948. Over the next 20 years, he remained close to the game as a coach at the big league level with stints as a minor league manager as well. While most baseball fans view his stint in Seattle as a bit of a comedic one, his easy-going approach was often appreciated by his charges.
The 1969 Topps card is his rookie issue outside of some regional cards and postcards, but he does make another appearance in 1973 Topps as part of the Billy Martin card which also featured Detroit’s coaching staff. He actually took over as manager of the Tigers later that year after Martin was fired.
285 Don Mincher
Despite making an All-Star Game appearance as a member of the California Angels in 1967, Mincher’s standing within the organization dropped considerably as his production plummeted the next year. As a result, he was Seattle’s top choice come draft day. The selection was a smart one for the team as he earned another appearance in the mid-season classic thanks to 17 homers and 51 RBIs during the first half. Those numbers softened as the season wore on, but he wound up leading the Pilots with 25 home runs. He did not make the move to Milwaukee, though, and was traded to Oakland on January 15, 1970.
301 Darrell Brandon
Otherwise known as “Bucky”, Brandon struggled to find his way in the Red Sox organization and went 5-11 in 1967 before spending the majority of the next season exiled to Louisville. He really did not get much of a chance to shine in Seattle, either, as he made just a single start and seven relief appearances that resulted in a jaw-dropping 8.40 ERA. On July 8, 1969 he was sold to the Minnesota Twins and appeared in just three games. In 1971, he returned to the bigs with Philadelphia.
322 Jose Vidal
Vidal’s big league tenure prior to being sold to the Pilots consisted of 70 games over three seasons Cleveland and the Indians did not get much offense out of him between 1966 and 1968. His first appearance with Seattle against the White Sox on April 13 was memorable as he went two-for-four and hit a home run in a 12-7 loss. It did not get better than that, though, as he delivered just three hits over the next 17 games while being used primarily as a pinch hitter and pinch runner. On May 19, he became a member of the New York Yankees in exchange for Dick Simpson – but never appeared in another big league contest.
346 Wayne Comer
Comer was seemingly not on Topps’ radar before his short stint with the Detroit Tigers which saw him earn a World Series ring in 1968 and he was an appealing enough for the Pilots to grab him when drafting talent. As a result, he was penciled in for the 1969 Topps set while he was patrolling the outfield for Seattle. This season proved to be his busiest at the big league level and his numbers were decent enough, but he was not around the franchise for long after the move to Milwaukee.
377 Gary Bell
A veteran pitcher coming off an 11-11 season with the Red Sox in 1968, Bell was part of Seattle’s early starting rotation and experienced his worst campaign with the Pilots. Over 11 starts, he went 2-6 and started well with a 7-0 shutout against Chicago on April 11 and was the team’s first win at home. His second triumph came a little over a month later over the Yankees. His last appearance came June 6 before being traded off to the White Sox.
394 Lou Piniella/Marv Staehle
Any baseball fan who has memorized the list of players that have been named the American League’s Rookie of the Year know that Piniella never played a game with the Seattle Pilots, but instead was traded to the Kansas City Royals for John Gelnar and Steve Whitaker just before the 1969 season began. This was not his first Topps card by any stretch, having already been on multi-player rookie cards in the 1964 and 1968 Topps sets. He eventually returned to Seattle as manager of the Mariners from 1993 to 2002.
Staehle was a familiar name to collectors during this era as well, having appeared on cards in 1965 and 1966 while trying to break in with the White Sox. He never played a game with the Pilots in the bigs, too, but was stuck in the minors before going over to the first-year Montreal Expos on September 13 and appearing in some late-season contests.
413 Roland Sheldon
Sheldon had pitched for the Yankees from 1961 to 1965 and was out of the majors the following year, but was on a mission to return as a member of the Seattle Pilots. Unable to crack the lineup, his card here was wishful thinking more than anything else on the part of Topps and played in the minors for Toledo, Vancouver, and Tucson in 1969.
451 Rich Rollins
This first of three Pilots cards to feature two versions – one with the first name in yellow and the other in white, Rollins’ 1969 Topps card comes as his career was in its downward slide. An two-time All-Star back in 1962 as a fresh-faced rookie with the Twins, he was a smart expansion draft pickup by the Pilots. His season came to a close after just 58 games in Seattle, but he did have a pair of games in which he drove in four runs.
482 Jim Gosger
The first Topps card with a player in his Pilots uniform, Gosger’s 1969 cardboard has the white and yellow letter variations. He appeared in just 39 games with Seattle, highlighted by a two doubles and home run against Minnesota on April 16. Instead of sticking around for a while, he was sent to the New York Mets to complete a previous transaction.
However, he did make a postseason appearance on that club’s miraculous World Series squad as he had been declared ineligible for the playoff roster. Ball Four fans will also remember his part in one of the book’s most off-color tales as well, but we won’t get into that one here!
511 Diego Segui
A longtime member of the Athletics who debuted in 1962, Segui came to the Seattle Pilots with the 14th pick in the expansion draft and was used as both a starter and a reliever during the 1969 season. He was one of the team’s few bright spots thanks to a 12-6 record and was second in wins behind Gene Brabender. On top of that, he also earned a dozen saves!
His 1969 Topps card is the third, and final, Seattle player that comes with either a yellow or white first name. Interestingly enough, Segui was the only player to get into a game with both the Pilots and the Mariners as he made some appearances with the latter club during their first season in 1977.
534 Jerry McNertney
McNertney enjoyed a career year with the Pilots in 1969, rewarding the team for selecting him seventh off the White Sox roster in the expansion draft. He hit the first game-winning RBI in team history during the season opener against the Angels and delivered at least one hit in all but one of his first 10 appearances. Seattle’s key player behind the plate, McNertney stuck around the Majors for a few more seasons.
563 Marty Pattin
Pattin went 4-4, primarily in relief, for the Angels in 1968 and his 2.79 ERA over 52 appearances was appealing to the Pilots, who chose him 18th in the expansion draft. Even if he had not been selected, it appears likely that Topps would have made his first card in 1969 and his rookie issue features a great posed shot.
Fans at Sick’s Stadium were already familiar with Pattin and he spent most of the previous three seasons in the city. He took to the mound for the season opener and thanks to an early offensive outburst, earned the first victory in Pilots history. He earned the W while pitching a complete game against the Yankees on May 12, 1969 and that was part of a streak of four straight wins for the 26-year-old. At one point in the year, he was 7-4, but ultimately dropped his next eight decisions. He was part of the team which moved to Milwaukee and was named to the American League roster for the 1971 All-Star Game.
577 Mike Hegan
A second-generation talent featured here on his third Topps card, Hegan spent several seasons attempting to win a spot with the New York Yankees and even got into 68 games with them in 1967, but he had difficulty sticking around in the Bronx. He hit .304 with Syracuse in 1968, which certainly caught the attention from Seattle’s scouts and they offered the Yankees cash for his rights that season.
The purchase was certainly a smart one and he hit the first home run in franchise history during the season opener against California on April 8. The two-run blast came in the first inning off of Jim McGlothlin. Hegan looked great over the first half of the year, resulting in the chance to be Seattle’s other representative at the 1969 All-Star Game.
612 Jack Aker
Aker was a decent reliever for the Kansas City Athletics in the mid-1960s and was with the club when it relocated to Oakland in 1968. After leading the American League with 32 saves in 1966, back-to-back campaigns of just 12 apiece saw him exposed to the new expansion clubs and Seattle was pleased to take him with the 24th pick.
He was brought in during the ninth inning of season opener against the California Angels and earned a save after retiring the three batters he faced. Any further magic from that point forward was rather scarce as he suffered a pair of losses in his next 14 appearances and blew a save against expansion cousins, the Kansas City Royals, on April 23, 1969. By mid-May, Aker and his bloated ERA were on the move to the Yankees in exchange for Fred Talbot. Luckily for Aker, his season would improve from there by going 8-4 the rest of the way.
631 John Kennedy
Kennedy spent much of the 1960s playing for the Senators, Dodgers, and Yankees, but he found himself splitting the 1968 season between the AAA Syracuse Chiefs and Columbus Jets. Luckily, expansion was about to bring him back to the bigs thanks to the Pilots shelling out some dough for his rights.
While he certainly was not an everyday player in Seattle, Kennedy was used primarily between late May and the beginning of July. Perhaps his biggest highlight of a tough season was hitting home runs in back-to-back games against the Minnesota Twins on September 20 and 20, 1969.
651 Gus Gil
An early acquisition for the Pilots organization, Gil was picked up in a trade with Cleveland in May, 1968 for Chuck Cottier and some cash. Cottier had mysteriously been acquired by Seattle in a secretive deal with the Angels during the previous month and by August of that year, was back with California. Gil had previously been on a Topps card two years earlier, sharing it with fellow Indians prospect Bill Davis.
As for the then-30-year-old Gil, he was an extremely light hitter but found a home with the Pilots for 92 games in their first season thanks to a decent glove. He did hit a career-best .222 with seven doubles. Most of his appearance came during the first half of the schedule and incredibly, was even used as a pinch hitter on 40 occasions! He remained with the organization when it moved east and saw spot duty before making his final big league appearance in 1971.
Beyond the Basic Cards
While there are plenty of basic Topps cards depicting the original Seattle Pilots, there are also some other neat items for collectors to consider. First up, there are postcards which include even more talent from the roster along with team-issued photos that come in 5″ X 7″ or 8″ X 10″ sizes. There are also some less-popular items like Milton Bradley game cards and MLB Photo Stamps from 1969, but the players are not shown in their Pilots uniform on those.
Canadian collectors also managed to get a few Pilots in that year’s O-Pee-Chee set. There are eight to pick up and parallel the Topps set leading up to Larry Haney’s card. The backs also have more of a reddish tone to them and the Topps name is replaced by O-Pee-Chee, but the text is in English only as Canadian language laws were not in full effect at this point.
As for Topps itself, there are some neat Pilots items to augment a collection such as a pair of Decals of Davis and Mincher, a Deckle Edge of Davis, and a quartet of Four-In-One Stickers that mimic the basic cards. The Topps Stamps from that year have a funky-looking album and kids could paste a dozen players into it. Mincher and Davis got the Topps Super treatment complete with facsimile autographs on the front and the most intriguing piece of Pilots history the company issued in 1969 is by far the Team Poster which depicted 11 players and is quite scarce today.
You can see 1969 Seattle Pilots cards and memorabilia on eBay here.