Our story about the Seattle Pilots, and the city’s first Major League Baseball hero, Ray Oyler, brought back memories for many readers.
We got phone calls. We got texts. We got emails. We got a whole collection of fun, sweet, recollections. In addition to those left in the comments section of the story, here are a few shared directly with us via email:
“On a sunny Sunday afternoon, many years ago, my son and I were paired with and played a round of golf with Ray Oyler and his wife at the Redmond golf course, which is now long gone. Ray was a delight but not a very good golfer. He looked like he was hitting a baseball, just bent over a little.”
— John R. Praeger, Seattle
“I was 16 years old for the Pilots’ 1969 opener at Sicks’ Stadium. I bought a program and kept score. I still have the program. It will always be valuable to me.
“One of my favorite memories is giving Ken ‘Hawk’ Harrelson, from the White Sox, a bad time because he had the tightest pants. The left-field fence was only about 30 feet away from the Hawk, and we were at ground level.”
— Greg Harlow, Ballard
“I roomed on the road with Ray. A great, easygoing guy. He died much too young.” — Former Tigers pitcher, two-time Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain
“I am from Detroit and was 11 when the Tigers won the World Series in 1968. I have memories of Mr. Oyler working at a local sports shop and seeing him in the offseason. I can remember going into the store four times to buy four sets of shoelaces for my gym shoes so I could see him and talk for a bit.”
— David Schulte, Troy, Ill.
“I was at Sicks’ Stadium when slow-footed Boog Powell hit a ball to right-center. It hit a concrete post and rebounded toward the infield. It might have been the only inside-the-park HR of his career. [It was.] If I recall, I had a 10-ticket-for-$20 ticket book. But in the early summer, after I joined The Seattle Times, I had a press pass.”
— Greg Heberlein, Fremont
“Growing up in Seattle across from the ballpark, I can relate to this. I used to go to the Rainiers games and sit on the hill above left field and watch all the games with my brothers and uncle. Then, when home on leave from the military, I used to go with my high school buddies and watch the Pilots.
“I still love the game and watch our Mariners and grandson play the greatest game of all.”
— Brad Running, Seattle
“Having coached high school baseball during my career as an educator in Indiana, in my humble opinion, baseball games — regardless the level of play — are won with pitching and defense. There would always be a place on my team for Ray Oyler. Ray won a World Series ring, a feat many Hall of Famers can’t claim.” — George Smith, Mill Creek
“Fun memories, even though watching the Pilots was almost as much fun as watching the grass grow.” — Bob Campbell, Kirkland
“I have been a lifelong Mariners fan, but being 34 years old, I just don’t know very much about our first MLB team. I only know the story of how the team left and became the Brewers. … It was great to learn about some of the past players, their lives, and what the city was like during the Pilots’ short stint here.”
— Sonya Weasner, Kent
“My friends and I in the mid- to late-1960s used to take the bus from Mountlake Terrace to Sicks’ Stadium to watch the Seattle Rainiers/Angels play. I still have about 30 of the little black-and-white player photos that came in the bags of popcorn. … I can still picture me and my friends sitting in Sicks’ Stadium, looking out on that beautiful field, the people beyond the left-field wall on Tightwad Hill and, while waiting for the bus ride home, standing under the open locker-room windows and hearing the players after the game talking and carousing. Can’t tell you how many times I fell asleep listening to Bill Schonely and Jimmy Dudley on the radio.”
— Roland Rhue, Camano Island
“As an 18-year-old, I traveled with the Seattle Pilots for 10 days. Ray asked me to work in his backup glove during warmups before games. I thought my big Don Mincher first-base glove was perfect until I stuck my hand in Ray’s glove. It was absolutely the best-feeling glove I had ever played with. I immediately asked, ‘Are you sure you want me messing with this glove?’ It’s unbelievable; it’s perfect. I got to take infield with the Pilots before a game (played first base and used Ray’s glove). I do not know if it was possible to miss any balls with that glove. He couldn’t hit, but could that guy field, a vacuum cleaner and a truly nice man. I did watch him hit two home-run balls in a row against the Angels, both a couple of feet foul, then strike out.
“That whole team was a circus, which I imagine most professional sports teams are. It had a significant impact on whether I wanted to play professional baseball. I witnessed several incidents mentioned in Jim Bouton’s book [‘Ball Four’] on that road trip. You saw it all in a small group of men. Racism, ignorance, jealousy, anger, intelligence, superstition, off-the-charts humor (that was the best), literally a microcosm of society. The one common denominator: Baseball players generally are a fun group of guys to hang with. One incident that did not get mentioned in Bouton’s book because he wasn’t there to witness it: Wayne Comer was buying me a pizza in Kansas City, and the conversation turned to high school baseball. One thing led to another, and Comer started talking about what a great player he was in high school (comparing my statistics with his). At the same time, Mike Hegan walks by and, with absolutely perfect timing (knowing Comer was from a small Southern high school), at the end of the story says, ‘Yeah, Steve, but what he didn’t tell you was that he was playing six-man baseball.’ I couldn’t help myself. I started to laugh. Comer didn’t think it was very funny and got [upset]. That is what you get when you combine 25 guys from all different parts of the country. By the way, the first two guys to talk to me were Tommy Davis and Dick Simpson, probably two of the coolest and nicest gentlemen you would ever want to meet. Needless to say, I was intimidated by the whole situation and was basically just trying to stay out of everyone’s way.”
— Stephen Waite, Bellingham
“I was 14 on Christmas 1968. My dad gave me a $20 coupon book, good for 10 general-admission tickets. I usually went to games by myself. I would ride the No. 7 bus down to Sicks’ Stadium, walk up to the right-field bleachers, watch the game for eight innings and head home. Mickey Mantle retired in spring training that year, so I never got to see him play. I do remember Frank Howard [of the Washington Senators]. He was huge, even from the right-field bleachers! He hit a couple of bombs that landed on Empire Way, I think.
“I started collecting baseball cards a few years ago. I figured the 1969 Pilots, having played just one year, might be valuable. Wrong. Same as the 1970 Pilots. Or should I say Brewers? Can’t believe they left one week before the season started. Can’t believe they sold the team to a used-car salesman named Bud Selig.” — Duane Keyes, Renton
“The first Major League game I ever saw was the Pilots vs. the Red Sox. What caught my attention at the time was a throw from the right-field corner to third base [by a Boston outfielder]. I lived in Vancouver, B.C., when I was a kid. As my dad was a baseball fan, we’d drive down to Seattle a couple of times a year to catch a game. They played true doubleheaders now and then, and we’d get our fill of baseball for a while. I never imagined that a man could make that throw [from right field] dead to the bag at third. At least until a skinny Japanese outfielder named Ichiro Suzuki showed up.”
— George Elliott, Oak Harbor
“I read [‘Ball Four’] in my early 20s in 1970 or so. I thought: what a loser [Pilots manager] Joe Schultz was — ‘Let’s pound some Bud,’ after each game. Now, at 73, I realize what wisdom he possessed.”
— Ken Jacobsen, Seattle