ONCE UPON A TIME, a Seattle baseball team thrived on playoff hope. News stories brimmed with words like “pennant,” “flag” and “magic numbers.”
Sound familiar? Except we’re not talking about the 2022 Mariners. Instead, we salute the last Seattle pro baseball team to win a championship — the Seattle Angels, who, one step below the majors, topped the Pacific Coast League in 1966.
Based at venerated Sicks’ Stadium (razed in 1979, now the site of a Lowe’s home improvement store) and managed by former pitching star Bob Lemon (Hall of Fame, 1976), the team was dubbed the SeAngels by sports writers to distinguish it from the California Angels, the Los Angeles-based parent club.
Dotting the roster were many former and future big-leaguers, including pitchers Jim McGlothlin, Roger Craig and Andy Messersmith and outfielders Jay Johnstone, Al Spangler and Bubba Morton. Veteran third baseman Felix Torres led the Angels with 20 home runs and 90 runs batted in. Young first baseman Charlie Vinson hit 19 home runs, with 84 RBI.
But firing up the SeAngels in their final weeks was a sensation from the Mexican League, an 18-year-old infielder whose last name matched that of Julio, today’s megawatt M’s star — Aurelio Rodriguez.
In his first game, on Aug. 18, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound shortstop went 3 for 4. The Seattle Times’ headline: “SeAngels Pick Up Three Hits at Airport.” The future longtime major-leaguer played 17 games down the stretch for the ’66 Angels, hitting .254. He made his first appearance in the majors the next year, at the age of 19.
Unlike latter-day M’s luminary Alex Rodriguez, he was not nicknamed A-Rod. In fact, his first name often was shortened to Leo. He didn’t speak English, writers said, so he used sign language and was assisted in conversations by roommate Hector Torres, an Angels infielder.
Rodriguez played 17 seasons for seven big-league teams, most notably the Detroit Tigers from 1971-79. He was a strong-armed third baseman in the majors, winning a Gold Glove in 1976. Rodriguez appeared in 2,017 major league games and hit 124 homers. Tragically, he died in 2000 at the age of 52; he was walking in Detroit when a car jumped the sidewalk and hit him.
The 1966 season was a jolly run for a team that synonym-seeking journalists called the Halos, Cherubs and Seraphs. The nail-biter playoff series victory against Tulsa (head-scratchingly far from the Pacific Coast) stretched to all seven games. The Angels won the final game, 3-1.
Masterminding 44 player transactions that year was SeAngels general manager Edo Vanni, no stranger to pennants, having starred for the PCL-leading Seattle Rainiers from 1939 to 1941. “It’s a thrill, I’ll tell you,” Vanni said as the Halos entered their playoff series against Tulsa. “If that’s what it takes to get major league ball here, Seattle is in.”
His words were prescient. The Pilots arrived at Sicks’ Stadium for their solitary year in 1969, and one year after the old Kingdome opened in 1976, the M’s sailed into Seattle for good. The rest is history — to be made.