Published in The Seattle Times online on Oct. 6, 2022
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Oct. 9, 2022
Aided by a Rodriguez, baseball flag last flew over Seattle in 1966
By Clay Eals
Once upon a time, a Seattle baseball team thrived on playoff hope. News stories brimmed with “pennant,” “flag” and “magic numbers” to success.
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 stalwart Bob Lemon (Hall of Fame, 1976), the team was dubbed the SeAngels by sportswriters to distinguish it from its Los Angeles-based parent club.
Dotting the roster were 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 team with 20 home runs and 90 runs batted in. Young first-baseman Charlie Vinson hit 19 homers, 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 Aug. 18, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound shortstop went three-for-four. 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 SeAngels, hitting 254 and adding vim to the lineup. He made his first appearance in the majors the next year.
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 roomie Hector Torres, an infielder. After the SeAngels’ Western Division clincher, the Times’ Gil Lyons noted Rodriguez’ “ear-splitting smile.”
Rodriguez played 17 seasons for seven big-league teams, most notably the Detroit Tigers from 1971 to 1979. 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 age 52 while walking in Detroit when a car jumped a sidewalk and ran over him.
The 1966 season became a jolly run for a team that synonym-seeking journalists called the Halos, Cherubs and Seraphs. The nailbiter playoff victory against Tulsa (head-scratchingly far from the Pacific Coast) stretched to all seven games. The SeAngels won the final contest 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 in 1939-1941. “It’s a thrill, I’ll tell you,” Vanni said as the Halos entered their playoff. “If that’s what it takes to get major-league ball here, Seattle is in.”
His words were prescient. The Pilots arrived at Sicks’ 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.
Special thanks to the incomparable Dave Eskenazi for his help with this installment!
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
For a comprehensive look at the SeAngels’ 1966 season, click here.