Seattle Now & Then: 1966 Seattle Angels win Coast League championship

(Click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN1: Edo Vanni, former Seattle Rainiers outfielder and, in 1966, general manager of the Pacific Coast League-topping Seattle Angels, stands on the ledge of the team’s sky-high promotional sign at Sicks’ Stadium along Rainier Avenue South north of South McClellan Street. (David Eskenazi Collection)
NOW: Former 1966 SeAngels batboy George Bianchi (left) and part-time catcher John Olerud (with wife Lynda) mimic Edo Vanni’s “Then” pose next to a weathered sign at Rainier and McClellan that memorializes Sick’s Stadium (later Sicks’ Stadium). The SeAngels caps and jerseys they are wearing were provided by Seattle baseball historian extraordinaire David Eskenazi. (Jean Sherrard)

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.

THEN3: The 1966 Seattle Angels team photo. Aurelio Rodriguez joined the team later. (David Eskenazi Collection)

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.

THEN2: Official Seattle Angels portrait of Aurelio Rodriguez, who was acquired from the Mexican League in August 1966 and helped spark the Halos to the Pacific Coast League pennant. Note the “Leo” first name. (David Eskenazi Collection)

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.

THEN4: A 1966 Seattle Angels scorebook, which showcases Sicks’ Stadium beneath the superimposed SeAngels’ cartoon mascot Homer. (David Eskenazi Collection)


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.

Below are 23 additional photos and 43 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

Workers hoist and assemble the Seattle Angels’ “Homer” emblem at Sicks’ Stadium in April 1967 after the team’s championship year. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Billy Murphy Seattle Angels. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Jay Johnstone, Seattle Angels. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Jim Englehart, 1968 Seattle Angels. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Coach Jimmie Reese, Chuck Vinson, Seattle Angels 1966. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Coach Jimmie Reese, Seattle Angels 1967. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels figure by cartoonist Bob Hale. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels Bob Lemon, Sporting News 1966 Minor Manager of the Year award. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels Bubba Morton, 1966 Seattle Angels Silver Glove award. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels bus sign. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels’ new manager Chuck Tanner, club president Bert West and general manager Edo Vanni with championship banner and trophy, December 1966. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Andy Messersmith, Seattle Angels 1966. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Bubba Morton, Seattle Angels 1966. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Al Spangler of Los Angeles Angels at exhibition game vs. SeAngels. August 1965. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels coach Jimmie Reese, 1966. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels’ Jim Campanis scores, Sept. 10, 1966, Sicks’ Stadium. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels Jim Campanis, Bill Kelso and Tom Summers celebrate pennant-winning victory Sept. 13, 1966. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels souvenir “Homer” decal, 1966. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels Bill Kelso, manager Bob Lemon, Jim Campanis and Don Wallace, 1966. (David Eskanazi Collection)
Seattle Angels’ Don Wallace holds ball he caught, initiating a double play to end the seventh game of the playoff vs Tulsa, Sept. 14. 1966, resulting in the PCL pennant. (David Eskenazi Collection)
(From left) Seattle Angels Marty Pattin, Bill Kelso, Jackie Warner, John Olerud, Jorge Rubio, trainer Curt Rayer, Mike White, Bill Spanswick, 1966. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Seattle Angels (from left) Al Spangler, Mike White, Bubba Morton. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Original Stu Moldrem newspaper art, 1965. (David Eskenazi Collection)
Aug. 13, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p9.
Aug. 13, 1966, Seattle Times, p6.
Aug. 19, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p23.
Aug. 19, 1966, Seattle Times, p1.
Aug. 19, 1966, Seattle Times, p55.
Aug. 20, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p13.
Aug. 21, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p35.
Aug. 21, 1966, Seattle Times, p67.
Aug. 22, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p23.
Aug. 22, 1966, Seattle Times, p19.
Aug. 23, 1966, Seattle Times, p33.
Aug. 24, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p28.
Aug. 24, 1966, Seattle Times, p15.
Aug. 25, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p18.
Aug. 25, 1966, Seattle Times, p74.
Sept. 1, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p32.
Sept. 2, 1966, Seattle Times, p17.
Sept. 4, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p17.
Sept. 4, 1966, Seattle Times, p25.
Sept. 5, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p21.
Sept. 6, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p31.
Sept. 6, 1966, Seattle Times, p19.
Sept. 9, 1966, Seattle Times, p57.
Sept. 10, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p10.
Sept. 15, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p26.
Sept. 16, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p43.
Oct. 20, 1966, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p21.
Jan. 5, 1967, Seattle Times, p30.
March 29, 1967, Seattle Times, p31.
July 10, 1967, Seattle Times, p14.
July 12, 1967, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p26.
July 13, 1967, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p26.
July 21, 1967, Seattle Times, p21.
July 24, 1967, Seattle Times, p18.
July 27, 1967, Seattle Times, p61.
Aug. 24, 1967, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p22.
July 30, 1967, Seattle Times, p43.
Aug. 31, 1967, Seattle Times, p36.
Sept. 2, 1967, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p11.
Sept. 24, 1967, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p59.
March 31, 1984, Seattle Times, p28.
Sept. 24, 2000, Seattle Times, p44.

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