Four years ago, I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Slade Gorton.
He was 88, a former state legislator, state attorney general, United States senator and member of the 9/11 Commission. And he was full of life and wit and insight. So what did we talk about when this giant of Washington politics visited The Columbian’s Editorial Board? Baseball, of course.
Gorton, you see, has been instrumental in the Seattle Mariners throughout their existence. As in, they would not exist without him. Literally.
So when Gorton died Wednesday at the age of 92 and when obituaries and tributes sang his praises as a thoughtful politician, I thought about that meeting and the transformational power a single person can wield.
Seattle had Major League Baseball prior to the Mariners. The Seattle Pilots existed for one year, 1969, before being sold and becoming the Milwaukee Brewers. “I was in my first year as attorney general of the state,” Gorton said, “and I sued the American League for fraud and breach of contract.”
It was a bold strategy. Gorton hired attorney Bill Dwyer — who later became a federal judge — as a special assistant, and Dwyer pushed to get American League owners in front of a jury. In the book “Out of Left Field,” a history of the Mariners, author Art Thiel quotes Gorton as saying, “They were a terrible bunch of people. My conclusion was that if any American League owner moved into your neighborhood, he would lower property values.”