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Arson 90 years ago led to Major League Baseball in Seattle

There are a few degrees of separation, but the Seattle Mariners were sparked from an actual spark.

SEATTLE — If we told you the Seattle Mariners were sparked from an actual spark, would you know the story?

If we told you the fire of a fanbase was rooted in an actual fire, would you know who to thank?

You have to go back 90 years ago to July 4, 1932.

"Not a lot of people I think are aware of it now," Seattle baseball historian Dave Eskenazi said. "The further back you go, the more interesting it is and Dugdale is certainly a major, major part of our early baseball history."

Dugdale was both a person and a park.

Daniel Dugdale was a former professional baseball player from the midwest.

He came to the northwest in 1898 because of the Klondike Gold Rush; he got rich off real estate in Seattle; and he built a baseball stadium for the minor league Seattle Indians.

Credit: David Eskenazi Collection

The stadium was both a cathedral and a catastrophe waiting to happen.

"On July 4th, 1932, after a doubleheader at the ballpark around midnight calls started coming in for a fire at the ballpark," Eskenazi said. "(It) turned out to be a three-alarm fire that burned it to the ground. They thought it could be an errant cigarette. They thought it could be the firework show on the 4th of July that went awry and caused it. They didn't find out until three years later that it was actually arson. His name was Robert Bruce Driscoll."

Driscoll was targeting America's past time, on America's day, perhaps because of an unfulfilled American Dream.

"He felt beaten down by the world," Eskenazi said. "He was unemployed, he was homeless, he slept in boxcars."

Driscoll would confess to over 140 fires in Seattle, according to records from the fire department, saying he did it "because of my destitute circumstance and because I was sore at the world in general."

Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

"Driscoll used some of these discarded programs he found outside the stadium along with some wood and some kindling to start the fire," Eskenazi said.

But Driscoll did not just start a fire. He started a series of events that would lead to Major League Baseball (MLB) coming to Seattle.

"You can make the case that the burning of Dugdale Park did change our baseball history for the positive," Eskenazi said. "Not initially, because the Seattle Indians then had to play their games at Civic Field, which was not even a baseball park. But this led to the team being sold to Emil Sick and the building of Sick's Seattle Stadium on the same site as the burned down Dugdale Park. This was the home of the Seattle Rainiers who were one of the most successful and popular minor league teams in history."

Their success was leveraged into a consolation prize and then the ultimate prize.

"If not for the Seattle Rainiers, perhaps we never would've had the Seattle Pilots, the first Major League team in 1969," Eskenazi said. "Which led directly to the Seattle Mariners."

One generation's tragedy led to another generation's triumph.

"There's a through-line and a thread where if Dugdale Park didn't burn down, we may not have had Major League Baseball," Eskenazi said.

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