By Hon. Dean Lum
When I think about Father’s Day, I’m reminded of my childhood in the 1960s in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District, the Four Seas Restaurant, minor league baseball, and my father Abe Lum, who recently passed away.
My father was the original owner of the Four Seas Restaurant on King Street, along with my grandfather and my uncle Wilber. The original plan was to capitalize on the 1962 World’s Fair, but due to construction delays, the restaurant opened two months before the Fair closed. Still, the restaurant enjoyed great success during its heyday, and the Dynasty Room (as the bar was named) served as the de facto clubhouse for many a group. It’s a bit sad to think that the bar was unusual and a bit ahead of its time in having a diverse clientele of Asian, Pacific Islander, white, Black, Latino, and Native American patrons, but I remember seeing everyone come through there. Bob Santos and Bernie Whitebear could be seen holding court in one corner, Senator Warren Magnuson in another, with many others (some famous, some infamous) in between.
The restaurant was, and still is, located in the International District in fairly close proximity to the old Kingdome and brought in a fair number of sports figures over the years. I even worked the night the Seattle Supersonics (all of them) came in for dinner 30 minutes after they lost the deciding 1978 NBA Championship game to the Washington Bullets. General Manager Zollie Volchok called right after the game to say, “We’re all coming down! Get three bartenders!” and hung up. To say they were completely devastated would be a gross understatement. For some reason, they celebrated at Henry’s Off Broadway the following year when they won the championship and didn’t come back and see us.
Before the Supersonics arrived in 1967, Seattle had no major league sports teams, but sports fans had no shortage of minor league and college teams to root for. We saw our share of Husky football players and Pac-8 referees over the years, but all of the Pacific Coast League minor league umpires gravitated to my dad’s bar. Rumor has it the appeal was the “Chinatown pour,” a tendency of ID bartenders to be a bit heavy-handed with the good stuff. Whatever the appeal, the umpires were post-game regulars, and they befriended my dad. So they would invite us to the Seattle Angels games at Sick’s Stadium, many of which occurred right around Father’s Day. My father, like so many fathers of his generation, worked day and night six days a week, so we jumped at the chance to spend any time with him, and the fact that we got to go to an Angels game was an added bonus.
The Seattle Angels? Most people have heard of the Seattle Rainiers, but the Angels seem to have been forgotten. For many years, the Seattle Rainiers were the minor league baseball club in town, but after the 1960 season, the Rainiers were sold to the Red Sox, who in turn sold the team to the Los Angeles/California Angels in 1965. The team played as the Seattle Angels from 1965 to 1969, when they were disbanded with the arrival of the Seattle Pilots. (For those of you who are new in town, the Seattle Pilots were Seattle’s first Major League Baseball team, but they lasted only one year due to poor financing, poor planning, and impatient owners, who sold the team while in bankruptcy litigation to a car leasing salesman named Bud Selig. Selig, promptly moved the team to Milwaukee, where they became the Brewers. The City and County sued, led by future U.S. Senator Slade Gorton and future King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, prompting MLB to award us the Mariners in 1977, which led to the Kingdome and eventually to Safeco Field. Selig didn’t do too badly either, as he became the commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1998.) The Angels played at Sick’s Stadium in Rainier Valley.
Sick’s Stadium was located at McClellan and Rainier Avenue, where Lowe’s is now, and was named for Emil Sick, owner of Rainier Brewing Company. It had a grand wooden façade and a huge parking lot out front. By today’s standards, the viewing experience left much to be desired. Because the overhanging roof required vertical support beams, there were a large number of obstructed view seats. If you want to know what it was like, visit Wrigley Field, sit behind a beam, but imagine a smaller, slightly less historic facility with old wooden benches, and you’d be close on the look and feel. The smell in the stands was an amazing mix of roasted peanuts, popcorn, hot dog water, stale Rainier Beer, old wood, and humanity. The space below the grandstands was enclosed, dark and definitely not for the claustrophobic. The restrooms were, well, what you’d imagine for a really old, funky historic wooden stadium. My memory may be failing me, but I think there was an open trench in one of the restrooms.
One of my happiest memories was being escorted down into the bowels of Sick’s Stadium and into the umpire’s locker room. Sitting there were four large, stocky men, wearing just their white underwear and protective padding, rubbing down new baseballs with Delaware River mud (I could have sworn he said Carolina mud, but it appears that virtually every major and minor league team since the 1930s has used Delaware River mud from New Jersey to rub down their baseballs). It was unclear to me why they had to import Delaware River mud when they could have easily fetched some nearby Duwamish River mud, but I was told it was a Jersey thing. The head umpire looked a bit like Luca Brasi in the Godfather movies.
Why were they rubbing brand new balls with mud? Well, new baseballs are much too shiny and distracting to the batter’s eye, so before each game, new baseballs have to be taken out of their cartons, rubbed with mud to dull their sheen (“roughing ‘em up”), and then piled into large plastic buckets. They invited my brother Todd and me to help. As we sat with them on the low wooden benches, gleefully rubbing dozens and dozens of balls with the special mud, they plied us with stories from the road and their love of baseball. They told us how much they missed their kids and families. Even then, I was struck with how lonely an existence an umpire must have, but I was impressed with how kind they were to kids, and especially to me. They knew exactly want to do and say to make every kid feel special, particularly a young, not terribly athletically gifted Chinese American kid from Beacon Hill. No oversized egos, no selfish motivations, no contract disputes or money issues. It was all about the kids in the stands, and making sure the young players (kids to them, too) developed and maximized their chances to go to “The Show.” Looking back on it over the years, maybe these men had to compensate somehow for their loneliness. I’m sure they missed their children and families dearly, although in those days, the last thing that men were allowed to do is show that they had feelings.
The umpires regaled us with stories about which hot young prospect was fizzling and which was on the fast track to be called up to the Angels. So my dad told his baseball story, and about growing up in “Garlic Gulch.” In those days, the nearby working class neighborhood of Judkins Park was known as “Garlic Gulch” due to the large number of Italian and Chinese immigrants living there. It was definitely on “the wrong side of the tracks.” Living there had its benefits, however. The scent of simmering tomato sauce, garlic, and basil permeated the air, and many a Southern Italian immigrant family would invite my father in for red sauce and pasta. My father spent much of his adult life searching for restaurant red sauce as fine as that in the Garlic Gulch of his youth, but of course, he never did. My father ran a bit wild in the streets with a large number of boys of all races, religions, and ages. He recalled that a much younger boy always wanted to hang out with them, and that they consistently had to tell him to get lost. The kid was so persistent that the older boys relented, and the kid was finally allowed to hang. Later, they heard that the kid became a pretty good baseball player at nearby Franklin High School and later for the Chicago Cubs. The umpires had heard of the kid. His name was Ron Santo, who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.
Happy Father’s Day, dad. We miss you.