1964 – Around the World and Close to Home
Nelson Mandela, convicted on charges of sabotage, is sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa, China detonates an atomic bomb, and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution escalates U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Sidney Poitier becomes the first Black winner of an Academy Award, Cassius Clay beats Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing title, and John Wooden guides UCLA to its first NCAA basketball championship. A referendum to end racial discrimination in home sales is defeated by Seattle voters, soon after Beatlemania sweeps America, the Fab Four plays to a packed Seattle Center Coliseum, and while Lyndon Johnson wins the presidency in a Democratic landslide, Republican Dan Evans defeats two-term incumbent Albert Rosellini for Washington governor.
The Price of Admission
When Balint Ducz took his juggernaut Seattle Hungarians from the state league up to the British Columbia’s Pacific Coast League in 1962, it was a gamble. Despite the meteoric rise of the Hungarians and growing crowds to watch them at Lower Woodland, taking them to the next level was far from a sure success.
While the Hungarians had run roughshod over their Washington opposition for two years and many raved about their attractive, continental style, the British Columbia-based PCL, considered perhaps Canada’s premier regional league at the time, would require further investment for both Ducz and spectators.
He would need to acquire more players and pay them, and Ducz’s expectation was that spectators would gladly pay for the privilege of watching his product play the skilled and cohesive B.C. sides. After two years, the experiment, a Washington’s club’s first modern venture into regional semipro competition, came up short on both counts, yet not for lack of effort. Ducz searched far beyond the state to secure proven veterans such as Zoltan Mako, Tommy Major and Karmen Koteles. However, the big-time bakery owner was unable to find a suitable stage to display his collection. Lower Woodland was not enclosed, and Memorial Stadium was too large and the rent too high. Eventually, Ducz settled on White Center Stadium. There was covered seating and admission gates, but it was primarily a baseball park. And for the crowds at Woodland Park, it would mean a circuitous, 12-mile journey south of the city.
Had the Hungarians bolted out of the blocks to begin their PCL venture, maybe the fans would’ve followed. Instead, in the fall of 1962, they stumbled mightily, salvaging just one draw in the first 10 matches. Accustomed to putting a few coins into Eddie Craggs’s wooden donation box for state league doubleheaders, spectators paid a $1 admission (kids under 15 were free) to see the Hungarians.
Two chartered buses and, altogether, some 200 fans followed the Magyars to the first road game in Vancouver. Unfortunately, the home crowds were not much bigger. In fact, they were just a fraction of attendances in Victoria (1,000) and Vancouver (2,300). Ducz dealt with much more overhead than his Canadian counterparts ferries or charter buses and hotel stays were a staple of every single road game.
A strong second half (5-2-3) lifted the Hungarians from the PCL basement to a tie for sixth in the first season. Any momentum was lost by stumbling (1-3-4) to start 1963-64. Halfway through, home games were moved to West Seattle Stadium, although to little effect.
Deep in the red and 11 games under .500, Ducz didn’t want to back away from a challenge, but in spring of 1964 he alerted the Washington State Football Association that the Hungarians were returning to the state league that fall (he also informed the PCL that they might someday return, if a suitable home venue could be found). They would dominate play for the next five years, and to satiate their competitive desires, Ducz would make the Hungarians the state’s first entrant in the U.S. Challenge Cup.