SEATTLE -- Left-handed power hitters should find home runs a little harder to achieve next year in the Kingdome, the home of the Seattle Mariners that has led all major-league stadiums in homers for the past three seasons.
The right field fence in the Kingdome will be nearly doubled in height to 20 or 21 feet for the 1982 season as part of an out-of-court settlement reached Wednesday by the Seattle Mariners and King County, which owns and operates the domed stadium.
Mariners officials filed for damages estimated at between $6 million and $8 million in a 1980 lawsuit, charging they originally designed their team with the belief that the playing field would be larger than it turned out to be. The Kingdome's 358-foot power alleys are among the shortest in the majors.
The lawsuit alleged that the Mariners lost money because club officials put together a team emphasizing speed and defense rather than power hitting.
The American League club also claimed in the lawsuit that the county failed to provide promised office space at the stadium.
The lawsuitwas laid to rest with the signing of an 11-page, out-of-court settlement during a ceremony in a Kingdome lounge by Mariners owner George Argyros and King County Executive Randy Revelle, neither of whom was in his current position when the lawsuit was filed in March, 1980.
'It was a lawsuit we inherited,' said Argryos, a Southern California developer who purchased a controlling interest in the Mariners last January. 'We felt there were some merits (to the lawsuit). But we were anxious to get it behind us and have mutuality of interests (with the county).'
The settlement included give-and-take from both sides.
The county will pay for raising the right field fence, covering an area just below the bleachers previously spanned by a blue tarpulin. The county also agreed to share the club's costs for office space, help the Mariners find a permanent office location near the stadium and give the team a larger share of stadium concessions.
Another major part of the agreement was the team's willingness to relax its contractual right to control use of the stadium for up to 30 hours before a scheduled ballgame.
County officials said that should allow them more flexibility in scheduling other events in the Kingdome, such as Seattle SuperSonics playoff games, NCAA basketball tournament games or even large rock concerts such as the two Rolling Stones performances last year that netted the county about $100,000.
The Mariners also agreed to give the county a percentage of any eventual profits from pay television or cable television deals. Kingdome manager Ted Bowsfield, a former major-league pitcher, said he believes the pay TV item marks the first such agreement for any stadium in the country.
The original lease between the county and Mariners was negotiated in 1976 under the pressure of an ongoing trial initiated by local officials against baseball for shifting the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee in 1970 after a single season in the Northwest.
That 20-year lease, now amended, would have made it very difficult for the Mariners to flee Seattle as the Pilots had done. But the possibility of breaking the lease was in the background of the recent squabbling between the team and the county.
'The ultimate result (of a trial) might have been a breach of contract on the part of the county,' said Argyros. 'There was a risk that the contract would have been voided. But that wasn't our interest. We like the Northwest. We think it's a dynamite area.'