In 1976, a man won a contest to name the Seattle Mariners and then disappeared without a trace. Nearly 50 years later, he remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in Seattle sports history… until now.
This is the search for Roger Szmodis.
In 1970, the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee, leaving the city without a team.
While the Pilots would go on to become the Milwaukee Brewers, the people of Seattle fumed at the loss of their team.
State Attorney General Slade Gorton sued the American League. Thinking Seattle would win, the Kingdome was built in anticipation of the return of their team.
In 1976, to settle the lawsuit, the American League offered Seattle an expansion team, as long as the city dropped the lawsuit.
Seattle agreed. The new team, without a name, was returning to the city.
A “name the team” contest was soon announced. And out of 15,000 entries, a winner was picked.
On August 25, 1976, Hal Childs, public relations director for the team, announced they had a new name: Seattle Mariners.
The winner would receive two season tickets to the inaugural season and an all-expense paid trip to another American League city on the west coast, while Seattle was visiting.
A Bellevue man, Roger Szmodis, was the chosen winner. Childs would say that several people submitted “Mariners,” but Szmodis gave the best reason for picking the name.
That reason? According to Randy Adamack, current SVP of Communications for the Seattle Mariners, Szmodis wrote, “I’ve selected the Mariners because of the natural association between the sea and Seattle and the people, who have been challenged and rewarded by it.”
A week later, Szmodis did not claim his prize.
“It’s gotten to be a mystery,” Childs said at the time. “We’ve written him a letter, stopped by his apartment, and left messages for him to contact us. But we still haven’t heard from him. Maybe we’ll have to put out an APB on him.”
The mystery of Szmodis would continue. As late as 2018, Adamack was on the hunt. But no luck.
Adamack sent a letter to a Roger Szmodis he found on Google, but he received no response.
What happened to Roger Szmodis?
To get to the end, we have to start at the beginning.
According to archived newspapers, ancestry.com, and several obituaries, KIRO 7 has pieced together what appears to be the life of Roger Szmodis.
Roger and his brother Louis Szmodis Jr. were the sons of Louis Szmodis, Sr. and Mary Szmodis of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Mary, born in 1919, was a Sunday school teacher. She was a charter member of the Young Matrons Club of the YWCA for over 50 years. She enjoyed watching sports on TV, especially the Phillies and all Penn State sports. She died in 2016 at the age of 97.
Her husband, Louis Sr., was also born in 1919. He owned and operated Louis Szmodis Inc. contractors for 40 years. He was also the director of Bethlehem Parks and Public Property from 1976 to 1977.
Louis Szmodis Inc. would offer complete homes in 1967. An ad in The Morning Call shows two-story homes that were finished and included a lawn for around $35,000 to $41,000 each.
“One of Bethlehem’s well-known contractors,” the ad said. “Building homes in the valley since 1947.”
Szmodis Sr. was also a Marine Corps veteran of World War 2, where he served in the Pacific.
He died in 1990 at the age of 70.
We know at some point, due to the timing of the Mariners entry and the obituaries of their parents, that Roger and Louis, Jr., moved out to Western Washington in the 1970s and were in Washington as late as 1990. When their father died in 1990, the obituary indicated that both Roger and Louis were in Redmond, Wash.
According to the 1950 United States Federal Census, Roger Szmodis was born in May 1943. His younger brother, Louis Jr, was born 4 years later.
In 1965, Roger appears in the yearbook for Pennsylvania State University. He studied business administration and participated in the Accounting Club and Intramurals.
Roger and Louis, Jr. had an address in Sammamish, with a backyard facing the pin of the 5th hole at the Sahalee Country Club.
In 2018, the estate of their mother sold Roger a home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
KIRO 7 called Jaccii Farris, an investigative reporter for 69 News in Allentown, to knock on the door at that Bethlehem home. On her first visit, there was no answer.
We called a half-dozen phone numbers associated with Roger over the years, and most of them were disconnected.
So, what about the rest of the Szmodis family?
We mapped out a full family tree, finding a nephew, a niece, her children, an uncle, a cousin, and a second cousin.
Roger never married or had children.
We reached out to all of them, with email, phone calls, text messages, and social media messages, including Facebook and LinkedIn.
Collectively, there were no replies from any of them.
Then, the day before this story was set to air, we received a text message from the second cousin.
“Who’s this?” he asked.
We explained to him, via text, the story we were working on and that we were trying to reach Justin Szmodis.
“This is Justin,” he texted back.
A connection! An actual family member for the elusive Roger Szmodis.
We called Justin and talked for a bit. He said his parents had received our messages, but they were unsure about calling us back. He revealed that his family was aware that Roger named the team, but did not know he has disappeared without ever claiming his prize.
He then connected Jaccii with Roger’s niece, who confirmed that Roger was indeed alive and well in Pennsylvania. His niece also noted that the family was aware of our attempts to contact them and that the house Jaccii had knocked on weeks ago did indeed belong to her uncle.
Roger’s niece said they were all still big Mariners fans, but are private people, requesting that we end our correspondence with them.
Even so, the Mariners told us that if and when the family is ready, they would love to host them for a game, with a box of team swag with their name on it.
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