The Late Great Forbes Field

Copyright Marc Senger

Copyright Marc Senger

At Lost Places, we see a lot of images from places that are slowly falling to the ground.  This week, however, we see a place that is already gone.  This image is of the outfield at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The image was taken by the late Michael Senger, a software developer who received his psychology degree from the University of Pittsburgh in the 1970’s.  This is one of many photos Senger took of Pittsburgh and Boston during that time period.  The history of baseball is ingrained in the minds of millions of Americans.  Fans hold certain statistics, such as Pete Rose’s 4,256 career hits or Cal Ripken Jr.’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games, as almost sacred accomplishments.

It is no surprise, then, that the parks where baseball is played often have the aura of shrines.  Baseball parks in the early 20th Century were built to last.  Some parks lasted so well that generations of fans grew up attending games within their confines.  Some of the parks are still alive and kicking, like the two gray ladies of Major League Baseball: Boston’s Fenway Park (opened in 1912) and Chicago’s Wrigley Field (opened in 1914).  Both are beloved by fans.  In many cities, though, beloved parks are razed to make way for progress.  Such was the case with Forbes Field.

Forbes Field was home to the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team from 1909-1970 and to the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers from 1933-1963.  Built in 1909, the stadium was the first steel and concrete baseball stadium in the nation.  At the time, it was lauded as the finest ballpark in all of baseball.  The Pirates won the World Series in their first season in the new park, defeating Ty Cobb’s Detroit Tigers.  The Pirates were led by Honus Wagner.  It was the only time the two future hall of famers would face each other during their careers.

During its 61-year history, the park hosted some of the most noteworthy events in baseball history.  In 1920, the park hosted the last triple-header in the major leagues.  On May 25, 1935, an aging Babe Ruth hit the last three home runs of his career in Forbes Field while playing for the Boston Braves.  In October 1946, Jackie Robinson and his African-American all-stars squared off against Honus Wagner’s all-stars in an exhibition at Forbes Field.  Robinson famously broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.  Forbes Field was home to a number of great African-American ballplayers, including some of the top teams in the Negro Leagues.  The Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues played their from 1922-1939.  The Grays counted many hall of famers among their numbers, including Josh Gibson.

The most iconic moment in the park’s history came during the 1960 World Series.  Pittsburgh second baseman Bill Mazeroski cracked a home run in game seven to beat the New York Yankees 10-9.  It was the first time a home run had ended a World Series.  The win gave the Pirates their first world championship since 1925.

Forbes Field is now gone, like so many legendary ballparks of the past.  The nature of the the parks–places whose stories are passed down from generation to generation, where past glories are recounted every spring–means they will still live on.  Unlike many lost places, whose stories are forgotten by time, baseball stories will get told each and every spring as long as people are playing the game.

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