ALL-STAR GAMES: 1944, 1959 LIGHTS: 1940
WORLD SERIES: 1909, 1925, 1927, 1960 (3 wins, 1 loss)
Forbes Field was my favorite baseball stadium still in operation when I was young. Its field dimensions were very asymmetrical, and it had several cool nooks and crannies. The owner of the Pirates, Barney Dreyfuss, financed the construction of Forbes Field, which opened just a few weeks after Shibe Park did in 1909. It was likewise considered an architectural marvel of its time. The exterior was made of bricks of various beige and reddish shades, arranged in a distinctive pattern. Like Wrigley Field, the walls were made of brick and were covered with ivy in some parts. The sharp angle formed by the two main wings of the grandstand (made necessary by the layout of adjacent streets) created an interesting foul territory configuration: very deep behind home plate, and very tight along the foul lines, even more so than at Yankee Stadium. In 1911 and possibly 1925, the diamond was shifted and rotated, creating asymmetrical foul territory. Several additional rows of box seats were added over the years as well. One oddity was that the bleacher section was located in foul territory, along the third base side, while the double-decked grandstand wrapped around the right field corner and extended half way toward center field. (This section was added to the original structure in 1925, and it had about ten more rows than the rest of the second deck, which made the roof about 15 feet higher.) Originally there was a small bleacher section along the center-to-right-center wall when the stadium first opened, but for some reason it was later torn down. (There was certainly plenty of room out there.) Forbes Field had a rooftop "mezzanine" when it first opened, a unique "skybox" for wealthy patrons that was decades ahead of its time. In 1938 the mezzanine section behind home plate was expanded into a mini-third deck (only the second stadium after Yankee Stadium to have such a feature), as the Pirates were leading the race for the National League pennant. Thanks to the Cubs, these hopes did not come to fruition.
From a close examination of numerous photographs, in print and online, I concluded that the original left field dimension at Forbes Field given by the 1992 edition of Green Cathedrals (360 feet) was wrong. This was corrected to 306 feet in the 2005 edition. One can see that the left field foul pole is at the front edge of the bleacher section, at least 20 feet from the end, as indicated in Ronald Selter's book Ballparks of the Deadball Era. However, that book provides an inaccurate description of the original position of the left field fence, which cut directly across from near the far end of the big bleachers on the third base side to the far end of the small bleachers in right center field. In 1911 the Pirates acquired rights to a triangular patch of land that made for a much bigger left field and center field, and the famous brick wall (part of which still stands) was built around the perimeter of that new patch of land. Another question is the precise location of the monument to Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss. Most sources, including Lowry (1992) say it was in right center field, but the movie clearly shows it in center field, and this is corroborated by someone who saw it first hand.
The deepest point in Forbes Field was the corner just left of center field, at 457 feet from home plate. There was a flagpole in play out there, along with the batting practice cage, and I'm pretty sure I remember watching a televised game where a long drive landed out there. For many years there was a screen from the second deck in the right field corner, intended to stop cheap home runs by lefties.
CINEMA: Forbes Field was featured in the classic movie Angels in the Outfield (the original 1951 version).
Much baseball history has been made at Forbes Field, and its distinctive design had much to do with several of these events. At the very end of his career in 1935 when he was playing for the Boston Braves, Babe Ruth hit three home runs, including a gargantuan blast over the right field roof and out of the ballpark, the first time this feat had ever been done. There were 15 (or 16?) more such blasts over that roof in subsequent years, eight of which were hit by Willie Stargell. (Thanks to William O'Hella for correcting me on this.) After the Pirates acquired Detroit slugger Hank Greenberg in 1947 they moved the bullpens to the left field corner as a way to justify moving in the left field fence by 30 feet. That area was called "Greenberg Gardens" and later "Kiner's Korner," but the bullpens were moved back to foul territory after the 1953 season, and the earlier dimensions of left field were restored.
In November 1958, Forbes Field was sold by the Pirates to the University of Pittsburgh, which needed additional land to expand its campus. It was understood that the Pirates would continue to use Forbes Field until a new stadium was built, presumably by the mid-1960s. (That didn't happen until 1970, of course.) Two more rows of box seats were added in 1959, adding 600 to the seating capacity and reducing the distance to the backstop to 75 feet. In 1960, the Pirates won the National League pennant for the first time since 1927, their fourth time since moving into Forbes Field. In the seventh game of the World Series, Pirates' second baseman Bill Mazerowski hit a dramatic game-winning home run over the distant left field wall, sailing over Yogi Berra's head. That earned Mazerowski a place in the hearts of Pittsburgh sports fans. In the 1960s, Roberto Clemente, became the Pirates' biggest star player, renowned for his fielding ability (quickly grabbing balls that bounced off the right field screen) as well as his batting. On December 31, 1972 he died in a tragic plane crash en route to a relief mission to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua, thus becoming a true immortal.
Forbes Field became run down over the years, and as soon as their new home was ready, the Pirates moved out at the end of June 1970. A year or so later, the beautiful brick palace was demolished, and the University of Pittsburgh soon built several buildings in its place. Nevertheless, a section of the outfield brick wall was preserved as a monument, and the home plate last used in Forbes Field was placed in a display case in the Posvar Building on the Pitt campus, very close to its original location. (I am told by Ron Freda that "its actual spot would be in a woman's restroom!") I drove through the neighborhood looking for signs of Forbes Field in 1987, but couldn't find anything.
The Pittsburgh Steelers played all their home games at Forbes Field from 1933 until 1957, and from 1958 until 1963 they switched back and forth between Forbes Field and nearby Pitt Stadium.
SOURCES: Lowry (1992, 2006), Selter (2008), Pastier (2007), Ritter (1992), Gershman (1993), Ward and Burns (1994)
FAN TIPS: William O'Hella, Ron Freda, Patrick Schroeder