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Forbes Field

Forbes Field, 1920's - Courtesy of The University of Pittsburgh

Forbes Field - 1909.

Detail of gate at Forbes Field, 21 July 1957.
Paul Slantis, photographer.
Courtesy of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.


 

Click to purchase stadium replica from the Danbury Mint collection

 

From 1959 to 1970:

 

Area of fair territory: 118,000 sq. ft.

Area of foul territory: Large.  Gigundus behind the plate.

 

Fences: LF to CF - 12 ft

            CF to RCF - 9.5 ft

            RCF to RF foul pole - 245

             

Elevation: 745 feet

 

Capacity: 25,000 from 1909 until 1938; 35,000 thereafter

 

General Information

Who Played Here: Pittsburgh Pirates (NL)
Opened: June 30, 1909
First night game: June 4, 1940
Last game: June 28, 1970
Demolished: July 28, 1971
Capacity: 25,000 (1909); 35,000 (1938)
Surface: Grass

Architect: Osborn Engineering
Builder: Nicole Construction Company
Owner: Pittsburgh Pirates
Cost: $1 million, including property acquisition (1909)

 

 

Opening Day at Forbes Field, June 30, 1909 (with view of Oakland).
Courtesy of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

 

 

History

 

     1909 was a watershed year in the construction of baseball stadia.  In the AL, Shibe Park revolutionized the ballpark with its steel and concrete structure, and a few months later the NL had its own newfangled ballyard.  Pirates' owner Barney Dreyfuss located his ballpark away from the downtown area but near a train terminal in the outskirts of the city - the result was a beautiful, picturesque, open ballpark that was still convenient for the fans, who lined up in droves to see the Pirates play.

     Forbes Field was named for a British general of the French and Indian War, and most of its 35,000 seats were in a covered grandstand that extended from third base around home plate and into right field, while unfortunate fans in the upper left corner of the bleachers along the left field line could not see the batter.

 

 

Forbes Field, 21 July 1957.
Paul Slantis, photographer.
Courtesy of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

 

     When the ballpark opened, it was met with almost universal praise for its architectural beauty.  The triple-tiered pavilion offered access via wide, inclined ramps instead of stairs - a precursor to modern ballparks - and the third level was dedicated to the press, in a nod to the modern era of press boxes.

     The ballpark was a success from the get go.  The Pirates, led by Honus Wagner, quickly captured the NL pennant and took the World Series from the Detroit Tigers in seven games.  Attendance records were smashed, and in the three games played at Forbes 81,885 fans packed the stands.  The year-long success and the post-season plum plucked by Dreyfuss inspired other teams to build new steel-and-concrete ballparks, a la Shibe and Forbes.

 

     While the ballpark was generally successful in drawing fans, the move to multipurpose stadia took it over in 1970.  The ballpark was replaced in 1970 by Three Rivers Stadium, which was designed so that the Pittsburgh Steelers could share the facility.

 

 The park featured a huge foul territory behind home plate, an extremely hard infield, and spacious left and center fields contained by an ivy covered brick wall.  Lights were added in 1940, and during WWII a 32-foot-high Marine towered over the left field wall.  No no-hitters were pitched at Forbes Field in 68 seasons, but it was the scene of Bill Mazeroski's Game Seven home run in the 1960 WS.  On May 25, 1935, Babe Ruth's final career home run was the first ball ever to clear the right field roof.  

     The field is now the site of a University of Pittsburgh library and dorms, but home plate remains on display in its final location.

 

Ten Most Memorable Moments

 

1. October 13, 1960 - Game 7 of the World Series: Ask anyone what the most dramatic moment in baseball history, and you'll get a variety of answers.  Some will say Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run; others will suggest the record-breaking home runs of Hank Aaron or Roger Maris; still others may say Babe Ruth's called shot home run in 1932.  But right at the top of the list is Bill Mazeroski's dinger in Game 7 of the World Series against Ralph Terry of the New York Yankees to bring home the title.  Maz's shot in the bottom of the ninth gave the Pirates a 10-9 victory, and is one of  only two home runs to decide a World Series (the other was Joe Carter's homer in Game 6 of the 1993 Series).

 

Analysis

 

     Look back at some of the greatest players the Pirates have spawned, and a curious pattern emerges - infielders like Bill Mazeroski, Pie Traynor, Glenn Wright, and Honus Wagner abound.  This is remarkable: the infield in Forbes was built over a stratum of bedrock, covered by clay and sod, making for a rough surface with some unpredictable hops.  That so many defensive whizzes could have played here is one of the mysteries of the game.

     The infield was so bad that it spawned some World Series lore.  For instance, in 1925 AL MVP Roger Peckinpaugh of the Washington Senators committed eight errors in the seven game Series, a still-standing World Series record - six of those miscues occurred at Forbes.  Two of those errors occurred in Game 7, when a steady downpur turned the infield into slop.  In Game 7 in 1960, the grounder that struck Tony Kubek in the Adam's apple was a result of the Forbes infield - that opened the door to Maz's heroics.

     The expansive playing field, with it's long distance to the left field foul pole and the 27-foot wall in right, kept home runs to a minimum.  The most successful hitters, especially Paul Waner, learned the art of driving the ball to the gaps in the large alleys, or down the foul lines for extra base hits.  Owen "Chief" Wilson showed how effective that kind of slap hitting could be with 36 triples in 1912 - still a single season major league record.

     The fact that Forbes Field never played host to a no-hitter in it's 61-year career gives a clue to the acreage the outfield had to patrol.  Speed on defense in the outfield was essential, as was a strong throwing arm, to cut the extreme distances down to size - the success of defensive whizzes like Max Carey, Roberto Clemente, Fred Clarke and the Waners is no coincidence.  

     From 1909 to 1938, the backstop was 11 feet behind the plate, creating a massive foul territory.  Even in later years, it was a goodly 75 feet behind the plate, leaving lots of room for foul pops.

 

     The park underwent major alterations in 1925 - when a double-decked pavilion was extended around right field, shortening the distance to the foul pole to 300 feet - and in 1947, when the acquisition of Hank Greenberg gave management the opportune moment to relocate the bullpens from foul territory to deep left field.  The first alteration didn't change run production substantially - the high screen on top of the short right field wall hampered long ball hitters, and at any rate the wall angled sharply out to 375 feet, and then to 408 feet in the right-center power alley.

 

Kiner's Korner: The more substantive change was the creation of Kiner's Korner.  AL home run champ Hank Greenberg retired before the 1947 season when he found out that he had been waived by the Tigers and picked up by the Pirates.  New Pirates co-owner John Galbreath negotiated to bring Greenberg back, and part of the price he paid was to make Forbes Field more friendly for Hammerin' Hank.  A double bullpen, 30 feet wide by 200 feet long, was placed behind the left field wall - it significantly cut the distances in left field, reducing the left-field line from 365 to 335 feet and the left-center power alley from 406 to 355 feet.  While Greenberg hit 25 home runs in his farewell season, the real beneficiary was Ralph Kiner.  Kiner had led the NL in home runs in 1946, with 23.  In 1947, he hit 51, and put together a string of five more seasons where he led the NL in home runs - his seven successive home run titles were in large part due to what became known Kiner's Korner (nee Greenberg Gardens).

     When Kiner was traded in 1953, the temporary bullpen fence came down, the 'pens were restored to their original positions, and the era of a homer-friendly Forbes Field was over.

 

1960: The Pirates put together a championship season again in 1960, going to the World Series for the first time in 33 years.  They did it with stellar defense and pitching instead of the Kiner/Greenberg-type sluggers - glove men like Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, Bill Virdon, NL MVP Dick Groat and Don Hoak paced the team, and Cy Young winner Vern Law and Bob Friend were the league's top hurlers.  Just goes to show that a team needs to play to its ballpark in order to be successful.

 

 

All-Time Home Run Leaders at Forbes:

 

Player Home Runs
Ralph Kiner 175
Roberto Clemente 85
Willie Stargell 74
Frank Thomas 64
Wally Westlake 62


All-time Home Run Leaders at Forbes - Visitors:

 

Player Home Runs
Eddie Mathews 38
Willie Mays 31
Hank Aaron 31
Gil Hodges 27
Del Ennis 26

 

 

 

 

Park Factors

 

Year Run Index Home Run Index
1910 122 90
1911 97 70
1912 88 55
1913 88 43
1914 79 26
1915 97 45
1916 112 47
1917 101 34
1918 112 73
1919 108 59
1920 99 32
1921 100 46
1922 105 56
1923 90 32
1924 108 75
1925 101 57
1926 127 56
1927 98 71
1928 115 33
1929 104 70
1930 95 57
1931 102 75
1932 98 55
1933 89 37
1934 114 81
1935 112 78
1936 91 57
1937 102 52
1938 98 45
1939 102 65
1940 95 52
1941 105 65
1942 99 86
1943 107 75
1944 115 66
1945 106 69
1946 112 75
1947 111 141
1948 113 136
1949 105 131
1950 112 121
1951 125 113
1952 107 108
1953 112 112
1954 99 46
1955 97 57
1956 100 58
1957 86 41
1958 85 46
1959 105 68
1960 96 63
1961 98 71
1962 101 84
1963 96 75
1964 102 68
1965 97 60
1966 100 51
1967 101 86
1968 100 70
1969 88 52

 

 

Location

 

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Two miles east of downtown Pittsburgh and just northwest of Schenley Park in the southern part of the University of Pittsburgh campus - it was located in the Oakland neighborhood of Steel Town.

 

Left field (NE), Schenley Drive (Bigelow Boulevard, Forbes Field Avenue, Pennant Place); third base (NW), Sennott Street (now gone), then Forbes Avenue; first base (SW) Boquet Street; right field (SE), none in the immediate vicinity, but Joncaire Street was the closest street in that direction.

 

 

Dimensions

 

Left field: 360 (1909), 356.5 (1921), 356 (1922), 360 (1926), 365 (1930), 335 (1947), 365 (1954)

Deepest corner, left of straightaway center, at the flagpole: 462 (1909), 457 (1930)

Center field: 442 (1926), 435 (1930)

Right-center, right side of exit gate: 416 (1955)

Right-center: 375 (1942)

Bend at left end of screen: 375

Right field: 376 (1909), 376.5 (1921), 376 (1922), 300 (1925)

 

Backstop: 110 (1909), 84 (1938), 80 (1947), 84 (1953), 75 (1959).

 

Fences - history

Left-field front fence: 8 (5 screen above 3 wood, 1947), 12 (9 screen on top of 3 wood, 1949), 14 (screen, 1950)

Left-field wall: 12 (1909), 12 (brick and ivy, 1946)

Left-field scoreboard: 25.42 (steel left and right sides), 27 (middle)

Wooden marine sergeant at parade rest to right of scoreboard: 32 (June 26, 1943, to end of season)

Side wall angling back to meet brick wall in left-center: 12 (wood, when front fence was up)

Cages around light tower just right of scoreboard and in power alleys: 16.5

Center field: 12 (wood, 1909), 12 (brick and ivy, 1946) 

Right-center: 9.5 (concrete, 1925)

Screen - left side at 375 Mark: 24 (14.5 wire above 9.5 concrete, 1932)

Screen - right side at flagpole: 27.67 (18.17 wire above 9.5 concrete, 1932).

 

Fun Facts

  • Boquet Street - which is next to the park on the first base side - was named for General Henry Bouquet, a Swiss soldier who fought for the British in the French and Indian War’s decisive battle at Fort Duquesne.  Unfortunately, it appears that the people who named the street mispelled its name.
  • A no-hitter was never pitched here.
  • The field was named for General John Forbes, a British general in the French and Indian War who captured Fort Duquesne and renamed it Fort Pitt in 1758.
  • There used to be an ivy-covered brick wall in left and left-center, reminiscent of Wrigley Field.
  • The 14-foot Longines clock with speaker horns on top of the left-field scoreboard was out of play - a drive hitting it was a home run.
  • Fans in the upper-left corner of the left-field bleachers could not see the plate because of the third base grandstand, which stood between them and the plate.
  • The right-field roof was 86 feet high.
  • The stadium was built on the site of a football game between the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Tech on October 31, 1908.  Penn won on the rocky field.
  • July 21st, 1942: Here at Forbes, Monarchs pitcher Satchel Paige performed one of his legendary feats.  Years earlier, Paige told Josh Gibson that one day he would strike him out with the bases loaded.  With a man on, two outs, and Gibson third up, Paige walks the next two Grays to bring Gibson up.  Satchel tells the crowd what is going to happen.  "Three fastballs, Josh," Paige told him, then proceeded to strike him out.
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