Field of Dreams
By Anne Madarasz
Before Forbes Field opened, they called it "Dreyfuss' folly." No one truly believed that fans would journey to the neighborhood of Oakland to view a ballgame. But, the pundits couldn't have been more wrong. On opening day 30,338 fans filled every seat, some standing along the outfield.
Major League Baseball commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis
declared, "Forbes Field is a mighty pretty ballpark."
Framed by the hills and trees of Schenley Park, the field garnered notice both for the beauty of the setting and for its intimacy and innovative design.
Barney Dreyfuss built on about seven acres of land he had secured on the edge of Schenley Park. The ballpark, designed by architect Charles Wellford Leavitt, rose in a matter of months. Built with a middle-class customer in mind, it became the first park to include an inclined ramp instead of stairs to the upper deck, private luxury boxes, and an area for the press on the third level. It also became the second "classic era" ballpark in America (after Philadelphia's Shibe Park) and the first three tiered all steel and concrete ballpark in the nation.
The baseball park became both a destination and the centerpiece of an urban neighborhood - a place where a community created shared memories of moments and milestones in sports history. With Schenley Oval and Duquesne Gardens close by, Forbes Field became the recreational center of this sporting and cultural neighborhood. Shortly after the park opened on June 30, 1909, the Pirates won their first World Series; they would win again in 1925 and 1960. And it was from Forbes Field that Bill Mazeroski launched his famous Series winning home run on October 13, 1960.
Other teams also achieved success on these grounds - the park served as a home field to both of Pittsburgh's Negro League teams, the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Many of the Negro League Hall of Famers created baseball history at Forbes Field, over 100 baseball Hall of Famers played there, and Babe Ruth hit his last three home runs at the park in 1935. Forbes Field also served as the first home field for the then Pittsburgh Steelers-then Pirates-as well as hosting college football teams, including a Carnegie Tech match up against the famed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. Outdoor boxing matches were staged at the park, including the "Fight of the Year," the heavyweight championship bout between Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles in 1951. Forbes Field even registered in Hollywood, with the filming of Angels in the Outfield also in 1951.
An architectural gem, revolutionary in design, host to world champions, and a key lynchpin in the community, in its 61-year history, Forbes Field became a facility worth remembering.
Anne Madarasz is the Director of the Western PA Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center which will open a special Forbes Field exhibit for the park's 100th anniversary this June.