Pittsburgh Sports Report
July 2009

Sports History
Forbes Field 100th Anniversary
By Robbie Kleinmuntz

The Senator John Heinz History Center and Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum opened its new summer exhibition last month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of one of America's legendary ballparks, Forbes Field.

The new exhibition, called Forbes Field: A Century of Memories, houses some of Forbes Field's most valuable memorabilia, including Euthumn Napier's 1940's Homestead Grays home uniform and Ezra Charles' trunks from a heavyweight boxing championship fight in 1951.

Other valuables include Paul Waner's spike shoes, a display of Pirates yearbooks dating to the 1950s, programs from Steelers games of that era, a game ticket from opening day in 1909, a Willie Stargell Louisville Slugger bat, construction photographs from architect Charles Leavitt during the building of Forbes Field, the pitching rubber from the 1960 World Series, and much more.

Anne Madarasz, Director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, spoke about the great Pittsburgh landmark.

"Some of the material here is very rare and has never been seen elsewhere," Madarasz said. "Most of which came from peoples basements, attics or garages."

The Grays uniform is the rarest of all collectables in the museum. Madarasz said she believes it's only one of two still in existence.

Though, Madarasz also made it clear that Forbes Field meant more to Pittsburgh than just the Pirates.

"Forbes Field has a lot of Pirates history, but was a place that was remembered for more than just baseball," she said.

The museum also explores Pittsburgh's other ballparks (including Exposition Park and Three Rivers Stadium), the unique fan experience at Forbes Field, and a look back at the other teams and events hosted at Forbes Field, such as Negro League baseball, professional and collegiate football, boxing and more.

Not only did the Pirates play there, but the park was also home to both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) football teams - who were both nationally ranked at the time. The Pitt Panthers football team had five undefeated seasons in Forbes Field before moving to Pitt Stadium in 1924. It was also the first home field for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933. On top of all that, the park also hosted heavyweight boxing matches, music concerts and other cultural events.

When Forbes Field first opened, many of its original features were new to stadiums of that era, including ramps, elevators, box seats, public telephones, special sod field, fire proof seats (no longer in wood) and public restrooms for women. Pirates' owner Barney Dreyfuss was also the first to promote his team through souvenirs and other items of memorabilia that could be taken home by the fans, some of which are in the museum.

Forbes Field was strategically located in Oakland, at the time an up-and-coming neighborhood in Pittsburgh that was rapidly growing culturally. Dreyfuss made sure to keep ticket prices reasonable and opening day drew approximately 30,000 fans.

One reason for the high attendance was the easy transportation. The ballpark was the first to build an underground parking garage for automobiles, and trolleys allowed easy access for fans to come in from all points of the city. Pictures at the museum also show that many fans climbed Monument Hill, a nearby spot to watch the games from a birds-eye view.

Another reason fans showed up was because the Pirates were a top-notch team. When the park opened in 1909 the Pirates were a powerhouse club that went on to win the World Series in its first year in the new stadium. The Bucs went on to win two more World Series' while playing at Forbes Field.

It took just under six months to build Forbes Field for $1 million. People saved signs, seats or whatever they could grab from the park when it was torn down. Its legacy remains at Forbes Field: A Century of Memories.


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