Stadiums: Forbes Field

Will PNC Park have as important of a legacy? It’s considered to be one of the best in majors at present.

Okay, so this is kind of a continuation of the previous post, but I think it’s a good idea to take a look back at older stadiums as they are a huge part of baseball history, both literally and figuratively.

The predecessor to Forbes Field was Exposition Park, but it had a major flaw — flooding. The Allegheny River ran right alongside the stadium, and when it flooded, the outfield became a swamp. Stadium crews tried what they could, even being the first to use a tarp to protect the infield, but they were no match for mother nature. It would take better dams, locks, canals, and other flood prevention measures to make the area more secure, but owner Barney Dreyfuss wasn’t going to wait that long.

Instead of keeping the team inside the city of Pittsburgh itself, he moved the stadium 10 minutes outside of the city to Schenley Park. After initial resistance, Dreyfuss moved forward with his plan. The area was cheap, and therefore, Dreyfuss could use the bulk of the money for the stadium. And use it he did. Forbes Field is known as the first stadium made of steel and concrete, and this new technique (all other stadiums were made of wood and were, therefore, less durable and more likely to have disasters such as fires and collapses) allowed for a larger stadium (10,000 in Exposition to 25,000, but it would have as many as 40,000 by the end) and more durability (it lasted 60 years).

Forbes Field included other new items. Elevators and ramps were included to facilitate fan movement into, throughout, and out of the stadium. It also included the first clubhouse for umpires. Even more impressively, the visiting clubhouse was just a little worse than that of the Pirates, a major step forward from stadiums that hardly gave anything to visiting teams if anything at all.

As for the dimensions of the park, they were all part of Dreyfuss’ philosophy of baseball. He hated cheap home runs, and in turn, the park’s dimensions are enormous. From left to right, the dimensions were 360 feet in left, an unfathomable 462 feet to center, and 372 feet to right. Making things more difficult was the fence, which was as high as 12 feet but no shorter than 9. Behind the plate, the catcher might have to run as far as 100 feet back to retrieve a passed ball. It would obviously be a pitcher’s park, but no no-hitter was ever thrown in the park. Instead, triples reigned. In 1947, the fences in left were moved in to accomodate newly-signed slugger Hank Greenberg, and the new area created by the move in was called “Greenberg Gardens”. In regard to the playing surface, it was known for being rock-hard.

Forbes Field would survive for 62 years. The once-underdeveloped area was becoming a business district that was the perfect site for a university. The University of Pittsburgh was adjacent to the stadium, and they bought Forbes Field. While leasing the field, the Pirates began to investigate moving the team back to downtown Pittsburgh. In 1968, construction began on Three Rivers Stadium, and the last game played in Forbes Field would be in 1970. Two fires further damaged the park that off-season, and 11 days after the second fire, the University of Pittsburgh ripped it down (here‘s what’s left). Showing its age, Forbes Field was done.

The stadium was called Forbes Field in memorium of John Forbes, who captured Fort Duquesne. People frequently tried to get Dreyfuss to change the name of the stadium to Dreyfuss Field, but he always denied the request. When he died in 1947, further attempts were made to convince his wife, but she resisted as well.

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