Forbes Field Brought Baseball to Oakland

Public Domain Photo A vintage postcard illustration depicts Forbes Field in its heyday. The stadium operated in Oakland for 61 years, from 1909 to 1970.

Public Domain Photo
A vintage postcard illustration depicts Forbes Field in its heyday. The stadium operated in Oakland for 61 years, from 1909 to 1970.

words: Seth Culp-Ressler

It’s June 30, 1909, and more than 30,000 crazed fans are packed into the seats and bleachers lining Forbes Field, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ newly-finished crown jewel.

As the Pittsburgh Press reported on that opening day, Forbes Field was “the world’s finest baseball park.” The soaring concrete and steel structure stood as a monument to the institution of baseball and a sign of the game joining the new millennium.

That inaugural day, the Pirates faced off against the Chicago Cubs, a team that had won the World Series the previous two seasons. Unfortunately, the champions came out on top once again, winning 3-2.

The rest of ‘09 wasn’t so bleak for the Bucs, as the Society For American Baseball Research explains. In fact, Pittsburgh went on to clinch not only the National League title, but also the World Series that same year.

Barney Dreyfuss, the owner of the Pirates at the time, wanted to make an impact with his new park — a grand statement to celebrate his team and the burgeoning Pittsburgh fan base it was attracting.

The Oakland location of his new field, however, was controversial. At the time, Oakland was considered a remote site for a major stadium, far removed from a downtown location that would seem an obvious choice.

Rob Ruck, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, explained that in the end the location was a perfect choice. With the litany of Pittsburgh natives that played in the park, and the employees that hailed from the neighborhood of Oakland, Forbes Field soon became a community staple.

“Even though Forbes Field was owned by Barney Dreyfuss and his family, Pittsburghers felt it belonged to them,” Ruck said. “What they saw on the field was a reflection of who they were.”

What they saw also was a variety of sporting spectacles. As the online entry for Forbes Field’s Pennsylvania historical marker explains, at different points in its history the stadium played host to, among others, the Steelers, the University of Pittsburgh football team, boxing matches and the Homestead Grays, a Negro League team from the era of segregated baseball.

That 1909 championship win wouldn’t be the last the ivy-lined walls of Forbes Field witnessed over its 61-year lifespan. The Pirates would go all the way again in the 1925 season against the Washington Nationals, the winners of the previous year’s series.

The 1960 season, though, was the big one. The Pirates found themselves faced against the New York Yankees, one of the most dominant teams in baseball at the time and the clear favorite to take home the championship.

Nevertheless, the series lasted until the seventh game. The Pirates led going into the ninth inning but New York quickly tied it up, much to the dismay of the packed-to-the-brim Forbes Field.

It was then, in the bottom of the ninth, that Bill Mazeroski knocked one right over the left field wall — and just like that the Pirates earned their third World Series win. Every October 13, on the anniversary of that home run, Pirates fans gather at the remnants of the outfield wall and listen to the radio broadcast from that hallowed day.

Forbes Field’s last game — on June 28, 1970 — looked much like its first. In a fit of poetic justice, the Buccos faced off against the Chicago Cubs, just like they had 61 years before.

This time, though, the Pirates won.