Pittsburgh Sports News


Free                                                                Summer 2005                                                       VOL.01 NO.01  

For the hometown sports fan.    

THE HISTORY OF BASEBALL IN PITTSBURGH

 

The game of baseball has grown from its humble beginnings into a multi-billion dollar industry in America. This game, with millions of fans, has a long history dating back over 225 years. It has sprung up in just about every major city in the country. In 2004 nearly 73 million tickets were sold in Major League parks alone.

This brings to mind many questions. How did baseball accomplish the feat of capturing the heart of a nation? Exactly when did the game begin? When did it become a profession for the players?  When did it first come to Pittsburgh? In the early days, where did the games take place?

These are the questions that this report will answer. Today the game has evolved into a sport that is played in shimmering facilities that are shrines to Baseball’s rich past. The local ballpark, being the place where the games are held, becomes the major focus. In Pittsburgh, professional baseball has been played in numerous parks and stadiums. These facilities hold the story of the history of professional baseball in Pittsburgh.

Baseball: The Early Years

Baseball its America's pastime - played with a bat, a ball, and bases. The game most likely evolved form a British game named rounders. Rounders was a game played in Great Britain well before America was settled. It is a similar game to Baseball in that there are bases, a ball and a bat.

Baseball’s roots in America can be traced as far back as the colonial days. On April 17, 1778, George Ewing, a soldier in the Colonial army, made an entry into his journal that he and his fellow patriots had played a game of “Base” while encamped at Valley Forge. Someone else reported that General George Washington had played a similar game with his troops on that day.

Yet another example of Baseball being played in the 18th century is a 1791 law written in the small town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The Bylaw was written aiming to protect the windows of a new town meetinghouse. It prohibited anyone from playing the game of baseball within 80 yards of the building. In the statute other games were banned as well:  wicket, cricket, batball, football, and cats-and-fives.

In its early days baseball in America was a game that children played to occupy themselves; adults would ultimately become involved with the sport. Out of its humble beginnings it would become one of the most popular games ever. 

Well before there were parks and stadiums, the games were played on sandlots and grass fields.  In its early days there were no formal rules. Most games were played between pick-up teams. The rules were similar to pickup baseball games of today. Each game had its own unique set of rules that fit the number of players involved. Often times the field on which the game was played had a major influence on those rules. 

One of the oldest references to organized baseball dates back to an 1825 article that appeared in the Dehle (New York) Gazette. The item issues a challenge to a game of baseball to any group in Delaware County.

In the early 1800s the game was referred to as "Baseball", "Base", or "Townball'. The name of Townball came from the fact that the games were played between two teams from neighboring small towns. In those days there were no formal rules for the game; teams would agree on a set of rules before each game. Although most of these games were played using rules similar to pick-up games, it was still baseball nonetheless.

Many of these “Townball” games created tremendous rivalries. Their intensity was so great that many times they ended up in fights and arguments. Often times the game would involve entire towns betting each other on the outcome of the game.

Abner Doubleday was recognized as the "official" creator of baseball by a national panel in the early 1900s, but historians have since agreed that it was in 1845, that Alexander Cartwright, a bank clerk, was the first to formalize a list of rules by which all teams could play.  In June of 1846 the New York Knickerbockers, led by Cartwright, played the first official baseball game between two teams, using the new formal rules, in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The game's popularity increased in the next decade. In 1857 a convention was held to discuss the rules of the game and other topics. There were twenty-five teams from America's northeast who attended. In 1858 the National Association of Baseball Players instituted the first organized baseball league. The game of Baseball was now off and running.

In the early 1860's America was involved in the Civil War and fewer official games were played during that time. However, Union troops expanded the game's popularity by playing games in parts of the country where it had never before been played.

Still, amateurs played the games. For the most part, they were playing for their town's bragging rights. At the time, most of the players involved with the sport were young professionals who would take a break from their jobs as bankers or accountants to participate in a “Townball” game.

Professional Baseball finally came about in 1869 when the Cincinnati Red Stockings were formed by Harry and George Wright. The brothers decided to recruit the best players from all around the country and pay them. In 1869 the Red Stockings had a record of 65-0.

The concept of towns having a professional team caught on. But, it wasn't until 1876 that Pittsburgh witnessed the first professional game in town. The local team was named the Pittsburgh Alleghenies and that first game happened at Union Park. The Alleghenies played in the minor-league International League. But in 1877 the International League folded.

Professional Baseball did not return to Pittsburgh until 1882 when the Alleghenies reformed and joined the American Association. The local team played their home games at Exposition Park in 1882 and ‘83. But, because of flooding problems at Exposition Park, the team moved to Recreation Park in 1884; over the next five seasons, Recreation Park was the Alleghenies’ home.

The Alleghenies played in the American Association over the next four years before joining the National League in 1887.  In their first National League game the Alleghenies beat the defending champions Chicago White Stockings 6-2 in front of 10,000 fans at Recreation Park.

Pittsburgh team “Pirates” a Player

In 1889 the Alleghenies were renamed the Pittsburgh Innocents and continued to play in the National League. The following year the team was named the Pirates after they had "pirated" second baseman Lou Bierbauer from Philadelphia of the American Association.

In the early days of organized professional baseball, teams owned the rights of their players. Owners had organized and instituted the reserve clause. The clause gave the owners the rights to their players under contract. Those rights would stipulate that the player could not play for any other team.

The idea of a player being a free agent was out of the question. This angered many   players, so in 1890 they organized their own league.  The newly formed league was called the Players League.

In 1890 Louis Bierbauer left the Philadelphia Athletics to join a team in the newly formed Players League. The PL folded and Bierbauer was bound to return to Philadelphia. In 1891 a clerical error allowed the Innocents to swipe him from the Athletics. From that point on, the Pittsburgh club became known as the Pirates. Bierbauer was, in effect, the first free agent in all of professional sport.

In 1891 the Pittsburgh Pirates returned to Exposition Park where the home team would remain until the 1909 season when they moved into Forbes Field.

1820 Woodcut of Children Playing Bat & Ball.
(Source: Children's Amusements [New York, 1820])


The Baseball Parks of Pittsburgh

Aside from the major professional Baseball facilities that housed the team that eventually became the Pittsburgh Pirates there were several other facilities that were called home to the Pittsburgh Alleghenies and the Pittsburgh Crawfords. The Homestead Grays played all of their home games at Forbes Field.

The very first organized professional game held in Pittsburgh happened in 1876. The Pittsburgh Alleghenies of the minor league International League played the first recorded professional game in town; the place where it happened was known as Union Park. There is very little information about where Union Park was located or what the park was like. It may have had a grandstand (unique to parks of that era) as it did have a listed capacity of 2,500 fans.

Green Cathedrals, a book that lists all professional parks, also indicates that the Providence Grays played at Union Park on August 22-24 in 1878. 


Baseball in Pittsburgh in the late 1800s

1882: Exposition Park I

In 1882 when the Alleghenies resumed play again, they played in Exposition Park. Exposition Park actually was not built to house baseball. In 1875 the Allegheny Exposition was held. The Expo was held in a hall that showed off local products and provided entertainment. On the same location there were several open fields. There was a field on the lower area near the river and an upper field. On these fields, circuses, horse races and musical events occurred. It was in the lower field that the Alleghenies played in 1882. That field was called Exposition Park.

1883: Exposition Park II

Because the lower field was prone to frequent floods in the summertime, the Alleghenies decided to move to the upper field in 1883; that was Exposition Park II. It is not indicated that either of these places ever had a grandstand.

1884-1889: Recreation Park

From 1884 through 1889 the Alleghenies played in Recreation Park. In 1890 the re-named Pittsburgh Innocents played the final season at the same facility. Like Union Park, not much information is available on Recreation Park. It was built in order to avoid the flood problems of Exposition Park. It was located on Pittsburgh's North Side where the Mexican War Streets are today. The facility held 17,000 fans. According to a local historian, the smallest crowd happened on April 23, 1890 when the Innocents hosted Cleveland before a paid crowd of 6, with 12 other fans in attendance.

1889: Exposition Park III

In ‘83 the expo hall burned down and subsequently was rebuilt across the river at the site where Point State Park stands today. With only the fields remaining, the Players League built Exposition Park III in 1890. This park held a capacity of 16,000 fans, and was the home of the Pirates until June 29, 1909.

Exposition Park was a state of the art facility in its day. It had two grandstands along both the first-base and third-base lines. There were also two sets of bleachers that extended from the grandstands toward each foul pole in left and right field.  A unique feature were the twin spires that rose up behind home plate. The spires could be seen from Pittsburgh across the river.

1900-1909 Exposition Park

In 1903, 3 games of the First World Series ever was played in Exposition Park.

Capacity: 16,000

Dimensions:

Left Field: 400 feet

Center Field: 450 feet

Right Field: 400 feet

In 1902 the National League and the American League came to an agreement where each league would use the same game rules and allow for inter-league trading.

1903 First ever World Series

At the conclusion of the 1903 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the champions of the National League. In the American League it was the Boston Pilgrims (or “Americans” as they were also known). The Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss and Henry Killilea of the Pilgrims/Americans agreed to play each other to determine the World Championship of Baseball. Historians agree that this was the first modern-era World Series.

Thirteen players participated for the Pilgrims/Americans, 4 of which were pitchers; Cy Young was one of one of them. The Bucs had 14 players participate; 5 were pitchers. Notable Pirates on the ‘03 team were Fred Clarke, Deacon Phillippe, and Honus Wagner.

In the 9-game series, the Pirates seemed to be in command after winning 3 of the first 4 games. But the Pilgrims/Americans went on to win the next 4 games, ultimately taking the series 5 games to 3.

The Boston players received $1,182.00 while Dreyfuss paid the hometown team $1,316.00 because he gave his share of the gate to his players.

On the nation’s birthday in 1902, Exposition Park was flooded with more than a foot of water; that did not stop the teams from playing the scheduled double header against Brooklyn. The Pirates won both games on that day. Prior to the contests, both teams agreed that all outfield hits into the water were singles.

Exposition Park III

1905: Honus Wagner becomes the first ever to have a signature bat. It was branded into a Louisville Slugger.
1906: The Pirates are the first team to use a tarp to cover a wet field.

Aside from the major homes of local baseball, where the Alleghenies, Innocents, and Pirates played, there are only two other Parks listed where professional baseball games were held in town. They were Almond Field and Greenlee Field.

Pictured above the 1935 Pittsburgh Crawfords are seen here in front of their Bus outside Greenlee Park

Almond Field was located in Pittsburgh's Hill District. The facility was the home of the great Negro League Pittsburgh area teams. Today there is a plaque that commemorates Almond Field. The address where the Plaque currently stands is 2217 Bedford Avenue.

In the early ‘30s, players in the Negro League were not permitted to use the dressing rooms at either Forbes Field or Almond Field.The players of the Negro League finally found a new home at Greenlee Field. The Field was located in the Hill District at 2500 Bedford Ave. Gus Greenlee was sort of a shaky fellow who was involved in the rackets, but he viewed himself as a "positive force in the community." In 1932 Greenlee had the park built. Greenlee Field was said to have a roofless grandstand that held a capacity of 7,500 fans. It was a structure constructed of steel and concrete with a high brick wall. The dressing rooms were state-of-the-art facilities; the players finally were accorded the dignity of using the dressing rooms before and after the games. In 1933, lights were installed over the field. Greenlee was probably the home of the first night baseball game ever played. The Pittsburgh Courier declared it to be a "Mecca of the Hill District."

In the later part of the 30's the Crawfords declined and, sadly, the field was demolished in December of 1938.

Exposition Park was the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates until 1909 when Forbes Field became the new home of the Bucs. The final professional game was played in 1915 when the local Pittsburgh affiliate of the Federal League, the Pittsburgh Stogies, hosted the final Baseball game at Exposition Park.

On to Forbes Field