Posvar Hall home to former ‘heart of Pittsburgh,’ Forbes Field


While beautiful PNC Park is perennially ranked among the best places to watch a baseball game, the Pittsburgh Pirates spent some of their most successful years playing at a location much closer to Pitt students’ hearts — Forbes Field, where colossal Posvar Hall now stands.

A photograph within the massive, brutalist building depicts a scene unique to the era: students crowded atop the Cathedral of Learning to cheer on the Pittsburgh Pirates as they closed in on victory in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series — the game that baseball aficionados and Pittsburghers remember as Mazeroski’s shining moment and the first World Series to end in a home run. 

Years before Posvar Hall was erected and years before the Pittsburgh Steelers’ multiple Super Bowl victories established the city as a football mecca, Forbes Field served as the heart of the city of Pittsburgh. As the late Willie “Pops” Stargell — who owned seven of the 18 home runs that cleared the park’s right-field roof — purportedly said, “Oakland revolved around Forbes Field. Nothing in the city could match that atmosphere.”

Currently, however, little of the field’s legacy remains intact. Pitt provides little tribute to the historic park, with only home plate and part of the outfield wall memorialized, as well as historical markers for the 1960 World Series team and Barney Dreyfuss — the Pirates owner from 1900 to 1932. Some feel that the University could offer more of a tribute.

One of the critics is Rob Ruck, a history professor at Pitt who teaches “History of Sport” and is among the foremost baseball historians in the country, with books on America’s pastime both within the city of Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Ruck noted that there is only one photograph located by the encased home plate that honors the field. Ruck said that he feels that the addition of photographs and other memorabilia would give the focal point of Pittsburgh sports history its due.

“Every group of prospective students and parents stop at home plate, and I think you could easily amplify that with photographs,” Ruck said. “Think of the early Pitt football teams with Pop Warner, the Pirates who won their first world series here in 1909, shots of legends Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, the Pittsburgh Crawfords, the Steelers. There are truly stunning photographs of all this. … Football, baseball, negro leagues — all of that. I think that you could do that very easily.” 

Earlier this week, Ruck began the process of outlining a series of suggestions that he feels would improve the University’s memorialization of the field. Ruck declined to explain the details of these suggestions.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele declined to comment on Ruck’s suggestions until University administrators have had time to review them more thoroughly.

Although there may be debate over Pitt’s tribute to Forbes Field, the city at large hasn’t forgotten the park’s legacy. According to Anne Madarasz, the director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, Forbes Field was much more than just a ballpark. 

“Forbes Field served as the city’s community center, hosting football, soccer and boxing, as well as serving as a venue for the arts, culture and entertainment,” Madarasz said. 

It was also a place of political significance. Several presidents visited the stadium during its heyday, including William Howard Taft and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who made a fiery speech at a historic campaign rally on the field on Oct. 1, 1936 — one that served as a milestone in Roosevelt’s pivot away from fiscal austerity to the New Deal Democrat he’s remembered as today.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, pressure from the University and the hope of a multi-sport stadium — where the Pirates and Steelers could both play — prompted the Pirates organization to sell the ballpark to Pitt.

According to Ruck, building an academic building where Forbes Field once stood may have been inevitable. 

“Even today there is a great scarcity of office and classroom space, and as Pitt was expanding, it realized it needed more space,” Ruck said. “You can look at the whole growth, with these dorms into South Oakland, and next to Hillman Library — it was a natural site.”

While Posvar provides Pitt with a rather large offering of classrooms and offices, a necessity at any university, Ruck said the issue of memorializing a venue that held so much history is still very relevant. 

“Clearly sport has become the story that Pittsburgh tells about itself, and Forbes Field and the University of Pittsburgh are parts of that story,” Ruck said. “There has never been and there never will be an athletic venue that has hosted such a diversity of sports and other important events as Forbes Field.”

At the same time, some find that the University is doing enough as it is. Self-proclaimed die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan Christopher Reiner, an undeclared sophomore at Pitt, appreciates what the University has already done to honor Forbes Field. 

“I love how the old home plate is under glass inside Posvar,” Reiner said. “The brick wall segment that still stands combined with the row of bricks in the sidewalk signifying the outfield wall is also a really nice and unobtrusive touch to honor the old park. The impromptu celebration held every Oct. 13 to celebrate the 1960 World Series, although not University- or city-sanctioned, is a great and sufficient way to honor Forbes Field.” 

In the meantime, the Heinz History Center is doing its part in honoring the field, as well as the Pirates teams of the stadium’s heyday. A new exhibit honoring Bill Mazeroski and his iconic Game 7 walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series opened last week and runs through Thursday, May 1 — for the entirety of the first month of the 2014 season. 

“Mazeroski’s Pirates uniform and bronzed 35-inch Louisville Slugger bat will be accompanied by several 1960 World Series items from the sports museum’s collection,” Madarasz said.

This collection includes the pitching rubber used by New York Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry, who pitched the ball to Mazeroski in the final at-bat in Game 7, as well as the first base Mazeroski rounded on his way to victory. 

While some question Pitt’s efforts to memorialize Forbes Field, most Pitt students and faculty can agree that sitting in a classroom where Pirates legends used to stand is pretty special.

“In the 1970s, when this place was being built, is when Pittsburgh became the City of Champions,” said Ruck, who was a graduate student at Pitt during that era. “I don’t think I made the connections with how much of what I was doing was being affected by what was going on in Pittsburgh at the time.”

Regardless of what the University might do in the future regarding additions to a Forbes Field tribute, Ruck summed up the relationship between Pitt and Forbes Field as inescapable.

“This place, just generations of Pittsburghers spent a lot of time here,” Ruck said. “The great thing about Forbes Field, I think, is how organically it fit into the community. It wasn’t a ballpark surrounded by a sea of parking lots. … I would be thrilled if just the minimalist approach would be done. Pitt is critical to the history of Pittsburgh sport, sport is critical to the history of Pittsburgh. It’s our brand, tap it.”