FORBES FIELD MEMORIES
In addition to being a football treatise, certain other aspects of Pittsburgh life merit comment. Can’t really begin on Forbes Field memories without more background on my dad, Tony the Barber. I’ve never met the type of fan like my dad was of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went to a slew of games at Forbes Field, watched every game that was televised on Channel 2. Listened to every game on KDKA, all summer long, on our front porch, or at the shop. Oh…almost forgot, he HATED the Pirates!! His fandom was negatively driven. Here’s why:
1. Traded his favorite player, KiKi Cuyler, when he was a boy.
2. Regularly screwed with by Pirate management on promotions, facility practices, etc.. Examples:
a. My first game was supposed to be a bring your kid, gates open early, meet the players, get autographs, etc. Well….Buccos neglected to say that this only applied to holder of box or reserved-seat tickets. We were bleacherites, right-field grandstand at best.
b. Pirates ALWAYS shut out the light s within 5 minutes of the conclusion of a night game. Drove him crazy!!
c. Parked right behind the right-center field iron gate one night. Pirates locked the fgate, he had to walk all the way around the park to get to the car.
3. Could not abide Bob Prince, the Gunner. I won an ashtray once for my dad at Kennywood. No shit, the ashtray had a picture of a horse’s ass standing at a bar, and said “There’s one in every bar.” Dad glued the Gunner’s picture to said ass.
4. A bit later, could not take Dave Parker (…called him “Ol Bubble-Ass”) or John Candelaria, who 5 innings (..but what a 5 the Candyman pitched).
Last note on Dad, he could have gone to the 7th Game of the 1960 World Series. One of his customers offered him his choice of tickets for Game 6 or Game 7. “Series’ll never go 7,” said Dad. Mom & Dad went to Game 6….Bucs lost 11-0; next day Maz homers to bring the World Series title to Pittsburgh.
I didn’t really start watching the Bucs until the ’66 season. Watched the opener on TV from Atlanta, Braves’ first season there. Tony Cloninger pitched 13 innings, blew out his arm, never the same, Bucs won. I started taking the streetcar, 61B from Swissvale to Oakland, alone, for Bucco games. Saw Koufax beat the Bucs, 4-1 on a Saturday afternoon, had a shutout until the ninth when Clemente put one over the screen.
Clemente….been said often….sheer majesty. After Kirby Puckett died last year, I heard Mike & the Mad Dog from New York’s WFAN say that statistically, Puckett & Clemente were the same player. But there was so much more to Clemente!! Gives me chills when I think of him charging a single to right, throwing behind the runner taking the wide turn at first, nailing his ass. Uncorking one to the plate, almost going head over heels he threw so goddamn hard!! Rounding second, all’ arms & legs charging to third, sliding in safely. Banging out those hits to right!! Damn….he was a special ballplayer.
Snuck down into the boxes behind home plate one game. Watched the same pitch served up 8 consecutive times to Clemente, two strikes, low & away. He fouled off the first 7, then swung & missed. Remember one game though, on the radio from Chicago, where the Bucs trailed the Cubs by a run, two out in the ninth. Clemente fouled off 13 consecutive pitches by Ferguson Jenkins & his Orchestra (…dubbed so by the Gunner), then took Ball 4. Stargell doubled him in, Bucs won in extras.
Clemente was a fearsome hitter. I remember seeing him break Bob Gibson’s leg with a line drive back through the box in ’67 at St. Louis. Ran this before, but it’s worth repeating, from Clemente: The Passion & Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss: “Don Drysdale, the fearsome Dodgers right-handere, acknowledged that his fear of a screaming line drive off Clemente’s bat helped drive him from the game….The moment that finished Drysdale’s career came on August 5, a Tuesday night in the dog days of the summer of 1969. He was on the mound at Chavez Ravine. Clemente came to the plate and smacked a line drive to center, the ball leaving the bat with such velocity that Drysdale could hear it buzz past him. …Drysdale then ‘had the sensation of a bug crawling on his neck: he reached and flicked at it. Leaning down for the resin bag, he noticed a runny substance on his finger, and still feeling the irritation, he reached up and discovered his ear was bleeding. The ball had actually taken the skin off the top of his ear on its way to center field.’ He stayed in to pitch to one more batter, the young catcher, Manny Sanguillen, who was a Clemente disciple. The gopher ball that Drysdale threw to Sanguillen was his last pitch in the major leagues.”
Saw Sandy Koufax shut out the Bucs for 8 in ’66 on a Saturday afternoon. Clemente put one over the screen in the 9th for the lone Buc run in a 4-1 loss. I took the 61B streetcar down & back to Oakland by myself….11 years old.
Sometimes I sat in the rightfield grandstand for a buck and a half. Usually, I opted for the dollar seats in the leftfield bleachers. Often went to Sunday doubleheaders with my dad. A buck for 2 games. Willie Stargell was right in front of us in left, Matty Alou in center…hit about .357 his first year with the Bucs, after batting about .230 the previous year with SanFran. Donn Clendennon at first, Maz at 2nd, Gene Alley at short (…what a DP combo), Bob Bailey at 3rd, Pags at catcher…..Bob Veale, Steve Blass, et al on the mound.
The refreshment stand in the bleachers was well-situated. It wasn’t behind the stands, in the concourse, but rather right up against the bullpen fence, so you actually walked closer to the field to go to the stand, didn’t have to miss any play. At game’s end, they would give us all the hot dogs they had cooked, in a cardboard box, no buns though….that was how they tracked inventory. So we’d leave by this little gate right next to the leftfield foul pole, stuffing our faces with about a half-dozen dogs.
Saw several shot over the right-field roof, most notably the Giants’ Willie McCovey….golf shots, and of course, by Willie the Starge. Saw the Bucs take a doubleheader from the Mays-McCovey Giants in ’66, I think. Sitting by myself in the grandstand, looking down at Clemente, waving my Green ****in’ Weenie….introduced by the Gunner…..was the Bucco version of the Terrible Towel…without the staying power….meant to mess with the opposing pitcher. Hated the Reds even back then….great heckling standing directly over the opposing bullpen in leftfield.
Massive ballpark, Forbes Field…..436 in straight-away center, 457 in left-center, a reach so far that the batting cage was stored out there, in the field of play…..365 to left…375 to right center….only 300 to right, but there was the screen…..forget whether its height was 17’7” or 27’7”. Scoreboard in left…..with the Longines clock sitting atop.
Great ballpark, Forbes Field……great Bucco baseball.