Forbes Field memories come alive in new book

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Forbes Field probably tops the list of best-remembered local landmarks that are long gone. Someone oughta write a book about it.

In a new book, about 100 different accounts recall Forbs Field in Oakland. It was built in 1909 by Barney Dreyfuss.
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Well, someone did. Two Western Pennsylvania natives now living in Omaha, Neb., produced "Forbes Field: Essays and Memories of the Pirates' Historic Ballpark, 1909-1971 (McFarland & Co., $35)

On Friday and Saturday, authors/editors David Cicotello and Angelo J. Louisa will hold book signings on the South Side and East Liberty.

The two men met through a mutual friend in the late 1990s while both were working at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. The construction of the Pirates' PNC Ballpark, with some Forbes-like features, got them thinking about a book containing fans' and players' remembrances of a ballpark surrounded and embraced by Oakland.

"We wanted to turn back the clock, to fill in the gap in the literature on this ballpark," Cicotello said.

A native of Windber, Somerset County, Cicotello, 54, writes in the introduction about his first visit to Forbes, a double-header the Pirates split with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965. Louisa, 55, was 9 when he and his father got a bus from South Fayette to see a 1961 game against St. Louis.

"This is the real thing and I'm here," he thought as he glimpsed the field from a ramp to the second deck.

The men gathered more than 200 accounts from fans like them through contacts at nursing homes, senior centers and a Web site. About 100 made it into the book, along with memories from nearly 60 former players, coaches and team officials.

Some recall Oct. 13, 1960 -- the day Bill Mazeroski's home run beat the Yankees and won the World Series for the Pirates. But the feat is barely mentioned by Mazeroski, who, along with fellow Hall-of-Famer Ralph Kiner, was the authors' favorite "get."

"Being an infielder, I felt that Forbes Field had the worst infield in the major leagues. ... But I got used to it and eventually almost liked it. I have a lot of good memories at Forbes Field, especially Oct. 13, 1960," he wrote.

The closest the authors came to getting Roberto Clemente, another of their heroes, is a transcript of a radio interview he did with Nellie King on June 28, 1970, before the last game at Forbes.

"I would like to play until I get 3,000 hits. ... I think that that is something that not too many fellows accomplish," Clemente says.

"I would like to stay in baseball in some capacity 'cuz I love baseball too much. ... I don't think I could never stay away as long as I got life."

He reached 3,000 hits in September 1972 and died in a plane crash three months later.

One chapter is an audiotape transcript of KDKA's coverage of the doubleheader against the Cubs that ended Forbes' 62-year run. In it, announcer Bob Prince predicts Pirates' fans will celebrate peacefully. That didn't happen:

"After the game, the fans stormed the field and took everything, grass, bases, numbers off the scoreboard. I even saw some old ladies with parts of chairs. It was a real scene," wrote the late Jim Nelson, the Pirates' winning pitcher that day.

The editors also included accounts by fans who took souvenirs.

"Some feel very elevated and proud that they brought away something. We wanted to have multiple perspectives," Cicotello said.

Other chapters discuss ballpark builder Barney Dreyfuss, whose innovations made it "the first truly modern ballpark of the 20th century"; the Homestead Grays, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Pitt Panthers, Steelers and boxers who also competed there; and the field's changing dimensions and statistics showing that it wasn't really a "pitcher's park" after all. Though it had the fewest homers of any National League park, it had the most triples.

The heart of the book, however, is the Forbes' remembrances -- of ushering there for more than 40 years, of selling newspapers in the stands in 1958, of starting in 1995 an annual Oct. 13 celebration at what's left of the outfield wall in Oakland.

The editors were forced to leave out remembrances that were mainly sentimental.

"They had to have details and a deep connection to the park. I love the stories," Louisa said.

The "Forbes Field" authors/editors will sign books from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2705 E. Carson St., South Side, and from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Borders, 5986 Penn Circle South, East Liberty.

As the last game ended at Forbes Field on June 28, 1970, fans poured out of the stands to gather souvenirs, overrrunning a scheduled ceremony. The scoreboard was picked apart, number by number.
Click photo for larger image.

Kevin Kirkland can be reached at or 412-263-1978.


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