Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

When the Pirates and Boston Red Sox met at PNC Park on June 4, 2003, for an Interleague series, Pittsburgh's starting shortstop was Jack Wilson, and Boston's winning pitcher in that game was Byung Hyun Kim. These facts are wholly unremarkable on their face, except that it was the first time the two clubs had met in Pittsburgh since a Boston fireballer named Cy Young bested a Germanic shortstop called Honus Wagner and his Pirates a century earlier during the first World Series played at Exposition Park in 1903 -- the birthplace of baseball in Pittsburgh and the World Series.

File, Post-Gazette
A shot of Exposition Park during the 1903 World Series -- the first of what would evolve into the modern day Fall Classic.
Click photo for larger image.

Return to index

While generations of Pirates fans lapse into wistful lament at the passing of Forbes Field, the Pirates return to the North Side actually brought the organization full circle, because that is where baseball in Pittsburgh began in the late 1800s.

When Pittsburgh joined the American Association in 1882, the team, nicknamed the Alleghenies, played at Exposition Park, on the North Side (then called Allegheny City). Flooding and a fire led to the shifting of the park farther upriver, and Expo Park II opened in 1883. The next year, the Alleghenies moved to another ballpark farther still from the river. Named Recreation Park, it had a wooden grandstand and bleachers holding 17,000.

That park's one recorded moment of fame came in 1887, the year Pittsburgh jumped from the American Association to the National League. Fred Carroll, the Alleghenies' catcher, buried his deceased pet monkey under home plate in pre- game ceremonies, possibly the highlight of the year for the local nine, which finished sixth in an eight-team league with a record of 54-68. That team also lost its first baseman, Alek McKinnon. Between games of a doubleheader, McKinnon loaded up on oysters, clams and beer, and couldn't make the second game. He died several weeks later. McKinnon was not buried under home plate.

In 1890, growing tension between professional ballplayers and ballclub owners resulted in the formation of the Brotherhood League. The Pittsburgh franchise, known appropriately as the Burghers, built a new ballpark near Recreation Park, again called Exposition Park (or Expo III) located about two blocks from where PNC Park stands today. It had two-tiered, covered wooden grandstands with bench seats, distinguished by a twin-spired entrance, a capacity of 10,000 and was located at the corner of South Avenue and School Street, facing the Allegheny River and The Point. Typical of parks from the "dead-ball" era, the field's dimensions were considerable: 400 feet down both foul lines and 450 to center.

The Brotherhood League couldn't compete for players with the National League and was out of business after one season. During the 1890-91 off-season, the Alleghenies signed Louis Bierbauer from the competing American Association's defunct Philadelphia franchise -- considered an "act of piracy" by some -- and were branded forever as "Pirates." The new moniker was welcomed by then-franchise president J. Palmer O'Neill (he had tried the name "Innocents" the year before) as he moved his team to the new facilities at Exposition Park. Financially, the ballclub barely survived the 1890s due, in part, to the generally poor teams fielded -- not to mention recurring floods and backed-up sewers at the park.

In 1900, Barney Dreyfuss arrived from Louisville, Ky., and purchased the Pittsburgh club and merged it with his Louisville club. With Wagner and other stars, the Bucs won three consecutive pennants from 1901-03. In 1903, they played the Boston American League team in the first modern World Series.

According to the Baseball Almanac, in an effort to end a bitter two year rivalry and promote unity in baseball, the veteran National League and newly established American League decided to bury the hatchet and come together for a new kind of season finale. Echoing the 1894 proposal of owner William C. Temple, Pittsburgh's Barney Dreyfuss and Boston's Henry Killilea agreed that their ballclubs, who were both pennant winners, should meet in a best-of-nine playoff series for the "World Championship."

The first series game in a National League city was played in Exposition Park Oct. 6, 1903, drawing a modest 7,600 fans. The next day, more than 12,000 descended on the park, so Dreyfuss jammed the overflow behind outfield ropes. Cy Young led Boston to an 11-2 victory. The Pirates eventually lost the nine-game series, five games to three.

Fed up with the flooding and deteriorating neighborhood around cramped, wooden Exposition Park, Dreyfuss in 1909 built a 25,000-seat, concrete and steel stadium in the growing, middle-class East End of Pittsburgh -- Forbes Field.

The Pirates played their last game at Exposition Park June 29, 1909, crushing Chicago, 8-1. The team then moved to Forbes Field and celebrated that first year by winning the National League pennant.

The park's site had been washed away by time, but in 1995 four dedicated "Seamheads" from the local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research -- Dan Bonk, Denis Repp, and Dennis and Jeanne DeValeria -- decided to rediscover what they could of Exposition Park.

Bonk found 19th-century insurance drawings that indicated the grandstands. They figured home plate based on the dimensions. One bitter January day in 1995, the group brought surveying tools and old maps to the intersection of Federal and General Robinson streets on the North Side. They worked west, measuring the way based on landmarks that would have been there in 1903. When they came to the spot where the likes of Honus Wagner had stood at bat, they drove a nail into the ground and exalted.

"We felt we'd discovered a lost treasure," Bonk said. "It was here where Barney Dreyfuss instituted one of America's greatest cultural events."

A Pennsylvania State Historical marker was placed at the site in September 1998.


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?