A gentle slope on the eastern side of a North Hills cemetery carries a small bronze marker, aged with a bright green patina, that bears the name of the winning pitcher in the first World Series game ever played.
The modest rectangle in Allegheny County Memorial Park in McCandless says only "Charles P. Phillippe: May 23, 1872 -- March 30, 1952." It most definitely isn't a first-day tourist attraction, but on Oct. 1, 1903, the man in the ground was on the mound.
Known as "Deacon" Phillippe -- pronounced FILL-eh-pee -- he and the Pirates beat the immortal Cy Young and the Boston Americans on a sunny afternoon in Beantown, and baseball had its first post-season hero. The event a Post-Gazette headline would soon call the "World's Series" was on.
As the Pirates and their fans get set for the first playoff game in 21 years, it seems a good idea to go back 110 and look at the first time that modern baseball played beyond the regular season.
"The Pittsburgh Pirates completely outclassed the Boston Americans at all points today," began the "Special Telegram to the Gazette" with a Boston dateline.
"The Hubbies were outbatted, outfielded and outpitched ... Phillippe pitched a masterly game."
It wouldn't end well for the Pirates. Although they won the opener 7-3 and would return to Pittsburgh up three games to one in the best-of-nine series, they wound up losing the next four games and the series. What struck me in reading the accounts on the PG sports page -- the opening game story held the prestigious left column beside a story headlined, "WOMEN GOLFERS KEEP UP THEIR CLEVER WORK" -- was how the details of play seemed no more important than the event itself.
"The usually placid Hub was stirred to its conservative foundation by the enthusiasm of its own big army of fans and the influx of thousands of visiting rooters who were even more exuberant than the home people ... Barney Dreyfuss, president of the Pittsburgh club, estimated that at least $350,000 had been wagered before the game."
I'm not positive about that number. The microfilm I was reading is blurred. But the gambling was wide open, and by Oct. 7 the lead story was headlined, "HOLDING FAST TO THEIR CASH; Boston Rooters Looking for Odds and Will Not Take Any Chances on Their Team."
The Pirates, all 15 of them, had traveled to Boston by train, leaving from the place we now call Station Square on Sept. 28 and stopping in Buffalo to whup the minor-league Bisons in an exhibition game. This was generations before fans would be willing to plunk down serious money to buy jerseys that risk carrying another man's sins on their backs, but a section of the Boston "grand stand had been reserved for the Pittsburgh delegation of 'rooters' and they came to the grounds in a body, decorated with badges of the club's colors."
Then, as now, nobody in Pittsburgh had known in mid-September whether the Pirates would be playing beyond the regular season. The difference is that in 1903 the decision to even have a series wasn't made until Sept. 18, the day after Boston clinched the pennant in the upstart American League and the day before the Pirates clinched the National League.
Dreyfuss, who owned the Pirates from 1900 until his death in 1932, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, in part for fathering the World Series with this challenge to Boston.
The lyrical names of some of the Pirates in that first post-season series -- Honus Wagner, Kitty Bransfield, Ginger Beaumont -- may now give way to Starling Marte, Francisco Liriano and Justin Morneau. But all should know fame is fleeting.
Those ancient Pirates played in Allegheny City, which is gone, at Exposition Park, likewise gone. (Its home plate is marked near the corner of General Robinson Street and Tony Dorsett Way, between Heinz Field and PNC Park.) And few remember the man named in that first-game subhead, "Sixteen Thousand People Watch Deacon Phil Mow the Boston Batters Down."
When I visited the cemetery Thursday, Phillippe's World Series victory was news to the folks in the office there. But they said if I knew of any of his descendants, I should let them know that two of the six plots his family bought in 1949 are still available.
Brian O'Neill: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1947.