Monday, July 25, 2005

Ballpark Ghosts: Forbes Field, Where Yankees Wept

Any place where Yankees are humbled -- and goodness knows we need more of them -- is considered hallowed ground in my eyes.

So I was pretty excited when Will suggested we pay a visit to the site of Forbes Field before a recent trip to PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Forbes, of course, is where Bill Mazeroski earned his Hall of Fame plaque by driving a stake through the Yankees' black hearts, winning the 1960 World Series with a home run in the bottom of the ninth.

How much did this hurt the Yankees? Let's go right to Mickey Mantle's autobiography, "The Mick."

"Nothing ever hurt as bad as that one.....Bottom of the ninth. Bill Mazeroski is at the plate, taking the first pitch, a high slider....And the most tearing moment of all, seeing Mazeroski's hard line drive heading for the left field wall. Yogi moves toward it, me backing him up, but it keeps going, going, going....There's a sick sensation in the pit of my stomach. There's that unforgettable look on Yogi's face when he turns around, grim acceptance, expressed by a slow shrug of his shoulders.

"We walked off the field, a mob of fans already streaming past, and as Mazeroski crosses the plate his hysterical teammates grab at his uniform.

"In the locker room, all of us are wandering around in a trance, muttering, 'What happened?' I'm slumped in a stool, feeling so low I can hardly peel off my uniform."

Now that is something to savor. The problem with the Yankees, well, one of them, is that they think they are entitled to all the World Series championships, not just an occasional or even frequent trophy.

And the 1960 loss was so traumatic that the team fired legendary manager Casey Stengel two days later and raided their farm team -- err, American League rival -- Kansas City Athletics for Roger Maris.

The Pirates played their last game at Forbes in 1970 and gave the site to the University of Pittsburgh, which had the good sense to know that it was treading on sacred ground.

A good chunk of the outfield wall remains carefully preserved, ivy and all, as well as the centerfield flag pole, which was in play.

Home plate rests almost exactly where it was, but it is encased in glass in a first-floor hallway of Posvar Hall, an otherwise drab building.

A row of bricks outside traces where the outfield wall stretched, and there's a plaque at the spot where St. Maz's ball crossed the fence, so all right-thinking fans can stand and reflect.

I caught up with Will and his brother Scott at outfield wall, which is slightly covered by trees in a nice, park-like setting.

After posing with home plate, we opted to pay homage by playing catch in what was rightfield, where Roberto Clemente once patrolled.

Forbes, which had been home to the Pirates since 1909, also was the site of Babe Ruth's last three home runs on May 25, 1935.

But it was Maz's blast that elevated Forbes to hallowed status. We remarked that 45 years later, the you could still catch a scent of Yankee shame lingering in the air. Of course, it had just poured buckets and all the trees were in bloom, which might have had something to do with it. But I prefer the former.

While the team's next ballpark, Three Rivers Stadium, was a multi-purpose concrete disaster, I'm pleased to report that PNC is a worthy successor. It's an intimate yard with an awesome view of downtown and its yellow bridges, easily the best of the new ballparks I've visited.

The view of downtown from our seats, where we enjoyed watching Chipper Jones take the collar -- with three strikeouts!

In Other Words...

We were in town to kick off the annual Executive Game weekend. Will detailed all our adventures -- and we have many -- on his site, which always is recommended reading.


Danica said...
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Tony Hartsfield said...

Having a catch in the location of Yankee shame: priceless.