An anniversary few noticed: 100 years & Forbes Field

Few noticed a historic anniversary in stadium building yesterday, in part because almost two decades of mediocrity by the Pittsburgh Pirates has kept anything related to Pittsburgh baseball off the radar screen unless it involved a trade of their players to a big market team.

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of Forbes Field, arguably a moment that changed the stadium-building landscape forever. It was the first ballpark to cost at least a million dollars to construct. Forbes Field used more than three times the structural steel and concrete as Philadelphia’s Shibe Park which opened a couple months earlier in 1909. Now remembered as a small intimate ballpark that has long since been demolished, at the time Forbes Field was the most massive monument to professional sports ever built.

It was built entirely with private funds, and it ushered in a sort of competition among team owners to build similar ballparks, places like Fenway, Wrigley, Comiskey, Ebbets, and Navin in Detroit. The Pittsburgh area papers did some coverage of this anniversary on Sunday and Monday, and the Pirates did a ceremony yesterday at PNC Park, but enthusiasm for the Pirates is low, so very few noticed.

Though few visiting the Field of Schemes site will want to visit this issue further, for those who do, you might hit the library and check out a book entitled Forbes Field by David Cicotello and Angelo Louisa (a 2007 publication of McFarland Press).

To put things in a current context, MLB had the inhabitants of the two remaining ballparks of the Forbes Field era (Red Sox and Cubs) open up exhibition games in New York’s shiny new monuments to modern retro ballparks. The Red Sox played the first major league exhibition game in the Mets new place, and the Cubs played a preseason game in the Yankees new palace. My theory: Now that the real ballparks of a bygone era have inspired construction of numerous “retro ballparks,” MLB is not wedded to keeping the old dinosaurs around. In short, Fenway and Wrigley have served their usefulness in prompting the kind of new construction that has made team owners around the country lots of money. If dumping them for shiny new models is in the cards, MLB would not have a problem with that.

The irony is that if that ever occurs, the powers involved will propose tearing down an authentic ballpark of the past and propose building what would likely be yet another replica of the past, but with much more retailing space and nice new cupholders.

It is entirely speculation on my part, but consider that MLB officials also had the Pirates/Cubs game scheduled in Pittsburgh on the 100th anniversary of Forbes Field’s opening, with a brief ceremony as part of the action. I don’t think the three scheduling decisions were entirely random or done without some thought. The game on the 100th anniversary was scheduled against the same team that opened that new ballpark in Pittsburgh in 1909, but in 1909, the Cubs were defending World Series champions. Many regard PNC Park as a place that emulated some of the features of Forbes Field.

Unless you want to see the ballparks of this era gone forever, support the friendly folks at Save Fenway Park! or your local Wrigley activist should calls for a brand new ballpark in Boston or Chicago emerge any time in the next decade or so.

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14 comments on “An anniversary few noticed: 100 years & Forbes Field

  1. Also read this Crane Kenney interview. Everything is geared toward renovations.

    Key points
    BCB: But does all this have to wait for new ownership to come in?

    CK: Well, we have designs that our team here thinks work, architects that are working hard. But a new ownerÔøΩs gonna be the owner and unless they sayÔøΩ they may say, I donÔøΩt want steel and glass I want a brick structure. I donÔøΩt want four stories and the latest one we have has like a wedding cake design on top that you can create a banquet hall that would allow us to do a lot of the non game day functions … this building, this triangle building will offer a 365, 24/7 as a stand-alone business when weÔøΩre not playing.

    BCB: Get a national chain restaurant of some kind in thereÔøΩ

    CK: Yeah. Absolutely. So this is our vision: Wrigley 2014, for our centennial, the ballpark is renewed.
    BCB: YouÔøΩre probably figuring a new owner would come in, youÔøΩd show him what youÔøΩve got and if they really hate it they could start over. But youÔøΩve got a reasonably good plan here.

    CK: The plan isnÔøΩt brilliant in any way is we need to make as much as we can in any way with a small footprint ballpark. We donÔøΩtÔøΩ have a modern ballpark that expands forever. So weÔøΩre going to have to use some of the space outside the ballpark to bring amenities to our fans that they otherwise would expect inside. So your restaurant, which you may want to have inside the ballparkÔøΩs gonna be outside. And youÔøΩre going to have this courtyard between us and the stadium that youÔøΩd have to traverse to get in. ItÔøΩs not that far. And so all in, this business can grow in size. The team payroll can continue to grow and then itÔøΩs performance.

    BCB: What youÔøΩre talking about with these amenities is extra revenue.

    CK: Absolutely. People would for instance, love to park with us instead of in the alleys and garages and we would love to have the revenue from an efficient parking structure.

    BCB: So some of that structure is gong to be parking?

    CK: Parking, yes. I think if we can give fans parking right next to the building where they can get in and out with ease I think they would pay us to park with us rather than park in an alley down the block.

    BCB: What about seating capacity? What would this do to seating capacity?

    CK: Seating would not change much because you would add some pockets of seats here and there. But if you look at the modern ballparks that are being built today, guess what? TheyÔøΩre around 42,000. ItÔøΩs kind of like weÔøΩre retro. WeÔøΩre in fashion again.

    BCB: Well I think people discovered that in the 55,000, 60,000 seat stadiums there were 10 or 15,000 really bad seats that nobody bought except on Opening Day and post season games, if there were any.

    CK: ThatÔøΩs exactly right.

    BCB: The Mets are downsizing. Only the Yankees are building a ballpark thatÔøΩs as big and only they can probably justify that.. Actually I think theyÔøΩre keeping their bleachers inexpensiveÔøΩ.

    CK: I know the original pricing there were not very many inexpensive seats, but I donÔøΩt know how it will actually turn out.

    BCB: Speaking of the Yankees, whatÔøΩs the feeling about pre-opening Yankee Stadium?

    CK: I thought it was a great idea.

    BCB: Did they approach the Cubs?

    CK: Yes. Their president called me and said we want to do a trial run before we open and weÔøΩre trying to think of a team that would have the right characteristics for a game with the Yankees that would really open the stadium. The mediaÔøΩs going to consider it the opening. TheyÔøΩre covering it like itÔøΩs the opening. This kind of shows you where weÔøΩve come from, where we were and the economics made some sense. We talked to Lou about it wanted to make sure it didnÔøΩt interfere with his planning and preparations. Normally we would take those last couple of games and go up to Las Vegas, which is as much a distraction as anything and Piniella thought it was a great idea and thought actually that it would be better for the team rather than spending the last two days of spring training in Vegas to spend it opening a new ballpark. And from the players, they were all very excited about the idea. So weÔøΩll go there then go to Houston with a day off in between.

  2. Terrible post.The Redsox and Cubs are not leaving Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. The Red Sox have spent north of 100 million dollars on renovations. They have already announced they are staying long term. If they would have had any intention of leaving John Henry simply would have announced when he took over that “hey we tried to save the old girl but John Harrington was right she’s going to collaspe”. It makes no sense to drop 100M plus and announce fenway is fine for 50 more years then ask for a new park. When in the hell is the teams leverage doing that? Use some common sense. Besides Fenway is sort of like a new park. The upper deck is new, the concorses have been expanded, they lower deck has been repaired(ie concrete repairs and waterproofing) and new seats in the lower deck have been added. Also this spring Larry Lucchino said they are staying 40 to 50 years

    As far as the Cubs go they already have about a 3rd of a new park. The bleachers and concorses in the outfield are new. Once the sale goes through to Tom Ricketts they will add the triangle building outside the park that will give the team the restraunts/stores/improved locker room space they are looking for.

    Also the new owner is a big Wrigley Field fan. He meet his wife at Wrigley.
    Here is more on some potential improvements to Wrigley. The upper deck may also be expanded.

  3. depends what the new owners want. and how much will it cost.. The upper deck needs to be fixed/ replaced. A lambeau field type of renovation may be the only way of saving wrigley.. But depends on expenses, i been hearing somewhere from 6-900 million. maybe neil can confirm please..

  4. the calls to replce wrigley field have started. chicago media picked up the Ozzie Guillen interviews last week.. On a personal note its really refreshing to hear someone in mlb break a taboo and say wrigley field is a horrible park.. Noone tells the truth about how much of a dump it is..
    Even Babe Ruth hated the place, accoring to local legend

  5. The sad truth is that Wrigley Field IS a dump, and I say this as a Cubs fan who has been attending games for 30 years now.
    The bathrooms are horrifying and do NOT meet the needs of the fans in any way shape or form.
    The concession stand choices remain pedestrian if not outright bad, especially when compared to the South Side White Sox’s park’s concession offerings.
    Now, all that said, I in NO WAY support the public financing of a new stadium for the Cubs.
    The Cubs organization makes TONS of money (as do ALL sports franchises I know…yet they still cry poor and end up getting the public to pay for new stadiums across the country) they can certainly finance either a complete and robust renovation of the existing Wrigley Field structure, OR if a completely new building is wanted, they can finance it themselves.
    The people of Chicago & the state of Illinois may already be on the hook for MILLIONS if not Billions should Chicago be awarded the 2016 Olympics…
    I say NO to financing any future changes to Wrigley Field.

  6. I agree with you Dan. But we all know that its a matter of time before the new owner tries to sell the ballyard to the sports facilities authority. It would be a bottom line decision to have the taxpayers pay for reno/new stadium and upkeep. since the cubs are tenants they dont have to put millions in to the park for upkeep, they would use those funds for whatever..
    You are right about the park it is a dump and taxpayers should not be on the hook for the bill, but the precident is there alraedy: sox bears and united center, when will the cubs be next???

  7. You are right J…and despite reading Neil’s book “Field of Schemes,” I remain hopeful…which is probably asinine if not naive on my part, for the exact reasons you mentioned – US Cellular, United Center, & the monstrosity that is Soldier Field…WE paid for one and all of them, and the people in a position of power followed the same playbook Neil outlined in “Field of Schemes.”
    Despite his being an avowed Sox fan, I could easily see mayor Daley supporting subsidizing a new Cubs park…perhaps through his favorite personal slush fund – TIFS.

  8. I forgot that the t.i.f.’s are daleys personal slush fund.. I bet ur right though. taxpayers will get suckered into paying..
    it would be intreasting to see the engieering reports on the ballyard. and how much it would cost for a lambeau field type reno.

  9. I forgot that the t.i.f.’s are daleys personal slush fund.. I bet ur right though. taxpayers will get suckered into paying..
    it would be intreasting to see the engieering reports on the ballyard. and how much it would cost for a lambeau field type reno.

  10. I forgot that the t.i.f.’s are daleys personal slush fund.. I bet ur right though. taxpayers will get suckered into paying..
    it would be intreasting to see the engieering reports on the ballyard. and how much it would cost for a lambeau field type reno.

  11. is there a recent engineering report floating around out there for wrigley field??
    I would be curious what that says..

  12. is there a recent engineering report floating around out there for wrigley field??
    I would be curious what that says..
    I apologize for the multi post my comp is acting up.

  13. is there a recent engineering report floating around out there for wrigley field??
    I would be curious what that says..
    I apologize for the multi post my comp is acting up.

  14. Selling Wrigley to the sports authority isn’t going to happen

    I agree about parts of Wrigley being terrible. The concessions are terrible. In various interviews with Crane Kenney i’ve read hes talked about improving the concorses/concessions plus improving the bathrooms, and luxary boxes. Also they’ve talked about moving the offices out of the ballpark and adding fancy clubs for the rich people. Once the new owner takes over not only will the triangle building be added but the entire grandstand will be gutted and modernized just like the bleachers were.

    There have been studies about renovating Wrigley. The cost is 300 million to 500 million depending on how much is done

    Also according to this article there isn’t one part of Wrigley Field that is older than 40 years old other than the upper deck.

    Bottom line is when the sale is done to Tom Ricketts there will be a massive renovation.

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