This article was written by Jeff Barto
On April 7, 1970, one historic first and one historic last occurred at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. In their ninth try, the New York Mets finally captured their first Opening Day victory, while Forbes Field hosted its final Opening Day after 61 years. The Mets, basking in the glow of their Miracle championship from last year, sent Cy Young Award winner Tom Seaver to start. The Pirates countered with their ace, 16-game winner Steve Blass. Both right-handers struggled in their first three innings but settled down to pitch effectively for eight and 10 innings respectively.
The 1:35 P.M. game started under cloudy skies and with the temperature a blustery 48 degrees.1 The 34,249 fans represented the Bucs’ largest Opening Day crowd since 1948.2 New York opened the scoring quickly. Center fielder Tommie Agee singled and scored on left fielder Cleon Jones’s two-out double to right. Art Shamsky then drove Jones home with a single to spot the Mets an early two-run lead. The Pirates cut the lead in half with a run in the bottom of the first. Matty Alou led off with a double. After third baseman Richie Hebner struck out, Alou scored on Roberto Clemente’s single.
Meanwhile, another wall marker looked conspicuous in left-center field. The bricks around the 406-foot mark appeared newer than the rest of the surrounding masonry. Before Opening Day, the Pirates had removed the original section of wall over which Bill Mazeroski hit his walk-off home run to win the 1960 World Series over the New York Yankees. The Bucs relocated the historic patch of wall to decorate the Allegheny Club at Three Rivers Stadium, which would host its first Opening Day in July.3
By the third inning the cloudy skies prompted the umpires to order that the lights be turned on. It seemed to help the Mets. Agee’s second single opened their half of the inning. After stealing second base, he moved to third on shortstop Bud Harrelson’s ground out. The Mets reclaimed the lead, 3-2, when third baseman Joe Foy drove Agee home with the game’s second sacrifice fly.
Both pitchers gained control over their next three frames. Seaver allowed a harmless double by Hebner in the third inning before retiring the next seven batters through the fifth inning. Blass survived his next 10 outs by scattering two doubles and an intentional walk around a couple of clutch strikeouts and a groundout to close the top of the sixth inning.
As the home half of the sixth inning began, the sun suddenly broke out and so did the sunglasses for the Mets.4 The shades did not seem to help Agee as Alou tripled past him to the same spot as Oliver’s triple in the second. The Mets brought the left side of the infield in to choke off the tying run. But Clemente again teamed with Alou by punching a single to left past the drawn-in infield to tie the score at 3-3.
The score remained tied over the next four innings. Seaver scattered three singles in the seventh and eighth frames before yielding to right-hander Ron Taylor. Taylor retired the Bucs in order in the ninth, sending the Mets to their first extra innings on Opening Day.
Meanwhile, Blass continued his effectiveness, pitching through 10 innings. The Mets nearly broke the tie in the top of the 10th except for an inning-ending play at the plate. Agee opened the frame with his third hit of the game. Harrelson sacrificed him to second. After Foy popped out to the catcher, Cleon Jones, who hit .340 in 1969, came to the plate with first base open and rookie Mike Jorgensen on deck.
Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh elected to pitch to the veteran. The strategy nearly backfired. Jones checked his swing, bouncing the ball into the hole at second base. Mazeroski fielded the ball as he neared the foul line in shallow right field. Conceding first base to Jones, Maz snapped off a laser strike to the plate without breaking stride. May easily tagged out Agee trying to sneak home on the fielder’s choice.5 In the bottom of the 10th, Taylor again retired the Pirates in one-two-three fashion.
Ten complete innings exhausted Blass, who struck out nine Mets while giving up nine hits and two walks. After pinch-hitter Bob Robertson flied out for Blass in the 10th, Chuck “Twiggy” Hartenstein came on to pitch the 11th.
At this point it all fell apart for the Bucs. Jorgensen opened the inning with a hard single to left field. Ron Swoboda tried to sacrifice him to second but bunted weakly in front of the plate. May pounced on the ball from his catcher’s position, but his throw to second pulled shortstop Gene Alley off the base. The only error for either team placed runners on first and second with no outs.
Mets manager Gil Hodges ordered second baseman Wayne Garrett to try another sacrifice. Garrett’s bunt to the pitcher moved both runners into scoring position. With first base open, the Pirates intentionally walked catcher Jerry Grote to set up a double play or a force out at home.
With Taylor due to bat, lefty Ken Boswell came to the plate to pinch-hit. The Bucs countered with left-hander Joe Gibbon to face Boswell. A chorus of boos swelled as Hodges sent former Pirate Donn Clendenon to pinch-hit for Boswell.6 The cat-and-mouse game paid off for the Mets as Clendenon silenced his former fans on the first pitch. His single to center chased home Swoboda and Jorgensen with the go-ahead runs. The double play the Pirates sought came one batter too late as Agee ended the inning grounding into the twin killing, Mazeroski to Oliver.
Earlier in the game, an inebriated fan stumbled into right field to talk to Clemente.7 The ejected drunk possibly inspired some youths to also trespass in the final inning. Though it was still sunny, the cold afternoon and extra innings wore on the teens, who had played hooky to attend Opening Day.8 Once the Mets took a 5-3 lead in the 11th, many fans began to throw debris and names at the Mets right fielder, Swoboda. “I can stand the names they called me,” Swoboda smirked, “but do you know what a beer bottle does to a head? It’s not like in the movies, where they just bounce off.”9 As more trash surrounded Swoboda, umpires asked public-address announcer Art McKennan to warn fans to refrain from tossing objects onto the field.
The littering continued as Clemente drew a walk to start the 11th against the new Mets pitcher, left-hander Tug McGraw. McKennan pleaded a second time as left fielder Willie Stargell leaned on his bat to watch five grounds-crew members haul out brooms and boxes to clean the right-field warning track. (During the cleanup, no one noticed a teen race across the field to the center-field fence.) He scaled the batting cage stored against the 457-foot mark to easily hop over the 12-foot brick wall.10
Once play resumed, McGraw faced the two left-handed hitters Hodges assigned to him, Stargell and Oliver. McGraw induced them both to foul out to third baseman Foy. With two outs, several teens took turns pouring onto the field. At first just a couple jogged untouched toward the batting-cage exit. Soon, security appeared, which spurred more teens to take the challenge. Groups of two or three randomly outraced the panting guards to the batting cage. Eventually the cage collapsed, forcing the final escapees to scale the chain-link fence surrounding an adjacent light tower.11
After nearly two dozen youngsters bolted over the wall, plate umpire Augie Donatelli directed three police officers to patrol the warning track for the final out.12 At this point, McGraw struck out Alley to end the game and the shenanigans.
In 1962 Forbes Field hosted the first win by the expansion Mets. It now commemorated the Mets first win on Opening Day. Until 1970 the Mets stood as the only team without any Opening Day success. Even the four expansion teams from 1969 had recorded inaugural Opening Day victories.13 As for the Pirates, they had now played their final opener at Old Lady Forbes.14 They would play 41 more games in the historic ballpark before moving to their new home, Three Rivers Stadium, on July 16.
Fans missed Forbes Field more as each year passed. With its real grass, Schenley Park blossoming beyond its ivy-covered walls, and its cultural location in the Oakland suburbs, Forbes Field remained a gem in the minds of older Pirates fans. Three Rivers, conversely, stood downtown across the river from Point Park. This location led to a clever question about the cold, concrete cookie-cutter: why was Three Rivers Stadium so irrelevant? Because it was ‘beside the Point’!15
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I also used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for box score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting game logs, and other material pertinent to this game account.
1 The Miley Collection, April 7, 1970. New York Mets vs. Pittsburgh Pirates. Historic Radio Broadcasts (1926-1993) Complete Game Broadcast Recordings, Baseball Direct. baseballdirect.com/product/baseball-audio/audio-broadcasts/audio-1970s/audio-.
2 “Crowds Are Up in Both Majors at ’70 Openers, Forbes Field Packed,” The Sporting News, May 2, 1970: 34.
3 Major Flashes-National League, “Memento from Maz,” The Sporting News, April 25, 1970: 26. In 2010, this wall subsequently adorned the background of Mazeroski’s statute outside the right-field entrance to the Pirates’ PNC Park.
4 The Miley Collection, April 7, 1970.
5 Roy McHugh, “Abe Keeps ’Em Honest,” Pittsburgh Press, April 8, 1970: 72.
6 Major Flashes-National League, “Donn Ignores Boos,” The Sporting News, April 25, 1970: 26.
7 Phil Musick, “Swoboda Survives Bottle Barrage – Barely: He Has Better Luck Than Batting Cage,” Pittsburgh Press, April 8, 1970: 72.
8 The Pirates traditionally played daytime openers around this time. Many youths often came down with “Buc Fever” to excuse their absence from school and explain some of the mischief.
10 The Miley Collection, April 7, 1970.
11 The author attended this game, representing the passive cohort of teens who witnessed our hooky-playing classmates challenge and win all their races to the wall against the park police.
12 “How Not to Control a Crowd,” The Sporting News, April 25, 1970: 16.
13 National League Box Scores, “Mets Leave Record Book With First Opening Win,” The Sporting News, April 25, 1970: 36.
14 David Cicotello and Angelo J. Louisa, Forbes Field, Essays and Memories of the Pirates’ Historic Ballpark, 1909-1971. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishing, 2007), 9.
15 The convergence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers forms a “point” where the Ohio River originates. The triangle created by these three rivers forms “The Point,” short for Point Park. It is “Beside the Point” at which Three Rivers Stadium stood, hence creating this local pun enjoyed around the Pittsburgh area.