Steel City Stories

  • Honus Wagner: Baseball's Prototypical Five-Tooler? By Herm Krabbenhoft

    The highly regarded “five-tool” label is a relatively modern term in baseball’s lexicon, usually traced to Leo Durocher proclaiming the greatness of his star player of the early 1950s, Willie Mays. Sports Illustrated called Mays “the prototypical five-tool player,” i.e., the first or original. Assuredly, however, each of these five diamond skills has been important since day one of major league baseball—and therefore it does not seem unreasonable that there could have been five-tool players who preceded the Say Hey Kid. This article describes the results of the author's effort to objectively investigate this matter.

  • Roy Face's Incredible 1959 Season By Ed Edmonds

    In 1959, ace Pittsburgh Pirates fireman Roy Face set a major-league record by winning 18 games in relief against one loss. How did Face amass these impressive totals? Was it the result of entering numerous tie games and benefitting from Pittsburgh rallies? Did he surrender tying or go-ahead runs only to be bailed out by his team’s offense? This article will present a narrative description of Face’s season with an analytical breakdown of each of his 19 decisions.

  • Moses YellowHorse, Pittsburgh Pirate By George Skornickel

    Moses YellowHorse was 23 years old when he made his major league debut in 1921 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Said to have been the first full-blooded Native American to play in the majors, the Pawnee may also have been the darkest-skinned major leaguer since the color line was drawn in the late 19th century.

  • Wagner for Sheriff: Honus Runs into the Coolidge Tax Cut By Mark Souder

    Honus Wagner, the greatest shortstop of all time, was a longtime hero in Pittsburgh. So how did the beloved Pirate get routed in the 1925 race for sheriff of Allegheny County? He ran into presidential politics in Pennsylvania.

  • Honus Wagner’s Short Stint as Pirates Skipper in a Forgettable Final Season By Gregory H. Wolf

    Honus Wagner served as the Pittsburgh Pirates' interim manager for an inglorious four days and five games in 1917. When he was finally relieved of his duties, liberated from a task he never really wanted, Wagner was able to settle into his role as the grand old man of the national pastime and continue his farewell tour in his 21st season.

  • Honus Wagner, Spring Fever, and Two Three Stooges By Rob Edelman

    A gloomy fact of film history is that more than half the movies made during the silent film era are lost. Yet a smattering of materials related to the early motion pictures do exist, and occasionally, their origins are cloaked in mystery — including a set of five lobby cards from Spring Fever, a Honus Wagner short reportedly released in 1919.

  • Forbes Field: Ahead of Its Time in 1909 By Robert C. Trumpbour

    Many people regard Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, home of the Pirates from 1909 to 1970, as a quaint, simple ballpark. Some might even consider Forbes Field’s design reflective of an old-fashioned and bygone era. Nevertheless, its construction was very much rooted in embracing modernity. Forbes Field inspired other sports entrepreneurs to embrace more permanent, luxurious, and ambitious projects, leading to the rise of increasingly opulent sports facilities throughout the nation.

  • Turning the Pirates’ Ship By Francis Kinlaw

    A poetic ode to the Pirates' rise to glory that culminated in a World Series championship in 1960.

  • From Bat to Baton: Josh Gibson, the Pittsburgh Opera, and The Summer King By David Krell

    Josh Gibson was one of the best players never to play in the major leagues. At 35 years old, Gibson passed away from a brain tumor three months before Jackie Robinson broke the color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But Gibson’s life was more than bashing nearly 800 home runs. While Gibson’s life is celebrated and his death mourned, there has been a dearth of Gibson stories. That paradigm changed in 2017 with the opera The Summer King.

  • Why Isn’t Sam Bankhead in the Baseball Hall of Fame? By Richard “Pete” Peterson

    Since 1971, over 30 Negro Leagues players and executives have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame based primarily on their careers in the Negro Leagues. One of the most important members of the great Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays teams, however, is not in the Hall of Fame. Sam Bankhead was one of the most accomplished and versatile players in Negro Leagues history.

  • The Greatest Outfield in Baseball History By Ted Knorr

    In 1966, the National League All-Star team fielded a lineup with arguably the greatest outfield ever to appear in a baseball game: Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, and Hank Aaron. It seems reasonable to require greater longevity than 23 innings when trying to identify the greatest outfield in major-league history. Here are some other contenders.

  • The 1931 Homestead Grays: The Greatest Baseball Team of All Time By Charlie Fouché

    Most historians of an earlier generation would nominate the 1927 New York Yankees as the greatest team of all time. Later generations might favor the 1975 Cincinnati Reds. Among Negro League historians, one of the favorites is the 1931 Homestead Grays, who featured Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Smokey Joe Williams, and other stars.

  • Guy Bush: That Guy From Pittsburgh By Matthew M. Clifford

    During a professional baseball career of 18 seasons spread out over a span of 23 years, Guy Terrell Bush only spent one full season and part of another in Pittsburgh. But with bloody fists and a heart filled with frustration, he left a few marks in the baseball history books while wearing Pirates flannel. In the span of a few weeks in 1935, he was a key figure in two of the most memorable moments of the decade for the Bucs.

  • The 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates: More Than the Murderers' Row Opponent By Gordon J. Gattie

    The 1927 Pittsburgh Pirates are generally remembered for losing in the World Series to the New York Yankees’ Murderers' Row, a juggernaut highlighted by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at their offensive peak. Although the Yankees did sweep the Pirates in four straight games, two were decided by a lone run, and the clinching game was won in walk-off fashion.

  • A Dark, Rainy Game Seven: The Pirates Defeat the Big Train in the 1925 World Series By Gary A. Sarnoff

    On Thursday, October 15, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals met in horrific weather conditions to play Game Seven of the 1925 World Series. And when Game Seven had concluded, it was considered “the wettest, weirdest and wildest game ever seen." It was also described as one of the most exiting games ever witnessed.

  • A View from the Bench: Baseball Litigation and the Steel City By John Racanelli

    Long before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court paved the way in 1966 for the construction of the ballpark that would replace venerable Forbes Field, the courts played a vital role in shaping Pittsburgh’s baseball history. Here are some stories of Pittsburgh baseball in the courts.

  • Cubs: Pirates' Biggest Rivals? By William E. McMahon

    The common belief is that the Cardinals and Cubs are each other's biggest rivals. As for the Pirates, who? For much of the history of baseball those two teams weren’t competitive, and now that they aren’t even in the same division, how can one call them rivals? But as the author studied the topic, the conclusion became more and more convincing.

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates Go to the Movies By Ron Backer

    Small-market teams often complain about the unfairness of baseball’s financial structure. But when it comes to the movies, there can be no argument. At the cinema, big-city teams have disproportionately dominated teams from smaller markets, with one important exception: the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates have appeared in so many movies that they actually rival the Yankees in silver-screen dominance.

  • Ralph Kiner and Branch Rickey: Not a Happy Marriage By John J. Burbridge, Jr.

    Branch Rickey assumed the duties of executive vice president and general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1950. Given Rickey’s accomplishments, there was significant hope that the Pirates would become a force in the National League. The Pirates had one proven star: home run-hitting Ralph Kiner. However, hard feelings developed between Rickey and Kiner, resulting in the slugger being traded to the Chicago Cubs in 1953.

  • From Sandlot to Center Stage: Pittsburgh Youth All-Star Games, 1944–59 By Alan Cohen

    Shortly after the invasion of Normandy in 1944, cities throughout the United States selected players to appear in the first Esquire All-American Boys Baseball Game in New York. From the time the first Pittsburgh player, Bill Herstek, was selected for the Esquire game in 1944 to the time Glenn Beckert was selected for the Hearst Sandlot Classic in 1959, more than 500 young men played in youth All-Star games in Pittsburgh that served as tryouts for the national games.

  • The Annual Forbes Field Celebration: Pirates Fans Relive Mazeroski's Moment By Richard J. Puerzer

    On October 13, 1985, a Pittsburgh resident by the name of Saul Finkelstein decided to personally commemorate the 25th anniversary of the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. This solitary act by one fan of celebrating that game began a unique annual celebration, a tradition that would grow to include hundreds of people gathering annually at the vestiges of Forbes Field, listening to that World Series game, and celebrating one of the great moments in the history of baseball.

  • Willie Stargell’s Pivotal Season: 1971 By Blake W. Sherry

    While 1971 will always be remembered most for Roberto Clemente’s World Series heroics, it was also the year Willie Stargell emerged from Clemente’s shadow and came into the national spotlight for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

  • Land of the Free, Home of the Brave: Mudcat Grant's Odyssey to Sing the National Anthem By Dan VanDeMortel

    On October 4, 1970, at newly opened Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, before the Pirates hosted the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series, pitcher James “Mudcat” Grant, sporting muttonchop sideburns and an immaculate white pin-striped suit, took the microphone to sing the national anthem. Why was Grant singing the anthem? And how is that relevant today? The answers offer insight into a unique blend of accomplishment in both baseball and singing, both while navigating our country’s civil rights struggles.

  • Roberto Clemente and The Odd Couple: Two Different Stories By Rob Edelman

    Unlike major leaguers from the Bambino to Turkey Mike, Roberto Clemente never forged a career on the silver screen. But his one celluloid connection in The Odd Couple is worth probing because of his legend — and because it is a textbook example of the manner in which simple anecdotes and truths of any kind may be twisted beyond recognition.

  • Carlos Bernier and Roberto Clemente: Historical Links in Pittsburgh and Puerto Rico By Thomas E. Van Hyning

    Carlos Bernier was 26 years old when he broke the Pittsburgh Pirates' color line on April 22, 1953, nearly one year before Curt Roberts played his first game with the Pirates. The controversial and temperamental outfielder was a positive influence on Roberto Clemente, helping the "The Great One" adjust to life in professional baseball in the United States. Bernier recognized Clemente’s special baseball skills, having played against him in Puerto Rico winter ball.