A Day in the Life at Forbes Field, 1912

Last week, the good folks at Baseball Think Factory linked to this beautiful image from Shorpy. It’s an image of Forbes Field sometime around 1912. It may not look like much in this small resolution, but check out the full size. At ten times the resolution (literally), you get to see all kinds of wonderful detail. I recommend checking it out and spending some time looking at everything it has to offer. It’s a lot of fun.

The image inspired me to wonder what life may have been like that day in Pittsburgh. Here’s one attempt at that. I hope you enjoy it.

Walter rushed to cross the street. Abraham, his friend from school, said he would be waiting for him outside the stadium before the morning tilt, and he wanted to get there as soon as possible. It was a pleasant Independence Day morning, and the city was beginning to ramp up for the day’s festivities.

As Walter stepped off the curb, he heard the noisy rattle of an automobile. He stopped suddenly, letting the finely dressed woman continue down Bouquet Street. The breeze from the automobile, combined with Walter’s sudden stop, caused his cap to fall off his head and roll into the gutter. Walter didn’t mind, though. He had learned early to avoid the automobiles as they hurried to their destinations. Children did not fare well when they failed to get out of the way in time.

Walter chased his cap down and pulled it back onto his head. With a quick look to his right, Walter continued across the street. Only six blocks to go, and he’d be that much closer to seeing Hans Wagner for the eighth time already this year.

Like any good Pittsburgh boy, Walter knew that the Flying Dutchmen was the best player in all the sport. And not only was he the best player in all the sport – Ty Cobb, good as he was, just couldn’t match up to Hans – he was probably the best player ever to play baseball. Walter, from his seat far off in the bleachers, cheered him on as often as he could, frequently helping at the neighbor’s barbershop in order to earn enough money to go. It didn’t matter that Wagner had been playing baseball for longer than Walter had been alive – Hans could do no wrong.

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He picked up his pace. The closer Walter got to Forbes Field, the thicker the crowds became. Men walking in groups to the stadium, suits looking clean and hats properly set. A few women were also in the crowd, always hanging off the arm of their husband. Their dresses and hats added much needed color to the scene.

Another automobile passed by, but, this time Walter watched the car drive by. The man was driving the car down Bouquet St. and looking to his left at the Bellefield plant. His wife followed his gaze as he seemed to speak at length, arms gesticulating to go along with his story. Walter stopped watching, but, as he did looked away, he noticed the two flags hanging from the front of the automobile.

The flags looked new, but different. Before Walter could ponder that any further, he looked up to see the stadium only one block away. It was under full Fourth of July splendor, with flags draping the sides of the home plate entrance. A few shields, adorned in the stars and stripes, also hung above the main entrance, and gentlemen and ladies from all over Pittsburgh were streaming into the ballpark.

With a good look at these large flags waving in the wind, Walter remembered what it was that made the automobile’s flags look different: the papers had been talking about a brand-new, 48-star American flag that was to be officially unveiled on the Fourth. The flags had been offered for purchase all throughout the newspapers over the last two months. From the looks of things, people had been buying them.

He liked the new design, and the flags made the stadium look grand. But you could only look at a set of flags for so long and, with baseball calling, that came quickly. Walter spotted Abraham standing in a shady spot under a tree across from the stadium. He waved him over. Abraham did not look pleased.

“Walter,” he said, “how much money do you have? I only have a quarter and we need 50 cents to get in.” He sounded defeated.

Walter reached in his pocket and pulled out all the change that he had. The two of them counted it up. “Sixty-five cents,” Walter replied. “We still need a dime.”

The two stood around, watching the passers-by. They were all in their Sunday best, but no one looked friendly enough to approach. Their minds must have been on the game ahead and the upcoming fireworks. Newspaper boys stood near the entrance to the stadium, hawking their wares. They’d have the change, but there’s no way they’d ever give it up. Walter and Abraham knew a boy from school who sold papers. He had failed to return with the right amount of money one day and had paid an unpleasant price.

The two shared a look. They were just about to give up on the game when Abraham tapped Walter on the shoulder and pointed at something in the grandstand.

“Come with me, Walter. I think we can get ten cents over there.”

The two walked hurriedly across the street, heading down the leftfield line from the main entrance. Automobiles were parked along the road, glass sparkling in the sun and flags flapping in the breeze. Abraham came to an abrupt stop.

Cupping his hands around his mouth, Abraham looked up and shouted, “Mr. Hall! Mr. Hall!”

A tall man, sitting on an overturned crate off the back of the grandstand moved his head around as if he had heard his name.

“Mr. Hall!”

The man – Mr. Hall, presumably – looked down to see who was calling his name.

“Abraham, my boy! Hello!”

“Hello, Mr. Hall! Nice day for a ballgame!” Abraham paused. “Can we borrow a dime?!”

Abraham continued to yell. Walter stood there quietly. “I can do more work in your office, Mr. Hall! We just need a dime to see the game!”

Mr. Hall was standing up by this time, looking down at the two boys. His crate had not moved, but he now seemed ten feet taller. The lack of a railing meant Mr. Hall could lean over the very edge of the grandstand. “Let me see what I can do for you, my boy. Hold still.”

Mr. Hall reached into his vest pocket, moving his hand around. Walter saw him pull something out of the pocket. He studied the handful intently for a moment before he smiled.

“You’re in luck, Abraham.” He flicked something down to the two of them. Abraham reached out for it, but missed. Walter heard it clang and begin to roll. His eyes searched frantically for the coin. He spotted it, rolling towards the automobiles. Walter jumped out and chased it down, stomping his foot on the rolling coin right before it rolled under the nearest automobile.

He scooped down and picked it up, raising it triumphantly over his head as he turned back to Abraham and Mr. Hall. He smiled widely. Abraham cheered and even Mr. Hall clapped his hands.

“Now you two enjoy these games!” Mr. Hall shouted. “It’s the Fourth of July! And the Dutchmen is going to take care of business today!”

“Thank you, Mr. Hall!” Abraham shouted back. “I’ll be by your office tomorrow!”

Mr. Hall waved them off as he sat back down on his crate. “No, no, my boy! My treat. Now go get some seats before you miss the game!”

Walter and Abraham looked at each other and smiled. They raised their hands to wave good-bye as they shouted their thanks. It was time for the game to start. They raced away towards the centerfield bleachers. They were not going to miss Hans take his first cuts.


Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.