History of Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball

••• Ken Sutton via Wikimedia Commons

The Pirates' roots in Pittsburgh date back to April 15, 1876 when the Pittsburgh Alleghenies (they weren't yet the Pirates) played in the city's first professional baseball game held at Union Park. The following year, the franchise was accepted into the minor league International Association, but the team and league disbanded after the 1877 season.

Baseball returned to Pittsburgh for good in 1882 when the Alleghenies put their team back together and joined the American Association.

Games were played in an early version of Exposition Park on Pittsburgh's north shore.

Alleghenies Become the Pirates

The Alleghenies entered the National League on April 30, 1887 with their first game at Recreation Park, located at the corners of Grant and Pennsylvania Avenues along the Fort Wayne railroad tracks on the North Side. In 1890 the Alleghenies were renamed the Pittsburgh Pirates after "pirating" second baseman Louis Bierbauer away from the Philadelphia Athletics American Association team. The following year they moved into a new home, Exposition Park, situated along the Allegheny River between the former site of Three Rivers Stadium and the new home of PNC Park. As a matter of fact you can find the bases from Exposition Park outlined in white paint in the former parking lot of Three Rivers Stadium.

Barney Dreyfuss, owner of the defunct Louisville club, acquired controlling interest of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1900, bringing 14 players with him, including future Hall of Famers Honus Wagner and Fred Clarke.

The Pirates won their first National League pennant the following year. In 1902, the Pirates took it one step further, defeating the hometown Boston Americans, 7-3, in the first World Series game in baseball history. The Americans, however, bounced back to win the World Series.

Beloved Forbes Field

June 30, 1909 brought the first Pirates game at Forbes Field, a classic Major League Baseball Park, and the first ballpark made completely of poured concrete and steel.

Forbes Field, named for General John Forbes, a British general who, during the French and Indian War (1758), captured Fort Duquesne and renamed it Fort Pitt, was located in the Oakland district of Pittsburgh, at the entrance to picturesque Schenley Park. Forbes Field, with a capacity of 35,000, hosted the World Series four times (1909, 1925, 1927, 1960) and the All-Star Game twice (1944, 1959). Its dimensions and look changed many times over its long history. It was a gem of a ballpark but after 61 years had finally outlived its usefulness and on June 28, 1970, 44,918 fans were present at the final game to say goodbye. A few physical reminders of the great ballpark still exist including home plate, a plaque which marks the spot where Bill Mazeroski's 1960 World Series winning home run left the park and a portion of the left-center wall.

World Series Champions

In a World Series showdown between two of baseball's premiere players - Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb - the Pirates defeated the Detroit Tigers, 8-0, in Game Seven to become World Champions for the first time. The real star of the Series, though, was Pittsburgh Pirates rookie pitcher Babe Adams, who pitched three complete-game victories, including the decisive seventh game shutout.

Their second World Series win came in 1925 with a win over the Washington Senators.

The Pirates then suffered a long drought until 1960, when the Pirates team featured eight All-Stars. Despite their broad roster, the Pirates were still widely predicted to lose the World Series to the powerful New York Yankees team. In one of the most memorable World Series in history, the Pirates were defeated by more than ten runs in three games, won three close games, then recovered from a 7-4 deficit late in Game 7 to eventually win on a walk-off home run by second baseman Bill Mazeroski - making them the first team to win a World Series on a home run. The Pirates struggled for the remainder of the decade, however, despite the addition of Roberto Clemente, considered by many to be the greatest right fielder in baseball history.

Three Rivers Stadium and "The Family"

Slugger Willie Stargell joined the Pittsburgh Pirates in the late 1960s, and soon after the much anticipated Three Rivers Stadium, named after the three rivers (Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers) that converge at downtown Pittsburgh, opened on July 16, 1970. It was just a little too big and too sterile to be a good ballpark, however, and never quite lived up to expectations.

Three Rivers Stadium is an important part of Pittsburgh history and has celebrated many Major League 'firsts' including the first ever night World Series game during the 1971 series (which the Pirate's won) and Roberto Clemente's 3000th major league hit. The stadium has also hosted two All-Star Games (1974, 1994) and witnessed the largest crowd (59,568) to ever watch a professional baseball game in Pittsburgh during the 65th Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 12, 1994.

The 1970s brought both triumph and tragedy to the Pittsburgh Pirates. On December 31, 1972, Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash while accompanying a shipment of relief supplies to the victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. The team finally managed to pull itself back together, however, even adopting "We Are Family" as their theme song and went on to win their fifth World Series, in seven games, on October 17, 1979.

Move to PNC Park

The newest chapter of Pirate history began on February 14, 1996, when Kevin McClatchy and his group of investors purchased the Pirates franchise from Pittsburgh Associates with the condition of building a baseball-only ballpark within five years. A ceremonial groundbreaking for ​PNC Park took place on April 7, 1999 and opening day took place just two years later on April 9, 2001 with a sellout crowd of 36,954.

With more than 115 National League seasons under their belt, the Pittsburgh Pirates are proud of their history filled with five World Championship wins; legendary players including Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Bill Mazeroski; and some of baseball's most dramatic games and moments.