“It was a glorious day for the opening game and the crowd would have been perfectly satisfied if the Pirates had won. Eighteen thousand people saw the locals beaten. The crowd did its best to help the Pirates win, but all their cheering and yelling and rooting was in vein. The story of the contest is told below.”
That could have been written a month from now, aside from the attendance part hopefully, but it wasn’t. It’s actually from the April 22, 1903 edition of the Pittsburg Press (yes, no ‘h’, that would come back to our fair city in 1911 after a hiatus period between 1890 and 1911. Seriously.). The Pirates *Spoiler Alert* lost the game 9-8 to the St. Louis Cardinals that day. And right next to the write up of the game is an by a doctor to remove your blood poisons for only $5. He seems totally legit!
The Exposition Park in 1903 was actually the third incarnation of Exposition Park. The first park was used just one season in 1882. It was done in by both a fire and persistent flooding The second Exposition Park was created next year and, for some reason, built even closer to the river, which is counter-intuitive when you have a flooding problem. The Alleghenies (old name of the Pirates) played there until 1884. Exposition Park III was moved away from the river a little more to minimize the flooding issues and opened in 1890. It was primarily constructed out of wood. I particularly like the twin towers behind the home plate grandstands, as they led a touch of height and heft to the otherwise bland structure.
It was located in what is now the parking lot directly adjacent to the Fort Duquesne Bridge on the Heinz Field side. Here’s a good graphic by Doug Brendel from Brookline Connection’s site showing all four North Shore stadiums through history.
Back in 2002, a group of hardcore historian Pirate fans that also had some surveying skills were able to accurately pin down the location of Exposition Park III’s home plate. It was in a parking lot, but they marked it and the other three bases as well. For a short time, the Hall of Fame had a small marker plaque in the parking lot to commemorate Exposition Park III, but it was eventually removed.
This version was quite spacious, as it was 400 feet down each line and 450 feet to straight away center. By contrast, PNC Park’s dimensions are 320 down the lines and 399 to center, with the “notch” in left-center being 410 feet from home plate.
As a result of these dimensions in the notorious deadball era, Pirate 3B Tommy Leach led the National League the previous year of 1902 with six home runs. And all six of them were inside-the-park homers.
That 1903 season referenced in the article-opening quote was a special one for Pittsburgh because it was the first ever official World Series, which was won by our hometown crew over the Boston Americans (the Red Sox wouldn’t be the team name until 1908). Here’s a great picture from one of the 1903 World Series games played at Exposition Park:
Check out the headwear on these dapper gents. Every single one of them is wearing not only a hat, but a bowler hat. Yeah, that one rebel in the foreground seems to have a brown hat, but the rest look to be black bowler hats. You can’t get 10 people to agree on something nowadays and here you have, by my eye in this picture, 100 guys rocking the same dome cover. And where are all the ladies by the way? A part of me loves going to a game in the summer with a Pirate T-shirt and cargo shorts, but a part of me also wishes it were socially acceptable to get dressed up like these fellas and take a game in. Dress hats are way out of style. Just ask that homeless milliner you pass on the way to work.
I suppose it’s natural to romanticize the past with a tint of nostalgia; I’m sure Exposition Park was a fairly awful viewing experience, not even comparing it to the majesty of PNC Park but just with basic human conditions like bathrooms and cleanliness. Most likely it was cramped and not kept up well. I’m sure you would see it and then feel fine jumping back in your DeLorean, satisfied in the knowledge that you could check that piece of Pittsburg(h) history off your list.