Three Rivers Stadium
Notable tenants: Pittsburgh Pirates – (MLB) 1970-2000; Pittsburgh Steelers – (NFL) 1970-2000
Date opened and first baseball game: July 16, 1970; Cincinnati Reds 3, Pittsburgh Pirates 2. The Pirates also lost to the Reds that year in the NLCS, three games to zero.
Last baseball game: October 1, 2000; Chicago Cubs 10, Pittsburgh Pirates 9. Willie Stargell, who would pass away six-months later, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
All-Star Games: July 23, 1974; NL 7, AL 2, and July 12, 1994; NL 8, AL 7. The 1994 All-Star game took place just weeks before baseball shut down for the year because of the strike.
Longest home run: August 9, 1970; Willie Stargell hit a 469-foot home run. In fact, the three longest home runs hit at Three Rivers Stadium were clubbed by Stargell – a pretty impressive feat given that Barry Bonds played all of his home games there from 1986-1992.
Demolished: February 11, 2001
Named for the three rivers (Allegheny, Monongahela, and the Ohio) which flowed nearby, Three Rivers Stadium became the Pirates home in the middle of the 1970 season, replacing Forbes Field where they had played since 1909. I understand it was a different time but it’s astonishing that any citizenry could live with the majestic Forbes Field for 60 years and then take a look at a completed Three Rivers and see improvement. Ah, the ’70s. But if the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is to be trusted, Three Rivers was a rousing success on its inaugural day and was commonly described as “beautiful.” However, we all know that age is undefeated and barely 30 years later the same newspaper referred to it as the “Antiseptic Ashtray.” (Note: Do not Google that term. Trust me.)
It might have been easier on the eyes but Forbes Field hosted baseball for 61 years and never saw a no-hitter. Meanwhile, Three Rivers barely had to wait a year when, on August 14, 1971, Bob Gibson no-hit the Pirates. It was one of three no-hitters thrown at the stadium during its existence.
In 1972, Three Rivers was the scene of arguably the most famous football play in NFL history but it wasn’t even the best thing to happen at the stadium that year. And that’s because if you back up a few months, Roberto Clemente collected his 3,000th hit when he hit a double off the Mets Jon Matlack in his final at-bat of the season. At the time, he was only the 11th player in history to accomplish that feat.
For years, there’s been this annoying narrative that “baseball is dying,” combatted, of course, by an almost-equally annoying (albeit, correct) contingent screaming that baseball is not dying. I wasn’t alive in 1972 but if there was ever a time to pen the Great American Baseball Is Dying piece it might have been then. According to reports, only 13,117 fans were present to see Clemente’s 3,000th hit and many of them were unaware of the historic event even while it was unfolding. One of the greatest right fielders to ever play made history at his home ballpark, which at the time was barely two-years old, and no one was all that interested. Not only that, but the Pirates were in first place! (They lost to the Reds in the ’72 NLCS three games to two.) And, worse, a mere three months to the date one of the worst tragedies in baseball occurred when Clemente was killed in a plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico while en route to a humanitarian mission in Nicaragua. He’s the only player in baseball history to tally exactly 3,000 hits.
Three Rivers was home to some excellent baseball from 1990-1992 when the Pirates won three straight NL East titles on the back of players like Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Andy Van Slyke, and Doug Drabeck. They never got through the NLCS though and come 1993, Bonds headed west to San Francisco and the Pirates would begin a 20-year stretch of losing seasons – a first for any team in professional sports.
Three Rivers was unceremoniously turned to rubble around the turn of the century and replaced by PNC Park in 2001, which, in my widely-shared opinion, is the best park in baseball. A statue of Clemente was erected outside the main gate at Three Rivers in 1994 and now sits near PNC, just a few steps from the beautiful Roberto Clemente bridge.
More interesting notes about Three Rivers Stadium:
- The website for Three Rivers remains active and untouched from the date it was probably last accessed in 2000.
- Beer was originally going to be served at Three Rivers by “mini-skirted usherettes” but that idea was scrapped. Probably a good call.
- It was christened as Three Rivers after the rejection of a push to name it after the late David L. Lawrence, former mayor of Pittsburgh and former governor of Pennsylvania.
- Three Rivers was the first baseball stadium to use Tartan Turf as a playing surface but it was replaced by the more common AstroTurf in 1982. In fact, Tartan Turf, which is such a thing of the past you can’t even read about it on Wikipedia, soon stopped being produced all together.
- The stadium was allegedly built on a Delaware Indian burial ground, and was the site of several battles fought by General George Washington for possession of neighboring Fort Duquesne.
If you ever attended a baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium, please feel free to share any memories or anecdotes in the comments below.
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