The year 1966 was an odd one. It gave us Batman (the original campy TV series, not the brooding, depressing movie version) and that weird pop song “Winchester Cathedral.” B-52 bombers pounded Hanoi, and a homely, murderous man named Richard Speck horrified the nation.
In the midst of all this, the Pirates emerged as contenders for the National League pennant. By July 17 — a hot, sunny Sunday — the Bucs had a chance to take sole possession of first place. All they needed to do was sweep a double-header against the San Francisco Giants.
Fans gathered outside the park hours before gametime and waited for the gates to open. One line snaked down Sennott Street and ended deep inside Schenley Park. Police struggled to keep traffic moving as fans stood six-abreast in the street.
Pirates officials said the games were a sell-out, but provided 1,000 “standing room only” tickets shortly before the first pitch. More than 35,000 people crammed into the stadium.
A series of photographs in the PG archive shows the crowd from several different angles inside Forbes Field, a place where I-beams framed (and sometimes blocked) views of the field. Fans in the bleachers sat on benches that seem little bigger than a 2×4 boards. Crushed paper cups and crumpled food wrappers litter the concrete at their feet.
Some men wore ties, but most wore pull-over shirts. Women wore summer dresses or knee-length shorts. A number of people donned hats — fedoras, Panama hats, baseball caps, sombreros. Some created hats from that day’s newspaper, which blared fearful headlines about the manhunt for Speck.
The Bucs won the first game, 7-4. Steve Blass took the mound for game two, and the Pirates cruised to a 7-1 victory. At day’s end, the Bucs stood alone atop the National League. Pirate fever swept the city.
Pittsburghers daydreamed of a past magical season, one that ended in October 1960 with a Bill Mazeroski home run sailing over Forbes Field’s left field wall and everyone (except Yankee fans) going nuts. ‘It can happen again,” Pirate fans thought.
Only it didn’t. The Bucs held on to first place for 53 days, then blew their chances in the last week of the season, losing three straight to … wait for it … the San Francisco Giants. Maz fanned for the final out of the campaign and the team finished in third place, behind the Dodgers and the Giants.
The Pirates roster that year included Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Matty Alou, Elroy Face and Steve Blass, now a Pirates broadcast announcer. Many would, in years to come, bring glory to the city.
But in 1966, it wasn’t to be. “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel was big that year. The song could have been the theme in Forbes Field once the World Series came around.