Great moments in Pittsburgh sports history: early days

The Post-Gazette’s Out of the Archives: Sports is a photographic tour through the city’s rich sports history. From the Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship this past June to the Pirates’ World Series victory in 1909, fans can both learn by peering decades into the past and relive more recent glory by flipping through dozens of vivid images that bring these iconic moments back to life. The Steelers, Penguins and Pirates are featured prominently, but some of the best moments from the college and high school ranks also make the list that shows why Pittsburgh is one of the best sports towns in America. Today, in Part 1 of a five-part series, we look at the top moments from before 1970.

Maz goes deep | Oct. 13, 1960 | James G. Klingensmith/Post-Gazette

Pirates fans still gather at what’s left of Forbes Field’s outfield wall in Oakland every year on Oct. 13 at 3:36 p.m., so you know what happened at that moment nearly 60 years ago was rather important.

In fact, that’s when Bill Mazeroski hit his game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees, bringing a dramatic end to a 35-year championship drought for the Pirates.

To this day, the blast remains iconic as the only walk-off homer in Game 7 of any World Series. The title remains the last one clinched by a Pittsburgh pro team in the city. And Mazeroski? He’s in the Hall of Fame and immortalized with a statue outside PNC Park inspired by his trot around the bases on that October afternoon.

Almost perfect | May 26, 1959 | PG Archives

The Pirates’ Harvey Haddix pitched arguably the greatest game in the history of baseball on May 26, 1959. And he still lost.

Then 33, Haddix tossed 12 perfect innings in his start against the Milwaukee Braves. That’s 36 hitters up, 36 hitters down. The Pirates’ lack of offense caught up with him in the 13th inning, though. The bid for a perfect game ended when third baseman Don Hoak allowed Felix Mantilla to reach on an error. Then Milwaukee’s Joe Adcock hit a homer a few batters later to break up the no-hitter and deal Haddix and the Pirates a painful 1-0 loss.

Fortunately for Haddix, his streak of perfection that day remains the big league record. And in an age when starters rarely pitch into the ninth inning, it’s hard to imagine how anyone will ever break it.

Gold in Berlin | Aug. 4, 1936 | PG Archives

John Woodruff wasn’t the household name of the politically charged 1936 Olympics. That was Jesse Owens. But the Connellsville native and Pitt track star did make his own big contribution to history in those Games.

With Adolf Hitler watching, Woodruff found himself boxed in early in the 800-meter final. He quickly made the risky decision to drop to the back of the pack in search of running room, and it paid off. Woodruff charged back to the front to win gold, joining Owens among black American athletes whose victories reportedly embarrassed the Nazi dictator.

To this day, Woodruff is still one of just two Pitt athletes to win Olympic gold.

The Babe’s last hurrah | May 25, 1935 | PG Archives

May 25, 1935 was going to be a special day at Forbes Field no matter what. Babe Ruth, who’d spent 21 of his 22 big league seasons in the American League, was making a rare visit to Pittsburgh with his National League Boston Braves in his final season, giving local baseball fans a precious chance to check out the game’s most famous player in person.

Turns out, they got to see a little bit of history, too.

Ruth launched what turned out to be the final three homers of his Hall of Fame career in an 11-7 loss to the Pirates. The last shot, No. 714, stood as baseball’s career mark for decades until Hank Aaron broke it in 1974.

Carnegie Tech’s greatest upset | Nov. 27, 1926 | From the collection of Marci Swanson

Knute Rockne’s legend is built on his fiery pep talks, but he wasn’t even around to deliver one when his Notre Dame squad needed it against Carnegie Tech — now Carnegie Mellon — in 1926.

The College Football Hall of Fame coach opted to attend the Army-Navy game rather than travel with his team to its contest at Forbes Field, and the Tartans made him regret it. Not only did they shut out the Fighting Irish offense, they scored four times on a defense that had allowed a total of seven points in its first eight games. The result was a 19-0 shocker of a victory that derailed Notre Dame’s hopes for an undefeated season.

Decades later, it remains one of the biggest upsets in the history of college football, let alone Pittsburgh sports.

Battle of the bests | Oct. 16, 1909 | PG Archives

The 1909 World Series featured one of the greatest individual battles the city has ever seen.
The Pirates’ Honus Wagner was the hero. The Hall of Fame shortstop, eight-time batting champion and Carnegie native was 35 and looking to help his team avenge a loss to Boston in the first modern World Series back in 1903.

Detroit’s Ty Cobb was the villain. The outfielder was just 22 but already well on his way to a Hall of Fame career that included a Triple Crown, an MVP award and 12 batting titles.
In the end, Wagner’s Pirates got redemption in a thrilling seven-game series in which pitcher Babe Adams stole the spotlight from both men. The rookie’s shutout win in Game 7 was his third of the Series and gave the city its first of many major sports championships.

Be sure to check out the printed edition of “Great Moments in Pittsburgh Sports History” on May 29.