Yesterday marked an anniversary of sorts. Sept. 7, 1958, was a Sunday, and nothing unusual happened. Except that we drove to Pittsburgh to see a ballgame.
The Pirates vs. the Braves at Forbes Field. A doubleheader, rare today but a regular feature of the baseball season in those days.
By “we”, I mean my dad, my brother, and me - in addition to two relatives and two others, all employed at Robbins Market on Morrell Avenue in Connellsville.
I’m not sure if the date has lodged in my head all these years because of the ballgames themselves, or because Uncle Bob, cousin Grant, and Junior and Cecil were along, or for another reason.
I do recollect that it was a special occasion for any number of reasons. Hailing from Uniontown, we always took Route 51 to Forbes Field. Through the Liberty Tubes (not Liberty Tunnel) we’d go, and then up the Boulevard of the Allies to Oakland, where the ballpark was located.
On this occasion, we left from Connellsville and took the new parkway (presumably) into Oakland. There were seven of us. Could all seven of us have squeezed into one car? I don’t recall if we did or not. It’s possible.
Memory is a wonderful thing. But memory is often elusive and fragmented. Besides, I was younger than young. I missed plenty. Maybe I never knew.
Sept. 7, 1958, was the day after a big arrest in Perryopolis. Many big arrests, thank you. “Gang War” the newspapers blared.
Like a page torn from West Side Story or Blackboard Jungle, the boys of Uniontown and Perryopolis were ready to rumble. The immediate cause: girls. The underlining cause: stupidity brought on by raging hormones.
Twenty-seven - that’s right, 27 - were taken into custody, including 19 juveniles. The out-of-town toughies were hauled in by state police and the assistant chief and the chief of police in Perryopolis, a lean, leathery fella by the name of Louis Martinak.
On Friday there was trouble at a Perryopolis roller skating rink. Some Uniontown lads asked some Perryopolis lassies for dances, which prompted some Perryopolis boys to take exception.
Threats were shouted. The dance was ended. The skating rink was abruptly closed.
On the evening of the 6th of September, a caravan motored down 51. The cars coursed though Perryopolis, once, twice. The cars contained an arsenal: blackjacks, ice picks, iron bars, screw drivers, clubs, baseball bats.
Good thing the police stepped in.
In other, more benign news, the Seventh Fleet was sitting off the coast of communist China and “Bombs Way” Lemay - Air Force general Curtis Lemay - landed in Taiwan to check on things. The Nationalist Chinese laid claim to shooting down five Soviet-made MIG fighter jets.
And, oh, yes, Dr. Jonas Salk (of the University of Pittsburgh) was reported to be working on a cancer vaccine, Mary Ann Mobley was crowned Miss America, and President Eisenhower sank a 30-foot putt.
All of this makes the baseball doubleheader seem anti-climatic. It wasn’t. 36,567 “bug-eyed” fans streamed into Forbes Field for the games against the Braves. The defending world champs fielded a team consisting of four future Hall of Famers - Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Red Schoendienst, and Warren Spahn. In the National League standings, the Braves sat in first place, the Bucs in second.
Forbes Field was expansive, green with a deep, sandy infield. Guys brought large coolers of beer to the games in those days. They smoked cigars. The aroma of spilt beer and cigar smoke, distinctive features of Forbes Field, wafted through the stands.
The Braves’ 5-1 win in the first game was spoiled by a missed pop foul ball between the plate and first base. The newspaper stories blamed Pirate first baseman Dick Stuart. I recollect catcher Hank Foiles was at fault. On the next pitch, big Wes Covington cracked a towering double over the centerfielder’s head.
The Pirates won the nightcap 4-1. Vernon Law pitched eight innings plus. Roy Face got the last two outs. Bob Skinner drove in three runs.
Game one took 2 hours, 15 minutes to play. Game two was five minutes shy of two hours. A little over four hours total.
The Braves left town in first place by a healthy 5½ games. They lost the World Series that year to the Yankees.
A 1959 tussle against the Cards, a 1960 contest against the Dodgers, the next to last nine of the year against the Phils in 1978 were remember-worthy; others, too. But this is the only one that has a specific date attached to it.
Which goes to show: the brain has a mind of its own.
Richard Robbins lives in Uniontown. He can be reached at email@example.com.