West Field – One of the Last Surviving Negro League Ballparks

March 20th, 2015
by Byron Bennett

West Field is located at the northwest intersection of West Street and Orchard Street, directly behind the Munhall Borough Police Station (1900 West Street), in Munhall, PA. The Borough of Munhall is located seven miles southeast of Pittsburgh, just south of Homestead, Pennsylvania.

West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

West Field was constructed in 1937 with funds from the Public Works Administration. Although it has functioned mainly as a town ball field for the Steel City School District’s baseball, softball, and football teams, West Field is notable because of its connection to Negro League baseball.

West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Beginning in the late 1930s up until at least 1948, West Field was used by the Homestead Grays for exhibition games, practices, spring training, and Negro National League contests when the Gray’s home ballpark Forbes Field was unavailable. During the early 1900s, the Grays played at another ball field in Munhall (known as the 19th Avenue Playground) located near the intersection of McClure Street and 19th Avenue. Some early 1900s newspaper accounts also refer to the Grays playing at another field in Munhall, also known as West Field, which was located in the Homestead Park section of Munhall near what is now Leigh Street (thanks Bob for the information).

West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

What is extraordinary about West Field is that, although it is deteriorating, the ballpark grandstand, seating bowl, and playing field remain relatively the same as they did when such stars as Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson played there.

View of Grandstand from Pitching Rubber, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

View of Grandstand from Pitching Rubber, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Thus, West Field is one of the last few surviving Negro League ballparks.

West Field Grandstand Steps, Munhall, Pennsylvania

West Field Grandstand Steps, Munhall, Pennsylvania

According to Trib Total Media, beginning in April 2015, the ballpark is scheduled to undergo a five million dollar renovation, courtesy of a generous grant from the Campbell Educational and Community Foundation. Upgrades include new seating and a turf field that will accommodate football, baseball, and softball.

Infield and Third Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Infield and First Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

It is uncertain just how much of West Field’s historic grandstand and seating bowl will be preserved as part of the renovation, although Trib Reporter Mike Divittorio has stated that the Borough will renovate the lockers in the grandstand and add new seating on top of the existing benches. Given West Field’s important history, and its status as one of the last surviving Negro League ballparks, care should be taken to preserve the structure for future generations to appreciate.

First Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

First Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

According to a 2006 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview of Elijah “Lucky” Miller, a former Homestead Grays bat boy, the Grays used the dugout located along the third base side of the grandstand.

Third Base Dugout, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Third Base Dugout, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Next to the third base dugout are the entrances to the players locker rooms.

Entrance to Locker Rooms, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Entrance to Locker Rooms, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Entrance to Home Player Locker Room, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Entrance to Home Player Locker Room, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

The locker rooms were located at the end of a tunnel that ran underneath the grandstand.

Tunnel Under Grandstand Leading to Player Locker Room, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Tunnel Under Grandstand Leading to Player Locker Room, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Like the Gray’s home dugout, the visiting team dugout – once used by such teams as the New York Black Yankees – remains at the site, frozen in time.

First Base Dugout, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

First Base Dugout, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

First Base Dugout, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

First Base Dugout, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

The view from the dugout is largely unchanged from the days when the ballpark hosted Negro League baseball.

View of Field From First Base  Dugout, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

View of Field From First Base Dugout, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Out beyond left and center field is the Munhall Municipal Building, which was constructed between 1941 and 1945 (completion was delayed because necessary building materials were in short supply during World War II). The building currently houses the Munhall Borough Police Department.

The Munhall Municipal Building Located Beyond Center Field, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

The Munhall Municipal Building Located Beyond Center Field, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

The view from right field looking toward the infield and the grandstand is like looking back in time.

View of Grandstand from Right Field, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

View of Grandstand from Right Field, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

West Field Circa 1955 (photo from cover of 3rd Annual Prep League World Series program, August 1955)

West Field Circa 1955 (photo from cover of 3rd Annual Prep League World Series program, August 1955)

Having hosted countless sporting events for almost 80 years, the stadium is in desperate need of repair. The concrete that supports the first base grandstand seating is crumbling and presumably much of it would need to be removed and replaced. Renovation plans call for installing seating for 800 in the ballpark, a significant decrease for a stadium which currently holds 3,000.

Third Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

First Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

First Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

First Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

At the top of the first base grandstand is a walk way that leads around to the top of the third base grandstand. If you are planning to visit the ballpark prior to its renovation, this walkway provides an excellent panoramic view of West Field.

Walkway Along Back of First Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Walkway Along Back of First Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Walkway Behind Third Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvaina

Walkway Along Back of Third Base Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

West Field is located on property also used by the Borough of Munhall for storage and repair of its service vehicles. The grandstand, and the entrance to it behind home plate, is accessible only by walking through a storage yard.

Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Grandstand, West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Hopefully the grandstand will be saved and restored. Although it currently is covered with graffiti and the grounds around it are littered with debris, the 1930s era structure itself appears to be in good shape and worthy of being preserved.

Entrance to West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

Entrance to West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

In 1987, the Borough of Munhall rededicated West Field as William W. Knight Memorial Park, in honor of the former major of Munhall.

Monument Honoring William W. Knight, Former Mayor of Munhall Borough

Monument Honoring William W. Knight, Former Mayor of Munhall Borough

The Borough of Munhall has a unique opportunity to celebrate and preserve an important part of our country’s history. Updates will be posted here once more is known about the proposed renovations, and as they progress.

West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

West Field, Munhall, Pennsylvania

In the meantime, here is a video walk around of the ballpark in it’s current condition.

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Posted in Pennsylvania ballparks, West Field/William W. Knight Memorial Park | Comments (11)

  • Avatar Austin says:

    Another thoroughly documented treasure. Well done.

  • Byron Bennett Byron Bennett says:

    Thanks Austin. DBS

  • Hello! I am with Holt Web Design and we are putting together a new website for Munhall Borough in Pittsburgh. We would like to use one of the following photographs on the Munhall Borough website: https://deadballbaseball.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/DSCN0899-copy-300×225.jpg, https://deadballbaseball.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/DSCN0878-copy-300×225.jpg, or https://deadballbaseball.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/DSCN0835-copy-300×225.jpg. The new Munhall Borough website, which we are planning to launch the first week of July 2015, has many historical photographs and these would be perfect for the pages dedicated to the baseball field. May we use one of these photographs, which we will be sure to include your copyright? Thank you for your time; I look forward to your response. Thanks, Elizabeth Peck

  • Byron Bennett Byron Bennett says:

    Hello Elizabeth. I am glad to hear that Munhall is designing a new website. You are free to use any of my photographs that you desire. All I ask is that you credit them “copyright David B. Stinson, deadballbaseball.com.”

    If you right click on the photographs it will launch a larger resolution version of the photo that you can can copy and insert into your website (of course you probably already know that since you are web designer).

    Good luck. I look forward to seeing your work.

    Regards, David Stinson

  • Avatar Matt says:

    Byron,
    Stumbled upon your site today, very much appreciated it. Grew up in the area and played at the field countless times at the Pony, Colt, and High School levels. This doesn’t even include the many soccer games I have played at West Field as well. Thought I could provide some additional info. This is a link to a story regarding the current renovations and the proposed plan. http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/highschool/2015/07/17/South-Xtra-Munhall-s-West-Field-getting-the-ultimate-makeover/stories/201507030034 It is my understanding that while there was an attempt to save at least a portion of the original stands, they were too far gone and have since been demolished. It is truly a shame to see such an important piece of local history destroyed.

    As it was my home field every time we played there, I can say that we always used the third base dugout, as it was understood that it was the one the Grays used when playing there. Loved leaving the locker rooms and coming down the tunnel. The field was unique at the high school level in that there was no backstop, giving us a huge advantage against teams with a sub par catcher. I have personally only witnessed two homeruns during a game, both to left field, quite an impressive feat. Was on second base for one of them, and didn’t actually see the ball clear the fence as I was rounding third.

    Speaking of left field, there used to be a red water tower that sat a good ways in the distance in left center field. It sat beyond the red brick building seen in this photo http://mlblogscountingbaseballs.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/101_1627.jpg. The story we all knew, and I often heard opposing players mention so obviously they heard it also, was that Josh Gibson once hit a homerun off this water tower. The water tower was torn down and I am unable to find a picture of it anywhere. There is simply no way that this is possible, as it would be at least 1000 feet away minimum, but it was always a good story.

    I wish I was more appreciative of the time I spent there and was more aware of the significance at the time.

  • Byron Bennett Byron Bennett says:

    Hello Matt

    Thank you very much for your post. I am sorry to hear that they demolished the grandstand behind home plate. From the article you shared, it sounds like nothing is left from the original ballpark structure. Thank you also for sharing your memories of the ballpark. Unfortunately, memories are all that is left of West Field. Regards, David Stinson

  • Avatar Bob Asson Sr says:

    Great article, The 3rd Field you were talking about was in Homestead Park section of Munhall .The field was around where Leigh St. is now.

  • Avatar Steven Williamson says:

    Byron – My grandfather who grew up in the Carnegie area, played ball against teams of the Negro League before and during WWII. He worked for the railroad out of the Rook Rail Yard. He would tell us some stories of his playing days but were lost on our youth at the time….but the gravity of his White team playing the Negro League teams before integration must have been truly something. He did state that many of the players he played against at the time of the Negro League were every bit as talented as the Major League’ers. Is/are there any records of the games played or player rosters of games played so that I may be able to piece together some of the playing history of my grandfather against the League??

    Thank you for any suggestions of where to start….

  • Byron Bennett Byron Bennett says:

    Hello Steven

    Thank you for your comment. Your grandfather was fortunate to have been able to play against such talented players and you are fortunate to have heard those stories first hand. What was your grandfather’s full name? I would be glad to do a little research if you would like. The best place for you to start is to search the local newspapers of that era. Your local library should be able to provide you digital access to both mainstream and Afro-American newspapers from that time. Carnegie Mellon also provides on-line access, although you will need to sign up to get a password, etc. Please let me know what you find and forward me your grandfather’s name if you want me to do a little research as well.

    Regards, David Stinson

  • Byron Bennett Byron Bennett says:

    Hello Bob

    Thanks for the clarification. I appreciate it very much. I will make the change to my blog.

    David Stinson

  • […] third stadium, West Field in Munhall, Pennsylvania, recently was demolished in 2015, although the field remains and the site still hosts local and […]

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