As he walks in I ask “Are you Herb Soltman?” “That’s what my license says,” Herb replies.
Herb is a lifelong Pittsburgher, born in Squirrel Hill in 1935, and has been a lifelong Pirates fan.
Herb grew up, like many in his generation, playing baseball with his friends in their spare time. This was before the Steelers were good and the Penguins came into existence. “All there was to watch were baseball and college football,” Herb said.
Herb used to play baseball down at the grade school field or in the street after dark when the streetlights would turn on. Herb said that in his youth he and his friends would “mark a stone for each base or just scrape out a square” and make a game out of what they had. Herb said that if they didn’t have enough players for two teams, they’d rotate positions and make sure everyone had a chance to field and bat.
Pick-up baseball was how Herb and most of his friends spent their youth. Later into his teenage years, Herb and his friends switched from baseball to softball, because a “softball does less damage to cars and windows than a baseball.”
Herb has been a Pirates fan all his life, which hasn’t always been easy. The 1950s were especially difficult. “In 1952 they might have been a minor league team” Herb said. In the 1960s, everything changed for Herb and the Pirates.
Herb was working in a family paper business downtown and he managed to get tickets to game two, six, and seven of the 1960s World Series. He was sitting behind the Pirates’ dugout on the first baseline when Bill Mazeroski famously hit a walk-off home run to win the series for the Pirates. This is the only time a World Series has been won by a walk-off home run.
While the Steelers, Pirates, and Pitt Panthers victories in the 1970s were a special time for anyone cheering on Pittsburgh’s sports, the 1960s World Series had a special place in Herb’s life and in the life of many dedicated Pirates fans. On October 13, 1985, Saul Finkelstein (a devout Pirates fan as well) was having a bad day and decided to go to the location of the old Forbes Field (now the Pitt Law Library) and listen to a recording of the 1960s World Series game.
Saul did this with just a few friends until 1992 when Jim O’Brien (Pittsburgh sports author and author of “The Chief”) was looking for a story about the iconic 1960 World Series and found Saul. When Herb heard an advertisement for the rebroadcast of the 1960s World Series, he said he “slammed on [his] brakes and headed right over there.”
Around 2007, the Game Seven Gang was born. Before this everyone just showed up every year on October 13, but now there was some formal organization behind it. Every year since then, about 200 loyal fans get together on October 13 and listen to the same rebroadcast of the game. Herb was elected president of the Game Seven Gang and continues to organize the event every year. The attendance of the October 13 event began to grow, and in 2010 (the 50th anniversary of the game) there were about 1,600 people in attendance, including Bill Mazeroski and all the living Pittsburgh Pirates who played in that game.
The rebroadcast has never been rained out and is scheduled to happen again this year, on October 13. Though Herb is head of the gang, he insists that the gang won’t protect any turf, save for the Forbes Field wall.