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Baseball Analysis  John Holway / History

When music arose with its voluptuous swell,
Soft eyes looked love to eyes which spoke again,
And all were merry as a wedding bell.
Lord Byron



By John B. Holway

Is this the year the sweet sounds of victory will finally ring out for the Red Sox in October?

How badly do the Red Sox want to win the World Series?

Enough to woo the coquettish maiden with the sparkling eye and light-hearted laugh who sparked Boston to six pennants and five world championships in 14 glorious years 1903-1915?

I’m speaking of course of “Tessie,” the lilting waltz that was the hit of the Broadway stage exactly 100 years ago. Whenever Boston’s Royal Rooters lifted their voices to sing her praises, their teams were unbeatable in the post-season. They stopped singing in after the Sox won the 1916 Series, and, in case you haven’t noticed, they’ve won only one more since then, and that was way back in 1918.

Curse of the Bambino? I don’t think so. I think it’s been Tessie all these years, pining away on a cloud up there and pouting that Boston doesn’t love her any more.

A century ago the notes of Tessie wafted from tinkling player pianos through parlor windows and onto front porches across America, where great-great grandpa was spooning with his best girl ‘neath the moon in June. It worked for him (that’s why you’re here). And it worked for the Red Sox too.

Tessie first opened her arms to the Sox on the fateful afternoon of October 7 1903, a day that should live forever in Boston baseball history.

She was conjured into life by one of the key groups in Boston sports annals, the Royal Rooters. They were a merry band of die-hard South Boston Irish fans led by a pudgy, ambitious politician named Honey Fitz Fitzgerald, whose grandson, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, would become President of the United States.

But the soul of the Royal Rooters was a dapper tavern owner with a magnificent walrus mustache named Mike McGreevey (the tavern owner was named McGreevey, not his mustache). He was the original fantasy fan, following his heroes to spring training, where he beat them in ping pong and jogging in the hills. He was also something of a ham, getting his picture in the paper skating doing handstands on the ice in his bathing suit.

McGreevy’s bar stood near the third base entrance to the old Huntington Avenue Grounds grandstand, now the site of Northeastern University’s Cabot athletic center. His lamp stands were bats, and their bulbs were decorated with baseball stitches. Fans gathered around them to argue baseball, and Mike was soon nick-named “Nuf Ced,” because he ended all discussions with an imperious but genial “’Nough said.”

After a quick draught or two at McGreevy’s, the Royal Rooters repaired to the game. There they blew cigar smoke, spit tobacco juice, and noisily but good-naturedly wagered on everything from the score to the next pitch.

The Rooters had actually been born in 1897, when the Boston Beaneaters (later the Braves) won the National League pennant and met the second-place Baltimore Orioles in the playoff. The boys went to every game, both in Boston and Baltimore and cheered lustily for their heroes. But, though Boston won the opener, they lost the next four and the championship.

The Rooters obviously needed something more than just enthusiasm and lung power.

In 1903 Boston fielded a second team, in the new American League, the Pilgrims, who would later become the Red Sox. Led by the immortal Cy Young, they won their first pennant in 1903 and brashly challenged the swaggering Pittsburgh Pirates, three-time winners in the older, stronger National League and boasting the greatest player of his day, Honus Wagner.

Some 16,000 fans packed every seat and perched perilously on top of the outfield walls for the first World Series game in history.

“That was probably the wildest World Series ever played,” recalled Pittsburgh outfielder Tommy Leach. “Arguing all the time between the teams, between the teams, between the players and the umpires. The fans were part of the game in those days. They’d pour right out onto the field and argue with the players and the umpires. Was sort of hard to keep the game going sometimes.”

Pirate owner Barney Dreyfus arrived with $3,000 in his pockets to bet on his team. His players also hoped to augment their modest incomes by betting on themselves. Boston fans eagerly covered every bet.

And the Pirates won, beating Young 7-3. In fact, they won two of the three games in Boston and entrained for home with thousands of Boston dollars in their pockets. The Royal Rooters followed in hot pursuit, eager to get their money back.

In the Smoky City they hired a brass band to march ahead of their parade of carriages to the ball park. They deposited their Negro mascot on the roof of the Red Sox dugout, then rose and cheered every player as he trotted onto the field, Boston and Pittsburgh alike.

Each time the Sox scored, “they went bughouse,” the Pittsburgh Gazette wrote -- “beans promote hilarity,” referring to Boston’s favorite Saturday night supper.

Alas, the Pirates won again and took a four-to-one lead in the best -of-eight series. The Pilgrims would have to sweep the last four.

And the Rooters were out of money. They couldn’t hire a band and had to sing a capella for the game the next day, October 6. They sang every song they could think of. With Young pitching and the game tied 0-0 in the seventh, someone started singing what Leach would call “that damn Tessie song.”

“Tessie, you make me feel so badly

Why dont you turn around?

Tessie, you know I love you madly,

Babe, my heart weighs about a pound.

Don’t blame me if I ever doubt you,

You know I couldn’t live without you.

Tessie, you are the only, only, only.”

“It was a real hum-dinger of a song,” Leach admitted, “but it sort of got on your nerves after a while.”

That inning the great Wagner made three errors, Boston scored six runs and went on to win 11-2.

Flush again, the Rooters hired their band back, and every time it played Tessie, they stood and waved red parasols, and the Pilgrims won again.

They won the next day too. The Series was all tied up, and the happy Rooters climbed back into their railroad cars to return to Boston for the final game.


the Gazette proclaimed. “Their daily parades through downtown streets and their impartial but enthusiastic cheering have won the hearts of the Pittsburgh people….

“Had it not been for the Boston rooters, this series would now be over. The little band of loyal rooters who wiggled over from the Hub gave the visitors heart all the way. What other city in the country would have sent out a band of 200 rooters to fuss over what seemed like a lost cause?...

“That little bunch of rooters did more to win for Boston than did the pitching of Cy Young. They danced, screamed, shouted, and sang by turn, always with eyes of love on their own.

“Bravo, Boston rooters!”

Back in Boston the Pilgrims won the final game 3-0. “Before we knew what happened,” the shell-shocked Leach moaned, “we had lost the World Series. I think those Boston fans actually won it for the Red Sox.”

The next year, 1904, Boston was locked in a pennant fight with the New York Highlanders (later the Yankees.) It came down to a final double-header in New York with the home team needing a sweep. Their ace, 41-game winner Happy Jack Chesbro, was poised to win the first game, and the second too if necessary.

The Rooters arrived by train after midnight and paraded down Broadway, loudly tootling Tessie. Next day, in a game that no one today remembers but which great great grandpa would never forget, Chesbro threw the most famous wild pitch in baseball history, and the Red Sox were champs.

There was no World Series.

Boston wouldn’t win again until 1912, when they christened the new Fenway Park and met the New York Giants and the great Christy Mathewson in the Series. Honey Fitz, now the mayor of Boston, led 300 Rooters in a special train to New York. Wearing a silk top hat, silk tie, and frock coat, he led a torchlight parade through Gotham, singing “Tessie” in a fine Irish tenor as the rest of the Rooters eagerly waved dollar bills.

Next day they marched into the Polo Grounds beneath a banner proclaiming “Red Sox, World Champs.” Honey Fitz couldn’t resist racing across the field, his pudgy legs churning and coattails flying, to seize a microphone and, at McGreevey’s urging, burst forth with a chorus of “Tessie.” The Sox’ ace, 34-game winner Smoky Joe Wood, defeated Mathewson 4-3.

They tied the next game and lost the make-up, then won the next two before losing.

With a three-to-two lead in games, the Rooters caught what was laughingly called “the sleeper” back to Boston -- actually, the boys sang and fought with rolled up newspapers almost the whole way. All the Sox needed was a split in the last two games.

Ebullient as ever, the Rooters marched to their reserved seats at the base of the leftfield wall -- and found they were taken -- by New Yorkers. The angry Rooters knocked down the temporary barrier, and it took mounted policemen to herd them into the grandstand, where they milled around sullenly for the rest of the game. No chorus of “Tessie” was heard throughout the game.

In the delay, Woods’ arm had gotten cold; he was shelled from the box in the first inning, and the Sox lost 11-4. After the game the Rooters marched to the Giants’ dugout and gave a cheer, then stopped at the Boston bench and raised a boo.

For the Series finale the next day, the stands were half-empty. The Sox distributed noise makers, but little noise was heard. The Red Sox won in the tenth.

Two years later the Miracle 1914 Braves captured the hearts of Boston.

A perennial seventh-place team, they were in last place on July 4 but suddenly and mysteriously caught fire and won the pennant by ten games, almost pushing the war news from Europe off page one. In the Series they would face the powerful Philadelphia Athletics, whose pitching ace, Albert “Chief” Bender, snorted that he didn’t need to scout such “a bush league team.”

The Royal Rooters happily transferred their allegiance to the Braves and entrained for Philadelphia with blue flags waving instead of red. The Quaker City fans “jibed and jested” with the visitors, and a feeling of brotherhood prevailed as the Rooters cheered every good play by either team. The Braves stunned the proud A’s 7-1. (“They play pretty good for a bush league team, don’t they Albert?” A’s manager Connie Mack winked.)

The Rooters paraded around the field, though they refrained from a noisy demonstration out of respect for the feelings of their hosts. They were joined by Fitzgerald’s pretty daughter, Rose, and her new husband, the dashing Joe Kennedy. On the Continental Hotel’s Roof Garden, champagne flowed, and Honey Fitz was dragged away from the newly-weds to sing a solo of “Sweet Adeline.”

The Bees won the second game 1-0.

Game three was in Fenway Park while the Braves waited for their new field to be finished. The Rooters, many in Indian dress, paraded from the newly opened Boylston Street station.

The notes of “Tessie” could be heard between every inning, and by the tenth it was dinning the welkin. When Hank Gowdy bounced a homer into the stands, all that could be heard was a jumble of drums, brasses, and cymbals, though some reporters thought they could detect a slight suggestion of “Tessie” amid the cacophony,

Mack and his players muttered that it wasn’t the Braves who had beaten them, it was “Tessie.” The incessant repetition had made the A’s pitchers weaken. Henceforth, they muttered, “Tessie” should be barred from all World Series games.

The next day Boston wrapped the series up in four straight, something that had never been done before.

In 1915 the Braves faltered, but the Red Sox, with a rookie pitcher named Babe Ruth, came back to win, and the Rooters embraced their old favorites once again. Hundreds converged on South station to see their heroes off, along with a train-car load of lucky Rooters. They lost the first game but came back to cheer even more loudly in game two. The Globe wrote that they were, as usual, “always fair, always considerate, always sportsmanlike, noisy, hilarious, and orderly: and were rewarded with a ninth-inning victory.” Wrote reporter Lawrence J Sweeney: “Tessie” has already begun to affect the nerves of the National League champions.”

Returning to Boston, the great Grover Cleveland Alexander pitched for the Phils, and “there was never a letup in the booming of the brass, the thumping of the bass drum, and the clanging of the cymbal.” “Tessie” would unnerve a stone,” Sweeny wote, and Alex was not immune to “the rattles.” Throughout the ninth of a tie game, the Rooters played and replayed their hypnotic refrain. “And it brought victory… for Alex was visibly affected.”

The Sox won the last two games by a single run each and were world champs again.

In 1916 young Ruth won 23 games to lead the Red Sox to another pennant. German subs were sinking ships off the New England coast as the World Series opened at Braves Field “on the outskirts of the city,” as the Globe put it. The Rooters’ red-coated marching band played a “rousing” welcome, and the Red Sox won.

In game two Ruth dueled the Dodgers for 13 innings. In the top of the 11th the Rooters broke out in a chorus of “Tessie,” but Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbets told them to pipe down. They did, though they noted that the Brooklyn fans were allowed to beat their dish pans when Boston was at bat. Ruth finally won it in the 14th.

That night 600 Rooters, 600 men and women, embarked by a special ten-car train for New York. Arriving at Grand Central at one a.m., they filled the big station with “Tessie” and marched up Broadway, loudly blaring “There’ll Be a Hot Time In the Old Town Tonight.” Crowds stood 20-deep along the curb as the Rooters arrived at their heroes’ hotel, where the players were vainly trying to get some sleep.

When they arrived at Ebbets Field for the game in red sweaters, they found the Brooklyn cheering section in special seats behind first base, while the Rooters were banished to deep leftfield. Brooklyn won, but the Rooters, not a bit disheartened, “laughed good-naturedly,” and marched back to Broadway.

For game four the Dodgers at first wouldn’t open their gates for the Rooters but finally let them in, whereupon the Brooklyn cheerleaders marched to the Rooters’ section and gave them an ovation. The two sections cheered each other for five minutes until “poor Tessie was played out.”

She recovered, however and was played lustily throughout the game, which Boston won. The Rooters did a “Cherokee war dance” out of the park, dodging cushions skimmed at them by the other fans.

It was three a.m. when they finally got back to Boston. Next morning they tumbled out of bed to get to the game, won by Boston, who were once again champions of the world.

It was their last hurrah. The Sox won again in 1918 but no Rooters raised their voices. Some speculated that they were growing old and dying off. But “Tessie” was never heard again in a Boston ballpark.

The next year Ruth hit a record 29 home runs, but he was sold to the Yankees. For whatever reason the Sox began their long exile in the wilderness.

McGreevey’s new saloon was closed by Prohibition and turned into a public library; Nuf ‘Ced himself, his mustache clipped and white, but his eyes still twinkling as ever, died in 1935.

The nose-dive in the Red Sox fortunes was blamed on the Curse of the Bambino. Nonsense.

Tessie had compiled an amazing record in post-season series:

Year With Tessie Without Tessie

















Tessie must be up there in that heaven where forgotten sweethearts go, tearfully pining for her lost loves -- the leaping, sliding, dashing heroes of her youth, and their jaunty, prancing faithful who lustily sang her praises, the Royal Rooters.

When the Fenway Faithful lift their voices again in homage to the maiden with the sparkling eyes, I believe, the Red Sox will return to their glory days of old. If we call on her, I know she’ll rush to us with open arms to embrace us once again.

/// Adapted from The Baseball Astrologer and Other Weird Tales by John B Holway. Autographed copies are available from the author for $14, including postage. Mail to 5511 Callander Dr, Springfield VA 22151. ///

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