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Baseball Analysis  John Holway

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



In which the author decides there maybe a curse after all.

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 they want to win?

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 1903-1916?

John B Holway is author of many books on baseball. This is abridged from The Baseball Astrologer. His latest book, TED, The Kid, will be published this fall.

I'm speaking of course of “Tessie,” the lilting waltz that was the hit of the Broadway stage 100 years ago. Whenever Boston’s Royal Rooters lifted their voices in her praise, Boston teams were unbeatable in the post-season. They stopped singing after 1916, and Boston has won only one Series 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 pianos through parlor windows and onto front porches across America, while great-great grandma and her beau spooned ‘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 sports annals, the Royal Rooters. They were a merry band of die-hard South Boston Irish fans led by pudgy, ambitious Honey Fitz Fitzgerald, grandfather of a future president.

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 the mustache). Mike was the original fantasy fan, following his heroes to spring training, beating them at ping pong and at jogging in the hills.

McGreevey’s bar stood near the third base entrance to the old Huntington Ave Grounds, now the site of Northeastern university’s Cabot athletic center. His lamp stands were bats, and the bulbs were painted with baseball stitching. Fans gathered under them to argue baseball, and Mike was nicknamed “Nuf Ced,” because he ended all debates with an amiable but imperious “’’Nuf Said.”

After a draught or two, the 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.

In 1901 the Boston Pilgrims joined the new American League, and in 1903, led by the immortal Cy Young, won the pennant. They brashly challenged the swaggering Pittsburgh Pirates, three-time winners in the older, stronger National League and boasted the greatest player of his day, Honus Wagner.

More than 16,000 Boston fans packed the Grounds, some perched perilously atop the outfield walls, for the first World Series game in history.

“That was probably the wildest World Series game ever played,” recalled Pirate outfielder Tommy Leach. “Arguing all the time between the teams and 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 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 park. They deposited their Negro mascot on top of the Red Sox dugout, then rose and cheered every player as he trotted onto the field, Pilgrim and Pirate 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 two more and took a four-to-one lead in the best-of-nine Series. The Pilgrims would have to sweep the last four. It may have been a lucky loss. If they had won, early Boston baseball history might have been much less glorious than it was.

The Rooters’ pockets were empty. They couldn't pay their band and had to sing a capella the next day, October 7. 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 don’t you train 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 humdinger 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, pockets bulging, climbed back into their railroad cars to return to Boston.



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

The next year, 1904, the Red Sox were locked in a pennant fight with the New York Highlanders (now 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 ready to hurl both games.

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-grandfather could never forget, Chesbro threw the most famous wild pitch in history, and the Red Sox were champs.

There was no World Series.

Boston wouldn't win again until 1912, when they christened Fenway Park and met the New York Giants and the great Christy Mathewson in the Series.

Fitzgerald, now mayor, 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 waved dollar bills at the New Yorkers.

Next day they marched into the Polo Grounds beneath a banner proclaiming, “Red Sox, World Champs.” Honey Fitz couldn't resist running across the field, his pudgy legs churning and coattails flying, to seize a megaphone and, at McGreevey’s urging, burst forth with “Tessie.”

The Sox’ ace, 30-game winner Smoky Joe Wood, defeated Mathewson 4-3.

The Sox took a three-to-two lead in the Series, and the Rooters caught what was laughingly called “the sleeper” to Boston. Actually, the boys sang and fought with rolled up newspapers the whole way.

But when they found their reserved seats at the foot of the Wall had been sold by mistake, the angry Rooters turned their backs, and the Sox were lucky to eke out a victory in seven games.

Two years later the 1914 Miracle Braves captured the hearts of Boston, charging from last place on July 4 to the pennant. The Rooters happily transferred their loyalty to the Braves.

They arrived in Philadelphia for the World Series, along with Honey Fitz’ pretty daughter, Rose, and her handsome husband, Joe Kennedy. On the Continental Hotel’s Roof Garden, champagne flowed, and Honey Fitz was dragged away from the newly weds to song a solo of “Sweet Adeline.”

The Braves (or Bees) won two straight in Philadelphia against the powerful A’s, winners of three world championships in a row.

Back home, the Rooters, many in Indian dress, paraded from the Boylston Street station to Fenway (Braves’ Field was under construction). “Tessie” could be heard between every inning amid a jumble of drums, brasses, and cymbals. Fitzgerald’s rival, new mayor Jim Curley, leaped atop the dugout to lead the cheers.

The Braves swept the Series in for you straight, something that had never been done before. The Rooters captured their heroes – and the blushing Rose Kennedy – and marched back down Boylston Street, where every window was filled with cheering fans.

The A’s crept out of town, muttering that the incessant repetition of “Tessie” had weakened their pitchers. The song, they muttered, should be banned from all future World Series.

In 1915, behind a rookie named Babe Ruth, the Red Sox returned to the top. The Rooters forgave them, and hundreds turned out at South Station to cheer them – and 600 fellow Rooters – off to Philadelphia to face the great pitcher, Grover Alexander.

Through the streets of Philadelphia they waved amiably to the local fans, and at the park serenaded newly married President Woodrow Wilson and his bride. Though McGreevey’s heroes lost the first game, they cheered even louder in game two.

Wrote Lawrence J Sweeney of the Globe: “Always fair, always considerate, always sportsmanlike, noisy, hilarious, and orderly, [they] were rewarded with a ninth-inning victory.”

“Tessie,” he added, “had already begun to affect the nerves of the National League champions.”

In game two Alex warmed up amid the Rooters’ cacophonous chorus. “Tessie would unnerve a stone,” Sweeney wrote. For nine innings they played and replayed their hypnotic refrain. “And it brought victory… for Alex was visibly rattled.”

The Sox swept the Phils in the last three straight.

Next year German subs were sinking ships off the New England coast while Ruth won 23 games and the Sox won another pennant. This time the Braves offered their large new park, Braves Field, “on the outskirts of the city,” where the red-coated Rooters’ band played a rousing welcome to the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When their daffy rightfielder, Casey Stengel, smacked a triple, the Boston fans let out a cheer, which both “puzzled and pleased” the visitors, and the Red Sox won.

In game two Ruth dueled the Dodgers into extra innings. In the top of the 11th the Rooters broke out in a chorus of “Tessie” until Dodger owner Charles Ebbets warned that if they didn't stop, he wouldn't let them into his park in Brooklyn.

They did, but Ruth won in the 14th anyway.

That night 600 Faithful, men and women, embarked on a special ten-car train. Arriving at Grand Central at one a.m., they filled the station with “Tessie” and marched up Broadway, blaring “Therell be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” Crowds stood 20-deep along the curb as the Rooters arrived at the players’ hotel and blasted their heroes out of a sound sleep.

Arriving at the game in red sweaters, the Rooters found the gate barred to them until a stentorian Rooter roared a protest and the guards open it.

The Dodgers (“Dem Bums” in Brooklynese) had their own cheering section, with cowbells, tinhorns, and police whistles behind first base, while the Boston Rooters were banished to deep leftfield. Though Brooklyn won 5-4, the Rooters, not a bit disheartened, “laughed good-naturedly and marched back to Broadway.”

The next day Ebbets tried to bar the gates again, but they were finally opened, whereupon the Brooklyn cheering section gave the visitors an ovation. The two sections cheered each other for five minutes “until poor Tessie was played out.”

She recovered, however, and was played throughout the rest of 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 got back to South Station and paraded down Washington Street and “newspaper row” to an ovation from a large group of night workers.

The next morning the bleary-eyed Rooters tumbled out of bed on a cold, gray day to watch their heroes wrap up another World Series win. It was the Rooters’ last hurrah.

The Sox won again in 1918, but no Rooters raised their voices; some speculated that they had grown old and were dying off. Honey Fitz’ political career had ended when he was caught in a liaison with a hat-check girl. McGreevey’s new saloon was closed by Prohibition and turned into a public library.

At any rate, “Tessie” was never heard again at a Boston ballpark, and the city began its long wandering in the baseball wilderness. The Sox’ nose-dive was blamed on “the Curse of the Bambino,” who had been sold to the Yankees. Nonsense.

Anybody with a brain could tell it was the curse of Tessie. But I believe she is up there in that Heaven where forgotten sweethearts go, tearfully pining for her lost loves – the leaping, sliding, dashing young heroes of her youth and the jaunty, prancing, merry-making Rooters, who lustily sang the praises of the maiden with the sparkling eyes.

When the Fenway Faithful finally lift their voices again in homage, I believe, the Red Sox will return to their glory days of yore.

A local Boston group has cut a record of “Tessie,” with centerfielder Johnny Damon singing backup. However (oh, sacrilege!), they’ve rewritten the tune into a more hip modern sound.

Will Tessie like it? That's the big question.

I yearn to hear the organist play a rollicking chorus of “Tessie” – preferably the right one -- between each inning, with every fan given the lyrics at the turnstile so the whole park can join in one mass love song, calling Tessie home again.

If we call her, I'm sure she’ll rush to us with open arms once more and embrace the city and the team she loved so dearly so many years ago.

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