How a group of fans won Boston a World Series

And then did it again 100 years later

October 1st, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

Generally, players win a team a World Series. Like Joe Carter or Bill Mazeroski or Madison Bumgarner.

But back in 1903, during the very first World Series ever played, an off-the-field force was instrumental in bringing a championship home to Boston. So much so that opposing players blamed it for beating them.

That force? A fan group. A singing fan group.

"They were a very fervent group," Red Sox writer and author Bill Nowlin told me over a recent phone call. "You see some of the photographs of them and they would jump up on the top of the dugout."

They were known as the Royal Rooters -- an assortment of about 150 (then-Boston American) fans who had been around in some capacity cheering since the late 1800s. Their leader was Michael "Nuf Ced" McGreevy, owner of one of Boston's first sports bars "Third Base Saloon." It was called Third Base because it was generally a patron's last stop before home. And "Nuf Ced"? McGreevy got the nickname for what he would say after breaking up fights in his bar.

Look at that mustachioed scowl. How could someone challenge that?

But in the fall of 1903, the Rooters had bigger things to worry about than barroom brawls: Their baseball team would be playing in the first championship between the best teams from the American and National leagues. The Americans were going up against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a best-of-eight series -- three games in Boston, four in Allegheny City (now part of Pittsburgh) and the eighth back in Massachusetts.

Even with the Rooters cheering them on, Boston lost two out of the first three games at home. The team was headed to Allegheny and McGreevy knew if his town wanted any chance at winning, his group needed to be there as well. And they needed a different strategy.

The story, according to Nowlin's SABR article, goes that a Rooters member, Tom Burton, found sheet music from a Broadway musical for a song called "Tessie." The group wrote a parodied version taunting Pirates players and then hired a band to come play alongside them at Game 4. At the ballpark, they proceeded to sing nonstop -- stomping on the dugout, dancing and yelling for the game's entirety. The Americans were down 5-1 in the ninth, but the Rooters, desperate for a comeback, picked up their noise and energy to stadium-shaking levels. The rally fell short, 5-4, but McGreevy and his crew had made their presence known.

The Pittsburgh Dispatch called the group "howling maniacs, overjoyed to a delirious stage. ... The Boston rooters had simply lost control of themselves, war dances, cheers, yells and songs resounding clear across the Allegheny River."

“Like escaped patients from an insane asylum," said the Boston Post.

"They were very dedicated to the team," Nowlin said. "I think that maybe their enthusiasm caught the Pittsburgh players off guard a little bit."

So, of course, they had to do it all again for Game 5.

With the group's antics only growing stronger with each game and, also, yes, the fantastic pitching of Cy Young and Bill Dineen, Boston won four straight games to win the first modern-day World Series. The scores were 11-2, 6-3, 7-2 and 3-0.

Pittsburgh players were distraught by the loss, some even admitting to feeling helpless against the power of "Tessie."

"I think those Boston fans won the Series. … We beat them three out of four games, and then they started singing that damn Tessie song. … Sort of got on your nerves after a while. And before we knew what happened, we’d lost the Series," outfielder Tommy Leach said.

A snippet of the revised showtune focused on a specific Pirates star and future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner. Instead of, "Tessie, I love you madly," the Rooters yelled, "Honus, why do you hit so badly."

Here's the rest of the cold-blooded verse:

“Honus, why do you hit so badly
Take a back seat and sit down
Honus, at bat you look so sadly
Hey, why don’t you get out of town?”

Wagner, who led both leagues in hitting that regular season with a .355 average, went 6-for-26 with six errors in the eight-game series. He was suffering from a leg injury, but you have to think the incessant Rooters also got to him. The shortstop refused to send his portrait to the Hall of Fame to honor his batting title, citing his World Series performance.

"I was too bum last year," he wrote. "I was a joke in that Boston-Pittsburgh Series. What does it profit a man to hammer along and make a few hits when they are not needed only to fall down when it comes to a pinch? I would be ashamed to have my picture up now."

Meanwhile, the Americans embraced their loyal supporters -- taking photos with them and singing their praises.

"The support given the team by the ‘Royal Rooters’ will never be forgotten," third baseman Jimmy Collins said. "[N]o little portion of our success is due to this selfsame band of enthusiasts. Noise — why they astonished Pittsburgh by their enthusiasm.”

As Nowlin notes in his book "Love that Dirty Water," the Rooters continued to use the "Tessie" song in some form for the 1904 pennant win and World Series victories in 1912, '15, '16 and '18. Then, as the Rooters morphed into different groups that were more boosters than cheer squads, the song died out. Coincidentally, so did Boston's championship run.

The Red Sox didn't win another title for 86 years ... when the Dropkick Murphys recorded this 2004 hit:

The song tells the story of "Nuf Ced" McGreevy and the Rooters willing the early-20th century teams to multiple Fall Classic wins.

"The Rooters gave the other team a dreadful fright
Boston's tenth man could not be wrong
Up from Third Base to Huntington
They sang another victory song"

From the album notes:

"We recorded this song in June 2004 and after giving it to the Red Sox told anyone that would listen that this song would guarantee a World Series victory. Obviously no one listened to us or took us seriously."

Four months later, this happened:

The new "Tessie" version has since been played -- along with "Dirty Water" -- after every Red Sox win. There's a good chance you'll also hear the song ringing out from Boston bars on late-October nights. In both cases, large groups of revelers join in to sing about their beloved team, just as "Nuf Ced" and his crew did a century ago.

Sox fans are hoping the song -- originally about a woman serenading her pet parakeet -- still holds that magic to push them to the 2021 playoffs and a shot at their fifth World Series in 17 seasons.