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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Friday, April 11, 2003  

The Red Sox, whose home opener today, rain-out or no, was occasion for an unofficial holiday in New England, were dubbed by sportswriters the Pilgrims when they won the first World Series 100 years ago.

The case has been made the "Pilgrims" nickname better suits the eternal striving and Calvinist fatalism of the Boston nine, which takes to the Fens in pursuit of the world championship that has eluded it for 85 years.

John Holway argues convincingly the Sox' title drought stems not from any Curse of the Bambino, but from not playing "Tessie," the hit song from 1903 that was the Tin Pan Alley precursor to the Thunder Stick and the Rally Monkey, inspiring the team to five world championships.

They stopped singing in 1918, and the Red Sox have never won since, Holway says. If I were the Red Sox, I would order the organist at the stadium to play Tessie at every game.

You can listen to a contemporary recording of the song, via the National Library of Canada's Virtual Gramophone.

Boston's fanatical Royal Rooters, led by saloon-keeper Nuf Ced McGreevey, sang "Tessie" with such rabid intensity they drove the Pirates to distraction in the 1903 Series.

A review in the Sacramento Bee of three new books on the 1903 World Series notes the contribution the Royal Rooters' singing made to Boston's success.

In Game 5, with Boston down three games to one, around 125 Boston fans began to loudly sing a popular song of the day, "Tessie." It had nothing to do with baseball, but the Boston players liked it, and the Pittsburgh players and Pittsburgh fans didn't.

With the strains of "Tessie" floating through Pittsburgh's Exposition Park, Boston won 11-2. The next day, during Game 6, the Royal Rooters reprised "Tessie," this time adding some new lyrics: "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." Boston won 6-3 to even the series and went on to win Games 7 and 8 back in Boston to finish off the Pirates.

Could a song have made such a difference? Decades later, Pittsburgh third baseman Tommy Leach was interviewed for "The Glory of Their Times," Lawrence Ritter's pathbreaking oral history of baseball. Leach said: "I think those Boston fans actually won that series for the (sic) Red Sox. ... They started singing that damn 'Tessie' song for no particular reason at all, and the Red Sox won. They must have figured it was a good-luck charm, because from then on you could hardly play ball they were singing 'Tessie' so damn loud. ... Sort of got on your nerves after a while. And before we knew what happened, we'd lost the World Series."

Wagner, ailing from arm and leg injuries as well as from the sounds of "Tessie," ended up batting a woeful .222 for the series.

Our three World Series chroniclers agree with Leach's assessment. "It was the fans who made the difference (for Boston)," said Abrams. "I am convinced the Royal Rooters won the series by singing 'Tessie' to Wagner."

Masur writes that Pirate fans were so convinced that the song was their team's death knell that they hired a 40-piece band for Game 7 to drown the strains of 'Tessie.' It didn't work.

And Ryan quotes the Globe's Murnane after the series had been won: "('Tessie') will go tunefully tripping down the ages as the famous mascot that helped the Boston Americans win three out of four in Pittsburg (sic), capture the final game in Boston and with it the title -- champions of the world."

A statue of ace Cy Young now stands on what used to be the pitcher's mound of the old Huntington Avenue Grounds, today the campus of Northeastern University.

On that note:

Tom Fitzpatrick contemplates Opening Day, among other topics, in his April 11 dispatches at Verus Ratio.

T. S. O'Rama, in an April 5 entry at his blog, offers an ode to the national pastime as observed in that other city of Red Stockings:

Opening Day, Cincinnati Style

Pageantry tossed from the skies passed
Down from Abner to present she holds
the ancient lineage long the strands
of confetti that reign down on this
her feast and followers of the world's eldest
know that Tradition is darned in our socks
Inbred in our ground balls.

Herring Design Quarterly takes a look at the tradition of the Presidential First Ball.

And the Library of Congress offers a sterling gallery of historic baseball images.


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