Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Who Was Tessie?

As we get ready for another installment of the Hundred Year War between the forces of light, goodness and wisdom (the New York Yankees) and the forces of darkness, evil and stupidity (the Boston Red Sox), you might be hearing about "Tessie."

"Tessie" is a nickname, usually a diminutive of "Tess," "Teresa" or "Esther."

It is also a song, "Tessie (You Are the Only, Only, Only)," from a Broadway musical titled The Silver Slipper, written by Will R. Anderson. The musical ran from October 27, 1902 to March 14, 1903.

Tessie was not the woman to whom the song was directed. Tessie was the bird, a parakeet, that the woman in the song was singing to:

Tessie, you make me feel so badly.
Why don't 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 wouldn't live without you.
Tessie, you are the only, only, only.

Dumb lyrics? It was 1902: There were no Lieber & Stollers, no Lennon & McCartneys, no Dylans... no Rodgers & Harts (or & Hammersteins), no Porters, even Irving Berlin hadn't yet started his songwriting career. America's best composer of popular music, at this point, was Scott Joplin, and he mostly wrote instrumentals.

The song remained popular throughout 1903, and that October, the Boston Americans -- a.k.a. the Puritans, the Pilgrims and the Somersets (for owner Charles Somers), they didn't officially become the Red Sox until 1907 -- played the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series.

Imagine what it must have been like to see Boston's Cy Young, the winningest pitcher ever (and he wasn't just lucky: "Cy" was short for "Cyclone," he really could bring it), pitch to Pittsburgh's Honus Wagner, for a long time a legitimate candidate for the title of Greatest Ballplayer Ever, and still the best shortstop who ever lived.

At first, the Pirates had the upper hand in the Series. The Boston booster club known as the Royal Rooters didn't like this.

The Royal Rooters were led by Michael T. McGreevy (sometimes his name is spelled as "McGreevey"), owner of a bar on Columbus Avenue, across from the South End Grounds, the home field of the National League team that became the Boston Braves (and are now in Atlanta), but after 1901, when the Braves raised ticket prices and the American League was founded, the Royal Rooters did what Young, Nap Lajoie, Jack Chesbro, Willie Keeler and some other stars did: They jumped Leagues, and made the short walk over to the AL team's home, the Huntington Avenue Grounds.

McGreevy kept open his bar, the Third Base Saloon. Why the name? He said, "I call it Third Base because it's the last place you go before you go home. Enough said."

He said "Enough said" to end any argument -- usually in favor of the side he was on. In his Boston Irish accent, this became "Nuf Ced," and this became his nickname. He liked it so much that he had "Nuf Ced" laid in mosaic tile on the floor of his bar. From the 1880s onward, he was one of the most famous men in the city.

So the Royal Rooters, being Irishmen and Bostonians, and enjoying (among other things) a good song, started singing popular songs of the era during the World Series games. None seemed to work, until they started singing "Tessie." Suddenly, the proto-Red Sox started hitting, and the Pirates stopped.

The Rooters even started rewriting the lyrics. For the great but now slumping Wagner, they sang:

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?

In what was a best-5-out-of-9 Series, Boston trailed 3 games to 1, and took the next 4 to win the Series in 8 games. Tommy Leach, the Pirates' right fielder, thinks the whole team got flustered by "that damn 'Tessie' song... It was a real hum-dinger of a song, but it sort of got on your nerves after a while."

The Red Sox also won the World Series in 1912, 1915, 1916 and 1918, and the Royal Rooters -- led by McGreevy and also John F. Fitzgerald, who had been Boston's Mayor (you might've heard of his grandsons, John, Robert and Edward Kennedy) -- kept at it. Until 1920. It wasn't just Sox owner Harry Frazee's breakup of the 1910s sort-of dynasty, selling his stars including Babe Ruth to the Yankees, that did it; it was also Prohibition. McGreevy died in 1930, possibly of a broken heart. If not of a broken liver or broken vocal chords.


Fast-forward to 2004. Over 100 years after the song first became associated with the Boston team of the American League. A Boston punk-style band called the Dropkick Murphys have been doing a version of "Tessie" in their concerts, except their version tells the story of the Royal Rooters:

Tessie, Nuff Ced McGreevy shouted
We're not here to mess around
Boston, you know we love you madly
Hear the crowd roar to your sound
Don't blame us if we ever doubt you
You know we couldn't live without you
Tessie, you are the only, only, only

The Murphys' album The Warrior's Code explains:

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. We were three outs away from elimination in game 4 at the hands of the Yankees and receiving death threats from friends, family, & strangers telling us to stay away from the Red Sox and any other Boston sports team and get out of town. Luckily for us things turned around for the Red Sox and the rest is history.


The Murphys' version of "Tessie" was used twice in the U.S. version of the film Fever Pitch: During the Opening Day sequence, and at the film's end, where, to a Yankee Fan, it becomes a horror film.

In 2008, the Murphys' bass guitarist, Ken Casey (wonder if he's nicknamed "The Mighty Casey"?) opened a bar called McGreevy's, in Nuf Ced's memory, at 911 Boylston Street, across from the Hynes Convention Center (use the stop of that name on the Green Line's B, C or D train). It's about a mile north of the original Third Base Saloon at 960 Columbus Avenue (like the Boston ballparks of that era, the building no longer stands), and a sign on the front of the new version of the bar claims it is "1200 Steps to Fenway Park." (Just under 1 mile to the east of the ballpark.)


I like the city of Boston. I like Fenway Park. I like that Boston is a great sports town.

On the other hand, I'm a Yankee Fan. I loathe the Red Sox. I think the Dropkick Murphys are an unlistenable bunch of schmucks. I think the vast majority of Red Sox fans who are not drunken louts too young to remember Bill Buckner, let alone Bucky Blessed Dent, and haven't suffered enough, are having their reputations spoiled by the bums who are.

They remind me of the kinds of people who support certain unpleasant soccer teams in the North of England, who get this song sung by fans of London teams:

down the pub.
Drink ten pints.
Get good and plastered.
Go back home.
Beat your wife.
Dirty Northern Bastard!

England is the geographic reverse of America: It's not the South, it's the North that gets attacked as being backward, full of willful ignorance and "inbreds" -- but also tends to have the better food, and the more soulful music, and probably the more passionate "football" fans.

But the minority of Red Sox fans who act like, you know, that, they are -- along with Oakland Raiders and Duke basketball fans -- the closest thing America has to English soccer hooligans. Yankee Fans, Met fans, even Philadelphia sports fans tend not to get that bad.

To this kind of Sox fan, I can only say this:

Kiss my rings. All 27 of them.

Your team cheated to win yours, and lied about it, and got caught. They're fake.



(No, she wasn't. She was a parakeet. But she ignored her owner. What that says, I don't know.)

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