The Tale of ‘Tessie’

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In August 2014, my brother-in-law and I were leaving Fenway Park after a Sox victory as “Dirty Water” by The Standells blared from the PA. My brother-in-law and I had an ignominious streak going at the time. Combined, we had been nine straight games at the park without hearing the song, meaning the Red Sox lost the games we were at, and it was simply dulcet to hear “Dirty Water” played again.

I did not realize, however, that the Red Sox play the same three songs after every victory at Fenway. “Dirty Water,” obviously, is played immediately following the last out; those first four notes serve as the ringtone to my phone. “Dirty Water” is then followed by The Dropkick Murphy’s “Tessie,” and Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” finishes the medley.

For no particular reason, after that game, I latched on to the song “Tessie.” As a student of baseball history, the story behind “Tessie” fascinated me so much that I started digging into the lyrics, which were rewritten by The Herald’s Jeff Horrigan and The Dropkick Murphy’s in 2004.

The original “Tessie” was written by Will R. Anderson and appeared as a song from a Broadway musical of the vaudeville-era called The Silver Slipper. The original song is about a woman serenading her parakeet who is named Tessie.

In 1903, the Boston Americans—who would later change their name to the Red Sox—of the Ban Johnson’s newly founded American League played Honus Wagner’s Pittsburg Pirates in the first modern World Series.

At the time, before Fenway Park was built in 1912, the Americans played in The Huntington Avenue Grounds and outside the ballpark was a bar called The 3rd Base Saloon, owned by Michael “Nuf Ced” McGreevy. Before games, The Royal Rooters, a group of diehard fans led by McGreevy, would liquor up at the saloon then head into the park where they had reserved seats on the third-base line.

Down 3-1 in the Series, which was the best of nine at the time, The Royal Rooters would sing songs in the stands to get the team going. This is where “Tessie” started. The Rooters were said to even follow the team to Pittsburgh where they sang “Tessie” in the stands there, irritating Pirates players.

Boston came back to win the first World Series 5-3, and “Tessie” stuck.

Then, in the 1912 World Series, when the Red Sox were playing the New York Giants led by ace Christy Mattewson—the only World Series to have a game end in a tie due to darkness—the Royal Rooters made history in Game 7 when their seats on “Duffy’s Cliff,” named after Red Sox left fielder Duffy Lewis, were double-sold to other fans.

Drunk and angry, the Rooters stormed the field, delaying the start of the game. The Rooters, who indeed paid to get in, lined up instead on the left field line to watch the game, and McGreevy led another demonstration afterwards.

The Red Sox went on to win a close World Series 4-3.

The last singing of “Tessie” before The Dropkick Murphy’s revived it was in 1918, a date that stuck like a fishbone in Sox fans’ throats. In 1920, McGreevy’s saloon was closed due to Prohibition.

Finally, in 2004, The Dropkick Murphy’s recorded the song as an EP to bring back the spirit of The Royal Rooters, and the Idiots—Johnny Damon, Bronson Arroyo and Lenny DiNardo sang background in the Dropkick Murphy’s version—lifted an 86-year curse. And maybe, if you’re superstitious, they did it with the help of a woman singing to her parakeet.