Red Sox Nation, meet your infuriating grandchildren, royal roots

Royal Rooters souvenir card with the words “Tessie”.Michael T. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy / Boston Public Library

One hundred and twenty-five years ago this month, a group of Boston baseball fans traveled to Baltimore armed with fish horns and police rattles to celebrate their loved Penners (later renamed the Braves), who played the Orioles in a series decided the 1897 National. League banner. Boston won the series and the title, and those fans came to see themselves as their lucky charms. That weekend launched a traveling squad of New England baseball fanatics known as the Royal Routers—and the beginning of our modern expectations for the behavior of American sports fans.

Over the next two decades, the Rooters traveled with the Braves and Red Sox winning six world championships and an additional banner race. The Rooters were the first American sports fans to become nationally famous, thanks to rituals that included pre-game parades with live bands, stomping and dancing on the dugout, and the constant singing of their signature song, “Tessie.” The Rooters received press coverage from Florida to Montana and were powerful enough to fire a Red Sox employee after the 1912 season for neglecting to save their usual Game 7 World Series seats. (A nearby riot broke out when the Routers discovered their seats were occupied.) In 1917, Major League Soccer awarded them tickets to the series as a “twenty-year baseball establishment,” even though none of the Boston teams were playing.

A royal router bangs a drum on the visitors’ bunker at the 1903 World Championships.Michael T. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy / Boston Public Library

Americans have paid to attend sporting events since at least the early 19th century, and for most of that time attendance bore a stigma of reputation because it was associated with drinking, gambling, and violence. The rabid supporters were called cranks or fanatics; The most famous fans during the 19th century were millionaires and eccentric actors who enjoyed being associated with such a marginal type of entertainment.

Most roots do not fit into any category. They were middle-aged white youths who pushed the boundaries of acceptable behavior by harassing, betting, and preparing for the paparazzi. They may not have been millionaires, but they had the means. Traveling with baseball teams in Boston requires a significant income; The cost of a 1903 trip to Pittsburgh for the first world championship was $100, which was roughly two months’ salary for the average American worker at the time. Many Rooters participated in multiple trips, including a California spring training trip in 1911 and an additional five World Championships between 1912 and 1918.

Some in the media – especially outside of Boston – found their behavior abhorrent. The Sporting News described them as “student clowns” and “braying”. But gradually, the press became more and more admired. During the 1916 World Championships, a reporter for the Boston Journal noted that the Rotters were “blinding over the joys of their earlier years” and even providing exhilarating lessons for Brooklyn Dodgers fans who were enjoying their first championship contest.

The Rooters faded after the Boston baseball championships ended in 1918, but their legacy lives on. In 2004, Dropkick Murphys and sports writer Jeff Horrigan created an updated version of “Tessie” that plays after every game in Fenway Park. The song begins, “Tessie is the rally cry of the Royal Rooters.”

An indoor shot of McGreevy’s Third Base, the unofficial home of the Royal Rooters.Michael T. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy / Boston Public Library

In 2008, Dropkicks singer Ken Kesey opened McGreevy’s, a Boylston Street sports bar that aims to replicate the look and feel. Feel Rooter Michael T. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy’s Third Base Saloon. (McGreevey is said to have earned his nickname by hitting the crossbar and bellowing “Nuf Ced!” to end sports debates.) The New England Historical Society called him “the grandfather of the Red Sox Nation” and Peter Nash, in his book “The Boston Royal Routers,” describes him as “probably the most diehard fan of the Red Sox nation.” Baseball is an influence of all time.”

Perhaps, but he wasn’t the most famous during the group’s heyday. This distinction goes back to John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the congressman and later, the mayor of Boston, who led the Routers on tours of the US Capitol and made an unsuccessful attempt to buy the Red Sox.

According to Today’s papers, 19th century baseball executives touted their game as a “safety valve,” a “harmless outlet for pent-up emotions” that positioned the game as a solution to problems created by the tensions of industrialization and urban growth.

Boston Mayor John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald the first ball of the Red Sox season at Huntington Avenue Grounds, c. 1910.Michael T. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy / Boston Public Library

Evoking the roots as hooligans and rabble-rousers reinforces this idea. It helps normalize the fanbase’s idea of ​​sport as a haven from everyday life and fitness. Scholars have generally explained this behavior as a modern version of bread and circuses, the ancient Roman tradition of elites offering food and entertainment to the masses to distract from the burdens of daily life.

But the actual experience of Rooters has challenged that concept. They didn’t need a baseball game as an outlet for their frustration. They cheered the Boston teams out of a commitment to their community and as a way to get support from their friends and neighbors. The reasons why we cheer for our favorite teams are more complex than safety valves or bread and circuses, and anyone trying to understand the motivations of modern sports fans would do well to start by looking at the royal roots.

Paul Ringel is Professor of History at High Point University in North Carolina. He’s working on a book on royal roots.