The Boston Red Sox won their first World Series in 1903 with the musical help of a raucous fan club called the Royal Rooters.
A colorful group of sportsmen, gamblers and politicians, they had their own sports bar and their own team souvenirs, probably the first ever.
The bar and the collectibles sprang from the unique genius of Nuf Ced McGreevey, so called because he ended arguments by pounding on the bar and declaring “Nuf Ced.”
Nuf Ced McGreevey
Nuf Ced’s real name was Michael T. McGreevey. Born sometime in the mid-19th century, he played amateur baseball. He never made it to the major leagues, probably because of his short stature, but he did get rich.
In 1894, he opened a saloon called “Third Base” because patrons stopped there before stealing home. In 1900, Nuf Ced moved the Third Base to 940 Columbus Ave., nearer to the Huntington Avenue Grounds where the Boston Americans – now the Red Sox – played.
Nuf Ced plastered the walls with baseball memorabilia and photographs of his favorite players: Nap Lajoie, Jimmy Collins, Cy Young, Chick Stahl and Buck Freeman. The Third Base attracted politicians, gamblers, businessmen, ballplayers, Tin-Pan Alley stars and diehard fans.
Coach drivers stopped by the Third Base because Nuf Ced fed pickles to their horses. Mayor John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, was a regular and a Royal Rooter. So was Joseph “Sport” Sullivan, the gambler who fixed the 1919 World Series. Sullivan was rumored to have won $20,000 on the 1903 Series.
McGreevey led a small army of fanatical fans, widely known as the Royal Rooters. Their colorful antics were catnip to the local press. They didn’t just go to the games, they marched in a parade, behind a hired band as they sang a fight song called Tessie. Outside the ballpark they’d harass the opposing team’s fans. During games, McGreevey would dance an Irish reel on top of the dugout, leading the fans in chants and song. Sometimes a Royal Rooter ended up in jail for running onto the field and beating up an umpire.
McGreevey wasn’t a clown, though. He was extremely knowledgeable about baseball. He also had friends among the baseball stars, respected by fans and players alike. In 1908, he was hired as a coach for the Boston team during spring training. He actually sneaked into a posed team picture of the 1903 Americans and Pittsburgh Pirates just before the final game of the 1903 World Series.
During that series, the first ever, Nuf Ced took his Royal Rooters to Pittsburgh by train. The Americans lost two of the first three games at home despite the Royal Rooters’ harassment of the Pirates, especially the great Honus Wagner. In Pittsburgh, they won three of the next four games.
After Boston won Game 7 in Pittsburgh, Nuf Ced hired a photographer to take a picture of the Royal Rooters and had buttons made of the photo. The Royal Rooters wore them proudly on their return to Boston, the first known team-related trinkets. The Americans clinched the series at home with a win.
Pittsburgh star Tommy Leach said the fans won the game for the Americans because they sang Tessie so loud. “It was a real hum-dinger of a song, but it sort of got on your nerves after a while,” Leach said.
The Royal Rooters continued their exploits throughout the oughts and the teens. In 1916, Nuf Ced moved his bar to Tremont and Ruggles Street.
In 1920, Prohibition forced Nuf Ced to shut down the Third Base — though Babe Ruth’s sale to the New York Yankees may have had something to do with it as well. He donated his collection to the Boston Public Library, and the last Third Base is now the library’s South End branch.
We are indebted for this story to Boston’s Royal Rooters by Peter J. Nash. All photos are from the Boston Public Library.
You may also enjoy this story about the 1914 Miracle Team, the Boston Braves, here. This story about the Royal Rooters was updated in 2021.