Baseball Urban Legends Revealed #41

This is the forty-first in a series of examinations of baseball-related legends and whether they are true or false. This week, learn the bizarre story behind the Red Sox good luck song “Tessie,” find out whether “Centerfield” was written while Fogerty watched an All-Star Game in center field and discover the baseball player during the 1950s and 1960s who worked two very different careers – professional baseball player and professional recording artist!

Click here to view an archive of all the previous baseball legends.

Let’s begin!

BASEBALL LEGEND: A song had a strange history with the Boston Red Sox to the point of seeming to be a World Series “good luck charm.”

STATUS: True

“Tessie (You Are the Only, Only, Only)” was a popular song from the Broadway musical The Silver Slipper. It was written by WIll R. Anderson. The musical lasted just 160 performances (which actually is not that bad) from October 1902 and March 1903, but the song remained popular after the show closed.

In the classic book, The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, Lawrence S. Ritter had longtime Pittsburgh Pirate great Tommy Leach tell the story of the 1903 World Series and the effect that Leach felt that “Tessie” had on the series…

I think those Boston fans actually won that Series for the Red Sox. We beat them three out of the first fouer games, and then they started singing that damn “Tessie” song, the Red Sox fans did. They called themselves the Royal Rooters and their leader was some Boston character named Mike McGreevey. He was known as “Nuf Sed” McGreevey, because any time there was an argument about anything to do with baseball he was the ultimate authority. Once McGreevey gave his opinion that ended the argument: nuf sed!

Anyways, in the fifth games of ther Series the Royal Rooters started singing “Tessie” 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. “Tessie” was a real big popular song in those days. You remember it, don’t you?

Tessie, you me feel badly,
Why don’t you turn around.
Tessie, you know I love you madly,
Babe, my heart weighs about a pound.

Yeah, that was a real humdinger in those days. Like “The Music Goes Round and Round” in the ‘thirties. Now you surely remember that one?

Only instead of singing “Tessie, you know I love you madly,” they’d sing special lyrics for each of the Red Sox players, like “Jimmy, you know I love you madly.” And for us Pirates, they’d change it a little. Like when Honus Wagner came up to bat they’d sing:

Honus, why do you hit so badly,
Take a back seat and sit down.
Honus, at bat you look sadly.
Hey, why don’t you get out of town.

Sort of got on your nerves after a while. And before we knew what happened, we’d lost the World Series.

Here is a picture of the Rooters in 1903…

Whatever luck effects the Royal Rooters and their song, “Tessie,” had, the group disbanded in 1918 (their leader, the aforementioned McGreevey, ran a saloon, so perhaps he knew Prohibition was coming soon. His bar closed in 1920). In case you don’t recall, 1918 saw the Red Sox win a World Series…something they would not duplicate until 2004!

Here’s where things get weirder. In 2004, the band the Dropkick Murphys recorded a version of “Tessie” (with altered lyrics to acknowledge the history of the song in Red Sox history).

On the liner notes to their 2005 album (that had the song – the song was released on an EP in 2004), they noted:

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.

Isn’t that just the craziest story?

The Red Sox now play the Dropkick Murphys’ version of “Tessie” after Red Sox home victories (typically second in a three song feature – “Dirty Watet,” “Tessie” and “Sweet Caroline”).

Thanks to the late Tommy Leach and Lawrence Ritter for the great story of the 1903 World Series! And thanks to commenter Shawn who let me know that the Red Sox don’t ALWAYS play “Tessie” after a home win.

BASEBALL LEGEND: John Fogerty wrote “Centerfield” after watching the 1984 All Star Game from the centerfield bleachers at Candlestick Park.

STATUS: False

One of the particularly interesting about baseball and songs about baseball is that while yes, there are a goodly amount of songs about baseball, there are not a whole lot of them that you would want to listen to when you’re not actually at a baseball game. John Fogerty spoke about this in a good interview with Tom Singer of MLB.com:

“Having grown up as a rock-and-roller, I was more into what kids my age were doing. Rock-and-roll has a certain set of formal dogmas, and the rule book says, ‘Anything that is perceived as lame, we don’t want it around here.’ Over the years it seemed like sports songs just didn’t qualify into the rock-and-roll lexicon. There was that unwritten distinction. It was never considered rock-and-roll.” Fogerty, naturally, challenged that notion with his classic 1985 tune, “Centerfield” (the title track to his comeback album of that year, an album that reached #1 on the Billboard charts) which both became an acclaimed rock ‘n’ roll song as well as a an instant baseball classic.

Nowadays, it is among the most famous songs ever written about baseball and it is even enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame (it happened last year – here is a picture of Fogerty at the event – note his baseball bat guitar)!!

There is a good deal of folklore about the song, which is about a baseball player who just wants a chance to play “Put me in, coach – I’m ready to play today; Look at me, I can be centerfield” – a sentiment that Fogerty explains also works as “a metaphor about getting yourself motivated, about facing the challenge of one thing or another at least at the beginning of an endeavor.” Probably the most common legend about the song is that Fogerty was inspired to write the song after watching the 1984 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game in the center field bleachers in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, just a hop, skip and a jump from Berkeley, California, which is where Fogerty was born.

It is a good story – but is it true?

Growing up in El Cerrito, California (a small town founded by refugees from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, about five miles away from the campus of University of California Berkeley) in the early 1950s (Fogerty was born in 1945), John Fogerty did not have a local MLB team to root for. The idea of the New York Giants moving to San Fransisco (which they would in 1958) was not even a pipe dream when Fogerty was a kid. Instread, the closest thing his area had to a team was the New York Yankees, since they had famed San Francisco native Joe DiMaggio on their team. Fogerty recalled:

Because of all those childhood tales I heard about DiMaggio, I grew to think that the most hallowed place in all of the universe was center field in Yankee Stadium. I knew there were other center fielders, but to go to the absolute perfect place, you had to get to Yankee Stadium. That was the coolest place in the world.

Still, even with the emphasis on Yankee baseball, it is true that Fogerty did, indeed, attend the 1984 MLB All-Star Game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

In fact, he began recording the album Centerfield soon after that game. In a feature on the album for Rolling Stone (who named it one of the 100 Best Albums of the 1980s), Fogerty recalled the game, “I was very aware of the connotation of center field — the comeback, spotlight angle of it. It all seemed very Zen-like and cosmic to me at the time.”

So it is very easy to see how the story began that Fogerty was inspired to write “Centerfield” after attending that game (a 3-1 National League victory, which saw Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden strike out six batters in a row between them). However, it is not true. You see, Fogerty actually had all of the songs for Centerfield written well before he went in to record the album as Rolling Stone noted in their coverage:

Toward the end of 1983 he finally regained his muse. “Stuff just suddenly started to click. So much so that I began to think, ‘I’m gonna be able to make a record pretty soon.’ He came up with about twelve songs but narrowed the song list down to the nine that appear on the album.

So it appears much more likely that Fogerty was just looking for the general mythical qualities that baseball has, rather than thinking of an specific game. As he told Singer:

I’d hear about Ruth and DiMaggio, and as my dad and older brothers talked about the Babe’s exploits, their eyes would get so big. When I was a little kid, there were no teams on the West Coast, so the idea of a Major League team was really mythical to me. The players were heroes to me as long as I can remember. The song was my way of putting an identity on all the tales I’d heard. It expressed my state of mind about me that was honest at the time.

And it expressed it awfully well.

Thanks to Tom Singer, Rolling Stone and, of course, John Fogerty for the information!

BASEBALL LEGEND: A baseball player spent his career in the Major Leagues also as a pop artist, using a slightly different name.

STATUS: True

Lee Maye broke into the Major Leagues in 1959 with the Milwaukee Braves, one year after the club, led by Hammerin’ Hank Aaron and Eddie Matthews, had lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series. Maye would play a little in 1959 and 1960 before settling in for a solid four-year run for the Braves from 1961-1964, including leading the league in doubles in 1964!

He was dealt to the expansion Houston Astros in the middle of the 1965 season. That would start Maye on a long career as a journeyman. A season and a half in Houston, a season or two in Cleveland, a season in Washington and two seasons spent mostly on the bench for the Chicago White Sox to close his career out. His last game was in June of 1971.

Oddly enough, Maye’s career ended at roughly the same time that Arthur Lee Maye’s career ended. Who was Arthur Lee Maye? Why he was the name that Maye performed under as a professional doo wop singer!

Maye grew up in Los Angeles, California where he sang with many future professional singers in his high school days, including members of the Platters, the Penguins and the Coasters.

After being signed by the Milwaukee Braves, Maye continued to record music while in the minor leagues. He did some recordings with singer Richard Berry, including doing back-up on Berry’s original version of “Louie Louie.”

He formed the band the Crowns and they had a number of regional hits in California, but never had that breakout smash.

Eventually, they began recording under just Arthur Lee Maye’s name (no Crowns, although they continued singing with him), including one album for a company, Cash, that tried to “cash” in on Maye’s baseball notoriety, labeling the album as Arthur Lee Maye of the Milwaukee Braves.

Oddly enough, Maye’s baseball success hurt his music career. Once he went to the Major Leagues, the Crowns sort of drifted apart. Maye kept trying to record, and actually he had a very successful series of gigs playing in Houston when he played for the Astros. In fact, his gigs caused some controversy, because the owner of the club Maye played for, the Astros (Judge Roy Hofheinz) was suing the club that Maye was singing at because the club’s name was The Dome’s Shadow (being across the street from the Astrodome). That did not endear Maye to his boss, and likely played a part in Maye being dealt to Cleveland.

In any event, things just never broke big for Maye, either as a recording artist or a baseball player. Heck, in 1965, he was not even the most famous Lee Maye in baseball! Lee May, the three-time All Star outfielder who played 19 seasons, debuted that year!

After retirement, Maye stopped singing for awhile, although he released a country song in the 1970s. Luckily, during the 1990s, late in Maye’s life, his early doo wop recordings were re-discovered and he got to do shows and festivals and conventions and the like.

It was nice that he had that (he passed away in 2002) because his music really was quite good. You can hear one of Maye’s songs here.

Phil Milstein wrote an EXCELLENT overview of Maye’s respective careers in Roctober Magazine. Milstein has it up online here. Be sure to read it – I only touch the surface of Maye’s story, Milstein gives you the whole kit and caboodle.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

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