Fanatics, Drums, And Hired Horns
May 13, 2015, Revised February, 2017
Prominent thinkers, writers, and composers have been drawn to the game of baseball ever since its pastoral beginnings in rural New England, and its escapist heritage in the city of New York. Baseball-crazed musicians stretch through American history, from Charles Ives  and John Philip Sousa through Jack Stamp, Carolyn Bremer, John Luther Adams, and even Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder. From its earliest days, baseball has been intimately involved with musicians; Henry Chadwick, the English-born New York sportswriter that invented the box score, and is often cited as the father of baseball statistics, earned more money in his early career as a music teacher and composer of quadrilles and schottisches than as a newspaper reporter.
Though Chadwick encountered baseball in its infancy in mid-nineteenth century New York, both the game of baseball and the American wind band came of age, and were spread throughout the nation, during the Civil War. The early baseball societies in northeastern cities were decimated when their members enlisted for war, and those very men brought the game with them as a welcome distraction, sharing the game with their brethren from across the young nation. Though bands participated in the earlier American conflicts, immense new numbers of men were assigned as musicians during the Civil War, swelling to 14,842 Union Army bandsmen in 1862. Surviving participants of the conflict brought numerous new ideas home with them, leading indirectly to the widespread proliferation of military bands and local baseball teams across the American countryside.
W. H. Dana, writing in 1878, described the increasing importance of local bandsmen by stating, “A town without a brass band is as much in need of sympathy as a church without a choir. The spirit of a place is recognized in its band.” In 1889, twenty-five years after the Civil War ended, Harper’s Weekly estimated that there were more than ten thousand “military bands” in the United States, and a number of traveling professional bands were making both national and international tours. At the same time, various professional baseball associations had sprung up, the most successful of which, the National League, began operating in eight Eastern and Midwestern cities in 1876. Both the professional bands and the professional baseball teams operated on similar models, serving as diversions to the masses, but relying heavily on local amateur bandsmen or ballplayers to comprise their audiences, all the while fostering the growth of local players of both varieties. The fiscal success of the professionals at the top of the food chain was intimately tied to the level of interest at the bottom.
“Base ball fever” was a common malady in the second half of the eighteenth century. Dime novels, guides, board games, cards, and even sheet music began to find their way into the marketplace, beginning with 1858’s Base Ball Polka, composed by a J. R. Blodgett, the earliest copyrighted sheet music that focused on the burgeoning National Pastime. By the 1880s and 1890s, baseball-themed music in the form of sheet music and Edison cylinders had become chart-topping best sellers. Slide, Kelly, Slide, allegedly written and composed by the Boston Beaneaters superstar Mike “King” Kelly, would become America’s first hit popular record. Vaudeville performers embraced baseball, enthusiastically reciting Ernest Thayer’s poem, Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888 to thunderous applause. In the same year, J. Thomas Baldwin’s Boston Cadet Band entertained the local baseball fans with a march written by their conductor, entitled They’ll Get There, dedicated to the 1888 Boston Beaneaters. Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman would lace mentions of baseball through their writings from the 1840s onwards. With the exploits of ballplayers becoming increasingly better-described in newspapers and popular culture, the game of baseball was beginning to captivate the American imagination like no other game had before, or perhaps has since.
1. When a young Ives was asked what he played, in a musical sense, he is said to have jokingly answered, "Shortstop. See: Stuart Feder, Charles Ives "My Father's Song," A Psychoanalytic Biography, (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1992), 118. Ives' later compositions included overt baseball sketches such as All The Way Around and Back and Some Southpaw Pitching, as well as less-obvious references in numerous other works. See: Timothy A. Johnson, Baseball and the Music of Charles Ives: A Proving Ground, (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2004). Back
2. Composer of the wind work, Pastime (1998), a playful manipulation of Take Me Out To The Ballgame. Back
3. Composer of the wind work, Early Light (1996), a take on the Star Spangled Banner that features the crack of a bat hidden near the end of the work. Back
4. See: Michael Cooper, “A Composer’s Other Book,” New York Times, May 26, 2014. Back
5. See: Jessica Letkemann, "Eddie Vedder Talks Cubs, the World Series and Giving His Boyhood Mitt to Ernie Banks," Billboard, October 23, 2013. Back
6. John Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 102. Back
7. Out of 28,428 enlisted Union musicians. Richard K. Hansen, The American Wind Band: A Cultural History, (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2005), 38. Back
8. Ibid., 45. Back
9. H. W. Schwartz, Bands of America: A Nostalgic, Illustrated History of the Golden Age of Band Music, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1957), 128. Back
10. Ibid., 177. Back
J.R. Blodgett, The Base Ball Polka
The Triskelion All-Stars
11. Thorn, Baseball in the Garden of Eden, 194. Back
12. Ibid., 229. Back
13. Peter J. Nash, Boston’s Royal Rooters, (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2005), 17. Back
14. Whitman’s earliest reference to baseball might be its best: “In our sun-down perambulations, of late, through the outer parts of Brooklyn, we have observed several parties of youngsters playing ‘base,’ a certain game of Ball… Let us go forth awhile, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our close rooms… The game of ball is glorious." Walt Whitman, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 23, 1846. Back
Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library. "Opening Day Ceremonies, 1904."
The The Boston Letter Carriers Band and the Royal Rooters at the 1903 World Series.
Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library. "Boston Rooters singing Tessie, 1903 World Series"
Both local baseball and local bands had become major sources of civic pride by the turn of the century; perhaps no other organization embodied this combination more than Boston’s Roxbury Rooters, later known as the Royal Rooters. These ardent supporters, known typically as “cranks,” began as obsessive fans of the National League’s Boston Beaneaters in the 1890s. Made up of local characters, the Rooters roster encompassed businessmen, barkeepers, and politicians, including Congressman John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. Members of the Rooters considered themselves the pinnacle of fandom, willing to go to any length to secure a victory for their local team, including visiting far-away stadiums to cheer on their team. They were pioneers in the ranks of early fandom, introducing badges, signs, banners, megaphones, songs, and fan-orchestrated bands to the sporting world. Many of these crowd-based musical innovations would be replicated across baseball, most famously including the Brooklyn Dodger Sym-Phony Band, which featured its own signature bass drum. In the midst of the wild 1897 National League Pennant race with the hated Baltimore Orioles, the Royal Rooters travelled en masse by train to Baltimore, cheering the Beaneaters to victory. Realizing that the Rooters bullhorns and noisemakers needed augmentation, Congressman Fitzgerald took up a collection to hire a local band to accompany them to the stadium. The Rooters were so loud while supporting their team that they even received a round of applause from the hometown Baltimore fans.
The Royal Rooters would switch allegiances in 1901, when their favorite star players jumped ship for the brand new, and better paying, local American League franchise, the Boston Americans. Continuing their various songs, chants, and traditions, the Royal Rooters kept wildly supporting their team through the very first World Series in 1903, pitting the upstart Boston Americans against the National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates. Seeking to capitalize on their earlier success in Baltimore, the Rooters hired bands for each game, employing the thirty-five piece Boston Letter Carriers Band at home, and engaging the Guenther Band in Pittsburgh for Game Four. After hiring a different, Irish band for Game Five, the German band sued for breach of contract, and was awarded $285 by a Pittsburgh judge.
Boston’s hired bands would prove to be pivotal, aiding the Rooters’ cheers and helping the loyal cranks to annoy the Pittsburgh players with altered lyrics to popular songs. In reaction, the Pittsburgh fans hired a band of their own, with explicit instructions to drown out the Rooters’ rendition of their rallying cry, “Tessie,” with “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.” These two groups of fans would continue employing their own bands throughout the entire World Series, leading parades before and after the games, and rallying their sides towards victory. As in any major civic celebration, the Boston Americans would be showered with praise from the city after their victory in that very first World Series, and numerous subsequent Fall Classics, with parades and celebrations led by local bands.
15. Eventually known as the Boston, Milwaukee, and finally Atlanta Braves. Back
16. Twice a member of the United States House of Representatives, twice Mayor of Boston, and future President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s grandfather. Back
Boston Royal Rooter beating a drum, 1903 World Series. Click to enlarge. Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
17. Nash, Boston’s Royal Rooters, 7. Back
18. Ibid., 37. Back
19. Bill Felber, A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters, and the Battle for the 1897 Pennant, (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 226-235. Back
20. Later the Boston Somersets, Beaneaters, Pilgrims, and finally, the Red Sox. Ban Johnson’s American League, a retooled and upgraded version of the earlier Western League, would begin play in eight cities in 1901, in direct competition with the National League. The league’s immediate success was a direct result of poaching star players from existing National League franchises. Back
21. Roger I. Abrams, The First World Series and the Baseball Fanatics of 1903 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003), 140. Back
22. From the 1902 Broadway musical The Silver Slipper, and appropriated in 2004 by the Boston Irish-American band, the Dropkick Murphys. Back
23. Abrams, The First World Series , 140-165. Back
24. Boston would go on to win the 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918 World Series before going on a hiatus, repeating their early dominance in the first years of the twenty-first century, winning again in 2004, 2007, and 2014. Back