What could make a tiny celluloid pin picturing a 1915 baseball team worth $9,545?
It might be that one of the players is a rookie left-handed pitcher who also showed an unusual ability to hit home runs.
It might be that the team pictured on the pin won that year’s World Series in five games over its National League rival.
Or it might be that the pin also pays homage to a group of fans so rabid that they were credited for helping their team win by upsetting their opponents – a group so loyal that their legend lives to this day.
Put all of those factors together and you can begin to understand why it took 51 bids before some lucky collector won the 1915 Boston Red Sox Royal Rooters championship pin offered at auction recently by SportsCardLink.
And, by the way, the final “might be” is that the left-handed pitcher with the home-run swing just happened to be a very young Babe Ruth, a legend in the making even before his sale to the Yankees cursed the Red Sox to suffer 86 seasons barren of championships.
Measuring 2¼ inches in diameter, the pin was produced by Boston-based button manufacturers and jobbers A. R. Lopez & Bro. Described as in “near pristine” condition, the pin was made of celluloid, then called synthetic ivory and very much in vogue, until less costly lithography replaced it.
The firm also made a few other pin-back buttons of some prominence. One subject was Lucy Stone, the Massachusetts native who was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist in the early 1900s. One such pin is in the collection of the Library of Congress.
Another of the firm’s pinbacks honored the same Royal Rooters. But this one – a celluloid medallion bearing the Boston Braves’ Indian chief logo and suspended from a red silk ribbon – was made in 1914 to commemorate that year’s World Series winners. That represented a homecoming, of sorts, since the team that became the Braves had been the original object of the Rooters’ affection. That was before they quit that team in 1899, charging they mistreated players and charged exorbitant prices for tickets. A winning bid of $1,600 won this artifact during a Hunt Auctions sale.
In 1903, the year of what is often recognized as the first World Series, an early Royal Rooters pin congratulated the Red Sox who had defeated the Pirates in that year’s postseason play. One such pin, measuring 1¾ inches in diameter and made of celluloid, sold at a Robert Edward action for $3,818 after it was estimated that no more than five exist. That pin pictured the Red Sox team and also had some members of the Royal Rooters in the background, since the fans often accompanied their favorite team on road trips. The manufacturer’s identity wasn’t listed for this pin.
The Royal Rooters’ leader, a gruff saloon owner named Mike “Nuff Ced” McGreevy, had commissioned the 1903 pin after his beloved Sox beat the Honus Wagner-led Pirates in Game 7 in Pittsburgh. McGreevy hired a Pittsburgh photographer, identified only as D. Rosser, to take the team photo and had planed to display it in his Boston saloon. That establishment, the 3rd Base Tavern (so named because it was billed as the last stop before home), was the headquarters of the Royal Rooters.
But McGreevy was so enamored of the photo that he had buttons bearing the image made and distributed to his Royal Rooters to wear on the train ride back to Boston for Game 8. Boston won that historic best-of-nine-games playoff series 5-3, although the Pirates had stormed to a 3-1 lead after the first four games. The great Wagner was just one of many Pittsburgh players and fans who complained about the rowdiness of the Royal Rooters after the final game.
Ironically, the 1915 pin did not include any of the Royal Rooters in the photo image that dominates it – just 22 players, the team trainer, Sox owner/president Joseph P. Lannin and a man who apparently is his son. The presence of Babe Ruth, of course, helps make the pin truly historic. Then a 20-year-old rookie, he won 18 games while losing only six on a very strong pitching staff, and his four home runs in just 92 at-bats led the team and provided a humble hint of future greatness.
The team was led by two other future Hall of Famers – outfielders Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper. The pictured pitchers are Rube Foster (a 20-game winner), Ernie Shore, Smokey Joe Wood, Dutch Leonard, Vean Gregg, Ray Collins and a rookie submariner named Carl Mays. Mays was the league’s top reliever in 1915 but five years later, pitching for the Yankees, he would gain infamy for throwing the pitch that hit Ray Chapman and killed the Cleveland shortstop.
The auction description mentions an additional pitcher, future Hall of Famer Herb Pennock, purchased in June from the A’s in one of Connie Mack’s fire sales. Eventually, Pennock would win 240 games in 22 seasons, but in 1915, he neither won nor lost in five regular season appearances and he never got on the field in the Series. Pennock wasn’t included in this team picture used for the pin (the same photo also graced a real-photo postcard which sold for $9,400 in a Robert Edward Auctions sale).
Other players pictured are first baseman Dick Hobitzell; infielders Heinie Wagner, Everett Scott, Larry Gardner, Hal Jarvin and Jack Barry; outfielders Duffy Lewis, Del Gainor and Olaf Henriksen; and catchers Pinch Thomas, Hick Cady and Bill Carrigan, the latter the team’s manager. Owner Lannin, his son, and the team trainer complete the photo lineup.
That team was a dynasty, one that overtook the fast-starting Tigers, led by Ty Cobb, about mid-season and never surrendered first place. The Sox swamped the Phillies in five games in the Series, then won pennants again in 1916 and 1918. The team finished second behind the White Sox in 1917. Following that 1918 season, new owner Harry Frazee would peddle the great, if troublesome, Ruth to the Yankees.
The source of the 1915 pin wasn’t identified. However, it could have been consigned from the estate of Jack Barry, the pitcher mentioned previously. The finale of his seven-season career came in 1915 when his record slumped to 5-7 in 25 games after a 20-13 mark in 1914, a 19-8 record the year before and a 1.88 earned run average in two games of Boston’s 1912 Series win. A blog message shows a photo of a 1915 Red Sox Royal Rooters pin among the artifacts amassed during three generations of storing by Collins’ sister, niece and grandniece.
There is an error, of sorts, on the 1915 pin, an “S” appears at the end of the team name – “RED SOXS” is printed across the bottom.
The Royal Rooters may not have been visible along with the team in the photo used for the pin, but since their founding in 1894 they already had built a legend that remains strong to this day, albeit in a recycled form. How important were these fanatics to Boston baseball in the early 1900s?
The group was important enough that one of its early leaders was John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, a legendary figure who was then the colorful mayor of Boston, but is better known historically as the maternal grandfather of President John F. Kennedy.
And, how many groups of fans can boast that the portrait photo of one of their own shares space with the rival team managers on the program/scorecards of the 1903 World Series? None other than the Royal Rooters “Nuff Ced” McGreevy’s photo graced the program covers for the first-ever World Series. So significant are those programs that one of them – neatly scored for the first-ever Series game – once sold for a reported $80,000 at auction.
Other McGreevy artifacts have surfaced in the hobby over the years in various auctions. A 1903 World Series ball signed by him sold for $15,500; an original photo of his 3rd Base Tavern with an oval mug shot of McGreevy went for $4,406, and a plain cardboard business card measuring 2¼-by-3 inches and bearing just “Nuf Ced” McGreevy across its center and the city of Boston at the bottom right sold for $600.
McGreevy’s unusual “Nuf Ced” nickname stems from his ability to quell trouble in his saloon by slamming one of his sizeable fists on the bar and, in his booming voice, commanding “Enough Said!” Translated into Boston, “Nuf Ced” became a universally recognized variation.
In another auction, it took a bid of $4,700 to win a Royal Rooters megaphone coupled with the sheet music for the Broadway song “Tessie,” which the fan group adopted as its own. The Pirates team, especially, in 1903 expressed their distaste for the Rooters and their seemingly endless renditions of “Tessie,” although other teams certainly had their fill of it, too, during the 24 years of the Rooters’ reign.
The Royal Rooters may well be the most significant group of fans in sports. They were the first to accompany their team on road trips, the first to organize and lead crowd cheers, the first to bring a popular music theme into a ballpark setting and the first to sneak homemade signs into a ballpark. They not only hassled opposing teams; they made life miserable for the other team’s fans, too, until they disbanded after the 1918 season.
There are other well-known fan groups to be sure, in and out of sports. The list includes the likes of the Packer Backers and Cheeseheads of the Green Bay Packers, the Dawg Pound of Cleveland Browns fame, the Yankees’ Bleacher Creatures and the Sea of Red that fills the football Chiefs’ stadium on game days. Individual athletes have had following that include golfer Arnold Palmer’s Arnie’s Army and wrestler Hulk Hogan’s Hulkamaniacs. And on the entertainment side, there are Star Trek’s Trekkies and The Grateful Dead’s Deadheads. But none achieved the “firsts” credited to the Royal Rooters.
And vestiges of the Rooters remain to this day in a book, a documentary, a reworking of “Tessie” by the rock band Dropkick Murphy’s during the 2004 curse-breaking season, a current-day collection of fans who are part of Red Sox Nation, and even in an adult baseball league now entering its sixth season in the Boston area.
But it’s doubtful that any of those other fan groups, or even the renewed versions of Boston fans, will have the impact – and achieve the legend – of the original Royal Rooters.