This article was written by Chris Rainey
What possible reason would there be to include a Celtic-influenced punk rock band from Boston on the SABR BioProject site? Just ask former Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon or pitchers Bronson Arroyo and Lenny DiNardo, who sang backup for the band on a song called “Tessie” in 2004. The superstitious members of Sox Nation will tell you that thanks to that song, their team’s World Series curse — 86 years since the 1918 Series win and 85 seasons since Babe Ruth was sold — was broken at last.
Not convinced? Consider BoSox closer Jonathan Papelbon in his shades and kilt, dancing to the Murphys’ tunes on a flatbed during the 2007 championship parade. Need further proof? The Red Sox have yet to lose a playoff/World Series game at which the Dropkicks have performed. The Dropkick Murphys and founder Ken Casey have earned their places in baseball lore.
Ken Casey and the Start of the Dropkick Murphys
Kenneth William Casey Jr. was born on December 31, 1969, to Eileen Kelly and Ken Casey Sr. He was an only child, and his father died when Ken Jr. was quite young. Fortunately, his grandfather, John Kelly, took the youngster under his wing and guided him through life. Kelly was a teamster who taught his grandson the history and struggles of the Irish working man. One of the most valuable lessons was that “Gratitude is an action.”1
Casey absorbed his grandfather’s lessons and is described as kind, sentimental, and generous to a fault.2 A prime example of Ken’s selflessness showed in 2009, when he created the Claddagh Fund, whose mission is to raise awareness of and money for the most underfunded non-profit organizations that support the vulnerable populations in the Boston area. Casey and the Dropkicks have staged numerous events on such groups’ behalf. Their most recent effort came in March 2020, as the band streamed a concert during which the Claddagh Fund raised over $60,000 for Boston’s Resiliency Fund to help provide services in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.3
The Dropkick Murphys were born out of a dare in 1995 in Quincy, Massachusetts. The trio of founding members included Casey, vocalist Mike McColgan, and guitarist Rick Barton. The band had numerous drummers in the early going before settling on Matt Kelly in 1997. Kelly has been with the group ever since. Kelly joined Casey and Barton as co-writers of the band’s first original song, “Barroom Hero.”
The unusual name of the band came from a former professional wrestler named John Murphy, who had earned the nickname “Dropkick.” Murphy opened a sanitarium in Acton, Massachusetts, and spent 30 years (1941-71) trying to sober up inebriates at his “primitive detox center.” Casey recalled that he would hear old-timers talking about having been at Dropkick Murphy’s and thought it was a brilliant name for the group.4
The band grew into a quintet. Lead singer Al Barr replaced McColgan in 1998 and has teamed with Casey as frontmen ever since. In 2000 the group expanded into a septet (various members have come and gone over the years). Their most recent performance at Fenway Park on May 29, 2020, featured an eight-man lineup:
- Al Barr (co-lead vocals)
- Tim Brennan (guitars, accordion, mellotron, whistles, vocals)
- Ken Casey (co-lead vocals)
- Jeff DaRosa (banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, harmonica, acoustic guitars, vocals)
- Matt Kelly (drums, percussion, vocals)
- James Lynch (guitar, vocals)
- Kevin Rheault (touring bassist)
- Lee Forshner (touring bagpipe player)
The Royal Rooters and “Tessie”
“Crank” was the most widely used term for a baseball fan around 1900. Pioneer player/manager turned Boston sportswriter, Tim Murnane, preferred the terms “loyal rooter” and “royal rooter.” The main difference between the two: a royal rooter was more vocal and would follow his team on the road.5 In 1897 pennant fever gripped Boston and a throng dubbed the “Royal Rooters” gained prominence thanks to leaders like Arthur “Hi Hi” Dixwell.6 Trips to support the Beaneaters7 on the road were organized for the vocal supporters. According to a Boston Globe report, the final series against second-place Baltimore had such a following that the team was followed to the ballpark by three barges, each 30 feet long, loaded with Boston fans. They exhorted their team to a 19-10 victory.8
In October Boston met Baltimore for the Temple Cup. The Orioles triumphed four games to one, but the Sporting Life singled out the rooters for praise. “They were out in force for the first game” in Baltimore and occupied chairs at their own expense in front of the Boston bench. When the series concluded, the rooters staged a banquet organized by Congressman John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald (grandfather of John F. Kennedy). They made sure to give the press ample access to the affair, which insured positive coverage for years to come.9
The Rooters returned to prominence in 1903, when the Boston Americans ran away with the AL pennant and faced Honus Wagner and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series. In the best-of-nine series, Boston fell behind three games to one when Pirates’ ace Deacon Phillippe defeated Cy Young, Tom Hughes, and Bill Dinneen.
The first three games had been in Boston (the Americans won just one). The Rooters, behind the leadership of Charles J. Lavis and Michael J. “Nuf Ced” McGreevy, organized a special train to Pittsburgh at a cost of $20 a ticket. More than 100 fans made the journey.10
Elsewhere in the city of Boston, the Colonial Theatre was hosting the final week of performances of the musical comedy “The Silver Slipper.” Among the songs in the production was one called “Tessie, You Are the Only, Only, Only.” The song became immensely popular and was hailed as a “novelty in theme and melody” in advertisements for the sheet music, which sold for 20 cents.11
The Rooters hired a band to accompany them to Exposition Park in Pittsburgh and play during the games. In Game 5 a rendition of “Tessie” echoed through the stands, possibly led by rooter Charley Waldron.12 The Boston fans changed the lyrics, however. Instead of “Tessie, you make me feel so badly” out came:
Honus, why do you hit so badly,
Why don’t you turn around
Honus at bat you look so sadly,
Hey, why don’t you get out of town.13
Similar lyrics cascaded down upon Pirates’ hurler Brickyard Kennedy as he and his teammates unraveled in the sixth inning. Three hits, a walk, and three errors (two by Wagner) gave Boston a 6-0 lead. Boston never trailed in any of the remaining contests while capturing the crown in eight games. Pittsburgh third baseman Tommy Leach confessed the song “sort of got on our nerves after a while. And before we knew what happened, we’d lost the World Series.”14
“Tessie” was the rallying cry for Boston fans as they won four more World Series in the next 15 years. The leading rooter during those years was McGreevy, who operated the 3rd Base saloon near the Huntington Avenue Grounds, home of the Sox. That saloon has been described as the first sports bar in America. The Series in 1918 ended with Arlington, Massachusetts native Dave Shean scooping a grounder and tossing to Gloucester’s Stuffy McInnis for the final out. “Tessie” echoed through the ballpark as 15,000 happy fans danced their way to the exits.15
The song made occasional appearances after 1918. The most notable came when “Tessie” returned to Braves Field in 1930 for the Boston Post Old Timers Day. Band leader Jimmie Coughlin played “Tessie” for McGreevy, Cy Young, Candy LaChance, Jimmy Collins, and others, who were escorted into the stadium in hansom carriages. Honus Wagner was there, too, and was again taunted by the song.16
(Video: YouTube / Epitaph Records)
2004 and the Rebirth of “Tessie”
In 2004 the Red Sox found themselves in a battle with the New York Yankees for the AL East title (or a wild card spot). Red Sox vice president Charles Steinberg conceived the notion of reviving “Tessie.” Knowing the local Dropkick Murphys had a penchant for reworking songs, Steinberg approached Casey about a rebirth for the old tune.
Casey was skeptical when he first heard “Tessie.” He said, “It was the worst thing I had ever heard…It really didn’t make any sense why…fans would have chosen it.”17 But ‘royal rooters’ will stop at nothing to support their team. With the help of Boston Herald writer Jeff Horrigan, Casey and the band went to work.18 The new version invoked the spirit of the Royal Rooters and McGreevy complete with bagpipes and Tin Pan piano.
On Saturday, July 24, the Red Sox were hosting the Yankees, who held a 9½-game lead on second-place Boston. The Dropkicks were scheduled to play “Tessie” before the start of the game. “It’s a crapshoot,” said Casey. “Sure, this’ll probably end up like every other year, but we’re trying to turn this thing around.”19
The Dropkicks performed “Tessie” before the game, which featured Bronson Arroyo on the hill for the Red Sox versus Tanyon Sturtze for the Yankees. In the third inning the Yankees had a three-run lead when Alex Rodriguez came to the plate. Arroyo unleashed a fastball that sailed, hitting Rodriguez on the elbow. Few rivalries in sports can match what Boston and New York have going. As the Yankee star walked towards first base, he repeatedly cursed at Arroyo in true baseball fashion, the expletive plainly visible for even a novice lip reader to discern. When A-Rod gave the finger wag to bring it on, Sox catcher Jason Varitek jumped him, and the melee was on.20
Order was eventually restored, and the inning ended without further hostilities. Rodriguez and Varitek were both ejected for their roles. Sturtze had been bloodied during the fracas but took the mound in the bottom of the third. He surrendered two runs to make the score 3-2. The Red Sox took the lead in the fourth but gave it back in the sixth and trailed entering the bottom of the ninth. It did not appear that the unveiling of “Tessie” was going to be successful: the Yankees were up 10-8 with the lead entrusted to their typically airtight closer and future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. Rivera already had 35 saves and had experienced just one bad outing to that point of the season.
Nomar Garciaparra opened the frame with a double. Kevin Millar drove him home with a single. Third baseman Bill Mueller sent the crowd home happy with a two-run blast to deep right and the win, 11-10. The magic of “Tessie” had been rekindled. Casey was heard to say, “This song will change everything.”21 In the aftermath of the bench-clearing brawl, eight players were disciplined by AL President Bob Watson, but Arroyo was not among them.22
The Red Sox never caught New York in the East, but they captured the wild card. Boston faced the Anaheim Angels in the Division Series. Led by the strong hitting of Damon (.467), David Ortiz (.545), and Manny Ramirez (.385), the Sox swept the Angels and moved on to play New York.
The Yankees had been on the verge of sweeping the ALCS, but Boston clawed its way back into the series — it came down to Game 7 in the Bronx. On the way to the game, Casey and some friends stopped by St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. They lit candles and donated while praying for Damon (who was 3-for-29 in the series) to start hitting again.23 Damon came out of his slump with three hits, including a grand slam and a two-run homer, as the Sox earned a berth in the World Series.
In a World Series that almost seemed anticlimactic, Boston swept the St. Louis Cardinals. The Sox pitching staff posted a 2.50 ERA while Ramirez and Mueller each batted over .400 to lead the offense. The curse had been broken and the reworked “Tessie” found a home in Boston baseball lore.
“I’m Shipping Up to Boston” and Jonathan Papelbon
In 2007 the Red Sox returned to postseason play when they captured the AL East title with a 96-66 record. They swept the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first round and faced the Central champion Cleveland Indians in the AL Championship Series. The Sox took Game 1 but dropped the next three to face elimination. They rallied to win the next two and set up the finale in Fenway Park on October 21.
The Dropkick Murphys took the field before the game, accompanied by a bevy of Irish step dancers. The boys played “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” and then did the National Anthem. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima kept the Sox in the game (3-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh) until the beleaguered Cleveland bullpen collapsed. The Sox scored two in the seventh, then six in the eighth. Closer Papelbon entered the game in the eighth inning to the strains of his chosen intro song — by the Dropkicks — “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” He pitched two scoreless innings for the save.
As they had in 2004, the Red Sox swept the National League competition (the Colorado Rockies) in the World Series. Papelbon was the hero with saves in the last three games. In the victory parade, Papelbon — wearing blue jeans with a kilt over them — rode on the same flatbed as the Dropkicks and did a jig for the screaming, appreciative crowd.24 Casey pointed out that after the October 21 victory, the Dropkicks were 9-0 playing for the Sox, Patriots, and Bruins.25
The Last Decade
The Red Sox returned to the World Series in 2013. They were at home for Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals, holding on to a three-to-two edge. The Dropkicks performed the anthem, then sat back to watch improbable heroes Stephen Drew, with a home run, and Shane Victorino, who drove in four runs, guide the Sox to the title, 6-1. The Red Sox were still undefeated when the Dropkicks played.
The magical results of the Dropkicks performing for the Red Sox suffered a blow in the home opener of 2014. Pre-game ceremonies honored survivors of the Patriots’ Day attack as well as the champion Red Sox. Then the band sang the National Anthem, backed by the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, before finishing with a quick rendition of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.”26
In the ballgame that day, the Sox and Brewers went into the final frame tied 2-2. Sox reliever Edward Mujica, who had pitched for the Cardinals in the 2013 season, took the mound in the ninth and surrendered four hits leading to four runs and a 6-2 loss.
The band was scheduled to perform before Game 6 of the 2018 World Series. The Red Sox left them in the bullpen when they clinched the series in Los Angeles behind David Price’s Game 5 pitching.
“Jimmy Collins’ Wake”
In 2013 the band produced another song with a historical baseball theme. Using lyrics written by the curator of the Boston Sports Museum, Richard Johnson, the song “Jimmy Collins’ Wake” was born. Collins was the third baseman and manager of the 1903 team that was buoyed by the Royal Rooters and their singing of “Tessie.” Legend had it that when Collins died in 1943, his surviving teammates and some adoring fans held a one-of-a-kind-wake.
After many rounds of drinks, supposedly Collins was propped up in his casket and the silver trophy he had been given in 1904 by the fans was placed in his hands. The song pays tribute not only to Collins but also to other Boston heroes of ’03, such as Big Bill Dineen, Buck Freeman, and Chick Stahl. There is even mention of Wagner, who was left in tears by the results of the 1903 World Series.27
Last revised: August 25, 2020
Members of the Dropkick Murphys pose in front of the Green Monster during the Streaming Outta Fenway performance with no live audience on May 27, 2020, at Fenway Park in Boston. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox)
The author is indebted to Dropkick Murphys publicist Kristine Ashton-Magnuson. She helped with details of this story and provided a wealth of pictures from the May 29, 2020 concert for use with the article, which was reviewed by Rory Costello and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Mark Sternman.
Statistics and game stories are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet. For a more detailed story on “Tessie” and the other songs that fill Fenway on game day, see the book by Chuck Burgess and Bill Nowlin entitled Love That Dirty Water. It’s an excellent tale of the Standells, “Sweet Caroline”, and “Tessie”.
1 Kathy McGee Burns, “A Chat With Dropkick Murphys’ Ken Casey,” irishphildelphia.com, August 21, 2012. Last accessed April 3, 2020http://irishphiladelphia.com/2012/08/a-chat-with-dropkick-murphys-ken-casey/
2 Kathy McGee Burns, “A Chat with Dropkick Murphy’s Ken Casey,”
3 Information on March 2020 event courtesy of Kristine Ashton-Magnuson, band publicist. It should also be noted that the Claddagh Fund has expanded and opened a chapter in Philadelphia.
4 Matt Juul, “20 Things You Don’t Know About the Dropkick Murphys,” https://www.bostonmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/2016/03/16/dropkick-murphys-20th-anniversary/Last accessed April 3, 2020. The band has a song- “Sunshine Highway” that pays tribute to the sanitarium.
5 Peter J. Nash, Boston’s Royal Rooters (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing,2005), 7.
6 “Received Congratulations, Boston Globe, September 28, 1897: 5.
7 The Boston Globe often called the team the beaneaters without the capital B. Other newspapers around the 12-team league used it with the capital B and sometimes it appeared as Bean-eaters.
8 ““Nick” Didn’t Extend Himself,” Boston Globe, September 28, 1897: 5.
9 Jacob C. Morse, “Hub Happenings, The Rooters,” Sporting Life, October 16, 1897: 2.
10 “For the Royal Rooters,” Boston Globe, October 1, 1903: 8.
11 “Kay-W-Kay,” York (Pennsylvania) Dispatch, October 3, 1903: 8.
12 “ “Tessie” a Winner,” Boston Globe, October 12, 1903: 1.
13 Lawrence J. Ritter, The Glory of Their Times (New York: Macmillan Company, 1966), 27.
15 “Champions Once More,” Fall River (Massachusetts) Globe, September 12, 1918: 6.
16 Chuck Burgess and Bill Nowlin, Love That Dirty Water (Burlington, Massachusetts: Rounder Books, 2007), 149-157.
17 “Dropkick Murphys Having a Ball,” Boston Globe, August 20, 2004: 51.
19 Carol Beggy & Mark Shanahan, “’Tessie’ to the Sox Rescue?” Boston Globe, July 24, 2004: 22.
21 May 29, 2020 Fenway concert.
22 Transactions, Boston Globe, July 30, 2004: 81.
23 Carol Beggy & Mark Shanahan, “Stars sing Sox’ praises; rocker lights their fire,” Boston Globe, October 22, 2004: 78.
24 “Papelbon Dance: He Plays it to the Kilt,” Boston Globe, October 31, 2007: 42.
25 “Another Winning Performance” Boston Globe, October 23, 2007: 19.
26 Michael Whitmer, “Emotional Flashbacks, Good and Bad,” Boston Globe, April 5, 2014: C7.