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Lord of the Rings

Those who find ultimate glory in sport are rewarded with massive rings of gold
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Joe Mantegna, July/August 2011

(continued from page 1)

The first World Series ring was awarded in 1914. A misconception is that the 1922 World Champion New York Giants produced the first, but the “Miracle” Boston Braves beat them to it. The ring—handsomely wrought with a deep brown stone set against a gold background and centered on a baseball diamond—once belonged to Rabbit Maranville, their Hall of Fame shortstop. It is inscribed “1914 World’s Champions.”

The ring made its way to the Sotheby’s auction of the mammoth Barry Halper Collection in 1999, where a combined 2,481 lots sold for $21.81 million. It sold for $8,050. The price seems low, considering the style and age and what the Braves accomplished. On July 4, 1914 they languished in last place with a 26-40 record, 15 games behind the pace-setting Giants.

The Braves then began an astounding streak of 41 wins and 12 losses and, after snatching two of three from the Giants in early September, took over first place. They won going away, finishing 25-6, while the Giants limped home at 16-16. Despite entering the World Series an underdog against the Athletics, the Braves swept Connie Mack’s crew, the first Series sweep in the history of the game.

Other World Series rings have sold for far more. Lou Gehrig’s 1927 World Series ring, complete with its original Dieges & Clust presentation box, fetched $96,000. Items once belonging to icons Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle fetched similar offers. Mantle’s 1956 World Series ring is the unofficial champion, selling for $123,500 at Sotheby’s.

Significant historical rings include the 1955 Dodgers and 2004 Red Sox, who seem entitled to the biggest, gaudiest rings ever. Who would begrudge them rings that shouted to the mountaintops with joy? The Dodgers got out from under the thumb of the New York Yankees in ’55 after five failed attempts to beat them. The simple beauty of that World Series ring includes a single diamond set off by a Dodger-blue background, all encased in gold. One shank shows the Dodger logo, and viewers can feel the sigh of relief in the word “first” above “1955.” The 2004 ring for the Red Sox shows a “B” encircled with diamonds.

One shank declares “Greatest Comeback in History 2004” above a pair of red hose, referring to the Sox unnerving of the Yankees, who coughed up a three-games-to-none lead in the American League Championship Series. The other shank reads “4-0 sweep,” a nod to the Sox straight-games win over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. (Although swept, the Cardinals designed a National League title ring depicting a red bird on a sea of diamonds proclaiming “2004 16th World Series.” It’s hard to imagine anyone on the Cards being proud of receiving those rings after the Series.)

The first pro football ring made by Jostens predates the Super Bowl—the company created the ring for the 1952 Detroit Lions. It had a gold face including the words “1952 World Champions” with a single diamond across the raised golden threads of a football. Today, the NFL provides for a much more elaborate award, and foots the bill for a maximum of 150 rings per Super Bowl winner at $5,000 per ring. The tab may soar higher, as ring companies bear the costs of customizing them with embellishments. (The league also pays for the Super Bowl loser, allowing 150 pieces of jewelry at a cost no more than half the price of the winner’s ring.)

The Saints Super Bowl XLIV ring was made by Tiffany and Co., which also makes the Lombardi Trophy and has made rings for the Giants, Buccaneers and Redskins. It is 14-karat, yellow gold with a sea of diamonds supporting a diamond-studded, black-outlined fleur-de-lis, the Saints logo and the emblem of the New Orleans region. The Saints proudly exceeded the league allowance of 150 rings, ordering 219, so that every full-time staff member, from the general manager to the secretaries, received one. The 2.2-karat weight probably pushed the ring above the prescribed $5,000, but Tiffany shouldered the additional cost.

Those hefty rings are a long way from the first Super Bowl ring in 1966. The top design included a single diamond, symbolizing the first triumph. One shank recorded the score, a 35-10 shellacking of Kansas City, and an NFL shield logo. The other recorded the cardinal virtues of Vince Lombardi’s philosophy—harmony, courage and valor—all of which he believed were keys to the Packer’s success.

College teams also celebrate victories with rings, and some are every bit as popular as professional models. The Miami Hurricanes own several, including one from the perfect 1991 season, and their 1989 ring has a large “1” on its face formed of diamond bits. The 2006 Florida Gators BCS National Championship Ring features a blue oval stone and fetches $4,000—a thousand less than the 1989 University of Miami ring.

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