If the unveiling of the National League Championship pennant Monday night was a reward to the city of Houston and the Astros’ fans, the players reward came in pre-game ceremonies Tuesday night with the presentation of their 2005 World Series rings.

The total number of rings awarded was not announced, but it is likely that over 500 were given out to players, coaches and others associated with the team, comparable to the number reportedly purchased by the Boston Red Sox to commemorate their 2004 World Series victory.

The first 30,000 fans entering Minute Maid Park last night also received a replica of the ring, courtesy of Galley Furniture’s Jim (Mattress Mac) McIngvale. Last year, the Red Sox Foundation sold nearly 200,000 raffle tickets at $10 each, and three lucky fans won an authentic World Series Championship ring.

Now, before you say, “But the Astros didn’t win the World Series,” know that both teams playing in the Series (or Super Bowl or any major championship) get rings. The winner’s ring will be somewhat larger and will be inscribed to indicate championship status, while the other team’s ring will be a bit smaller and will indicate the name and year of the event. And traditionally, players don’t get the ring until the beginning of the next season.

Since the very beginning of World Series play (except for 1918, the year of the infamous Black Sox scandal), the winners have always gotten something. Rings and watches have tended to be the most common item. It has also been reported that the 1903, 1915, and 1916 Red Sox received diamond stick pins.

Rings are often referred to as the “silent trophy.” In many ways, the ring exemplifies a sense of unity. The team won together, so the team members should all wear something similar, thus identifying the team, not the individual. Most fans can recognize the World Series trophy because it is seen annually. A team ring is a one of a kind item, often seen only at the time of presentation, while the trophy is the public representation of a team’s accomplishment.

“This is so special,” said first baseman Lance Berkman prior to receiving the first of what he hopes will be many World Series rings. “Not just because we went to the Series, but because of what we had to do to get there. When you start off as badly as we did and have to come from as far back as we were, it makes it even more special.”

As Lance and his teammates celebrated, the question arose as to who had the most rings in baseball. In fact, the record for a player belongs to Hall of Famer and former Astros coach Yogi Berra, with a total of 10 in his 18 years with the New York Yankees. The overall record belongs to another Yankee, Frankie Crosetti. As a player and coach, Crosetti was part of 17 World Series winners for the pin-stripers. But after his first 10 rings, he elected to take rifles instead.

On the other hand, many members of the Hall of Fame were never lucky enough to win a championship ring, including the likes of Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Carlton Fisk, Ferguson Jenkins, Harmon Killebrew, Ralph Kiner, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, although several did play in the Series and received the ring for runner-up.

For Astros manager Phil Garner, it was his second ring, and in some ways the most satisfying.

“I got a championship ring with the (Pittsburgh) Pirates as a player,” the skipper said. “It was certainly a great feeling to be part of a winning team like the Bucs. But when you manage, you feel more responsible for what happens. You feel as though you have been instrumental in guiding the players to their success. This is a great feeling and a great night.”

Rings vary in size and design. The Astros ring is gold with a red garnet stone. In the center of the garnet is the Astros broken star logo in diamonds. The players name and Word Series logo is on one side, Minute Maid Park on the other, and “National League Champions” around the garnet.

Perhaps the biggest ring ever was that of the 2003 Champion Florida Marlins. Since the Fish are in town for a three-game series, several of the rings were visible. It had 228 white diamonds, 13 rubies, a teal diamond for the eye of the marlin, and weighed nearly a quarter of a pound.

But you might suspect that if Houston wins the Series this year, theirs will top that of the Marlins. After all, they are only from Florida, and Texas always does it bigger and better.

B”ring” on the challengers!

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