Every so often, the two Head Stewards — Kevin Kaduk and David Brown — like to have a little argument over IM and email. The result is The Stewards Debate, a frequent feature that brings their bickering to the masses. Today's topic is based off the events of Tuesday night, when the runner-up Rays received rings for winning the American League.
But in a sport where winning the World Series is the lone goal, should teams celebrate coming up just short? 'Duk says yes, DB says no. Let's listen in.
David Brown: Well, Kevin, I was scouring eBay last night as usual in case anybody put up a vintage Wookiee for auction, and I came across several mopes selling Tampa Bay Rays replica championship rings. I immediately thought to myself, "What championship? The Phillies won the World Series last year." But it turns out that the Rays actually passed out rings, and not just to the players, but to their fans, too. Now, I'm usually on board with everything the Rays do. I don't care what it is... 8 = 9... Jonny Gomes drinking out of whatever ... I'm with 'em all the way. But this championship rings stuff? If I'm Longoria or a Longoria fan, I don't want a ring until I win the World Series. That's how it's supposed to go.
'Duk: OK, I should start by saying that I sort of agree with you, Mr. Brown, but not really. Awarding rings for winning just the ALCS or NFC or the Campbell Conference always reminded me of the Christmas in 1988 when Santa left me an Atari instead of the Nintendo I had requested. Now, as a previously console-free kid, I was sure glad to have that Atari, but I was still bummed at the same time. You know how hard that is to hide from your parents?
That said, I think the Rays should be wringing every stinkin' ounce of celebration they can out of that American League championship because what they accomplished in 2008 will be talked about for decades to come, World Series win or not.
David Brown: My condolences on the Atari. I also always seemed one video game system behind the rest of the world in the '80s. I'm all about celebration, Kevin. I like the raising of the banner, I wouldn't even be against a parade of some kind, especially in the case of the Rays — who were just so moribund for a decade. But this stuff about how "everyone's a winner" — nice sentiment, if impractical — apparently has seeped into the major leagues. The Rays had a great season but rings are for the ultimate accomplishment, which was achieved by Chase bleeping Utley, if I recall right. It seems very un-Joe Maddon to pass out rings when you didn't earn one.
'Duk: Wait a minute, they didn't earn one? C'mon Dave. I know you watched this team every step of the way as they fought off Boston, New York and even a frisky Toronto team to notch 97 wins in the best division in baseball. And all after a season in which they won 66 — sixty-six! — games! I mean, if that and two playoff series wins isn't worth celebrating and a little bit of flash, what is? Hell, hand me the athletic supporter and can of Busch Light right now because that's the best way to celebrate receiving those rings.
(And, by the way, don't even counter with, "Well, why didn't the Angels or Cubs pass out rings for their seasons?" You know this is a much different case.)
David Brown: You brought up the Cubs! Can you imagine the ridicule if the CUBS passed out championship rings without winning a World Series first? Anti-climax, anyone?
It's funny, though, that you mention the grind the Rays went through, because I'm going to contradict myself for a moment, here.
I happen to be more impressed with any division title than the 11 postseason wins it takes to win in the playoffs. Baseball teams are built, or should be, to win divisions, not the World Series. But I have to sit here and be silently impressed to myself, because almost nobody agrees with me. If we had any sense as a nation, we'd put everyone back into ONE division and award the championship to the team on top after 162. Survival of the fittest, baby, just like Danny Charles Darwin and his Rally Monkeys.
The only postseason title actually worth a darn is the Stanley Cup. Now that's a trophy well-earned. Nobody, as you said, is going to hand out a little Stanley Cup for winning the Campbell Conference or Norris Division. Baseball's championship trophy isn't as cool, but that doesn't mean the sport needs to stoop to awarding premature bling.
You want one of these ebay rings, don't you? It will turn your skin green, Kevin.
'Duk: Well instead of veering off into another large debate over a "marathon, not a sprint" sport actually decided by a 11-game "sprint" of the end, I'll just say that I once received a replica Bulls championship ring by attending a banner night after one of the titles from the second three-peat. And it DID turn my finger green, but I lived to tell about.
Let's get back to our original argument, though. The Rays are certainly not the first team to celebrate a league championship with an onfield ring ceremony. A quick search shows me that the '07 Rockies did it, the '06 Tigers did it and the '05 Astros did it. If all three of those teams — which all got into the playoffs via wild card, I might add — can do it, well then so can the Rays. As for handing the rings out to the fans, I'd make the argument that any tactic, no matter how schlocky, should be taken when trying to build that fanbase where it should rightfully be. Free ALCS rings for everyone in St. Pete!
David Brown: Well, if we had a Big League Stew in '07, '06 and '05, we'd be having the same argument about the Rockies, Tigers and Astros. In one sense, it's a good thing those organizations passed out the rings when they did, because none of them are close to actually winning the World Series right now. On the other hand, they messed with karma by daring to wear jewelry without cause and are paying the consequences. I have confidence — knock on wood, rub the rosary, whatever — that the Rays will break the False Ring Curse (FRC), reach the playoffs again and have another chance this October to wear a real ring. I hope Clint Barmes is enjoying his frozen venison/jewelry!
'Duk: I hear ya on the karma part, but I think these Rays have enough to get past that curse. And look at it this way. Now you'll be able to look on eBay one day and be able to buy an authentic '08 ALCS ring once the clubhouse manager or Eric Hinske hits a rough patch. It'll sure beat that bent Wookiee you're looking for.