Rays' championship trophy rescued from thrift shop in Chicago

About six months after the Rays won the American League championship, the quality of play from the sub-.500 Rays has depreciated many fold.

So, too, has the value of the William Harridge Trophy.

Case in point: In search of cheap shelves on Tuesday afternoon, I checked the Salvation Army Thrift Store near Chicago's otherwise trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood and came upon an unexpected find — even for a thrift shop.

It was a shocker, all right. A box, about eight inches tall. Does that say Tampa Bay Rays on it, I thought to myself? Is that Carl Crawford(notes) who I see? Akinori Iwamura(notes), too? Is that what appears to be the butt of No. 8, Jason Bartlett(notes)?

What the... ?

It was, as pictured above, a box containing a replica of the Harridge Trophy, which American League teams get for advancing to the World Series.

And yet there it sat beside a stack of LPs — the cream of which was the "Fiddler on the Roof" soundtrack, featuring Zero Mostel and the original 1964 Broadway cast. Criminy! Johnny Gomes' lips once touched the Harridge and now its cheap knockoff had been relegated to the bargain bin barely six weeks into the following season.

And the price? $3.95, plus tax. Criminally low! If I were a rich man, and if there had been 10 of them, I would have bought 'em all. A six-inch replica of the Rays' championship might be one man's junk, sure, but these babies are going for $4.95 to $16.99 on the open market eBay.

But why and how was it in Chicago, so far from Tropicana Field?

The reigning AL champs must have had a giveaway earlier this season and, somehow, one of the faux trophies made its way to a resale shop some 1,200 miles away.

The Harridge doesn't have the cachet of the Commissioner's Trophy (for the World Series winner), and it's not as recognizable as the Stanley Cup (NHL) or the Larry O'Brien (NBA) trophies. But it's better than bowling trophies — or at least some of them.

Look, it's not just something you'd leave behind on a pitcher's mound somewhere, to be lost and then found in the bric-a-brac aisle! This is history, people.

Something to be valued!

Of course, I had to have it for the nostalgia factor. Nobody, on a national level, followed the Rays like Big League Stew did in '08. They became, sort of, our adopted team and both 'Duk and I took turns driving the bandwagon.

So, yeah, there was no doubt I would immediately save the trophy from its thrift store habitat, which included copies of the Bible, a paperback of "Into Thin Air" by Jonathan Krakauer (never read it) and some C++ textbooks — just like the ones I used to stack at the Oakton Community College Bookstore back in the day.

So, how did the little guy make the arduous journey from the Trop? Here's where I go Encyclopedia Brown (no relation) and do some deducing:

The trophies were given to every fan attending the April 18 game in St. Petersburg.

And who were the Rays playing April 18? The Chicago White Sox.

Ah, ha! The fan given this mini-Harridge must have been from Chicago. After the series, he or she probably hopped on a Southwest Airline flight from Tampa to Chicago Midway with this baby packed next to the flip-flops and tanning oil.

As much as the traveling White Sox fan might have wanted to put this piece of history on the mantel, it was probably already crowded with Paul Konerko(notes), Jermaine Dye(notes) and retro Carlton Fisk bobblehead dolls.

Plus, he or she probably has an inflated mortgage to pay off. The first casualty had to be the Harridge Trophy. One person's crisis is another's opportunity.

The Rays' ALCS trophy is safe in my possession and will now be guarded by Bevo, the official attack dog of Big League Stew.

At least until I'm short the rent money.

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