News reels joyously portrayed the capitulation ceremonies aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2nd, 1945. Back in the Chicago, the Cubs held a razor thin 1 ½ game lead over the Cardinals. Chicago had just dropped ten of their last twelve games. Was it surrender time for the Cubs as well? The question, now with the war in the Pacific over, was who would do battle in the first post-war World Series? Washington had performed miraculously in defeating the Axis, but could they overcome the Tigers? Would the 1945 Fall Classic be a St. Louis civil war; the Browns against the Cardinals?
In the end, the 1945 pennants were not settled until the closing days of the season. Detroit emerged on top in the American League and the Cubs took the National League flag besting the Cardinals by three games. The 1945 Series began in Detroit on October 3rd. With the teams splitting the first two games and the Cubs taking the third, Chicago was headed home for Games 4-7 and the series appeared to be tilting in their favor for these would be played in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. Chicago needed only to split the remaining four games in order to win its first World Series since 1908.
On October 6th, some 42,923 fans packed the ball yard on Chicago’s North Side in preparation for Game 4. As it turns out, it may be more important to recall the fans that did not see the game that day. Mr. William “Billy Goat” Sianis (Owner of the Billy Goat Tavern) had purchased a pair of ducats; one for himself and other for Murphy…his pet goat. If you’re thinking something doesn’t smell right about this story, you’d be correct for the Andy Frain ushers manning Wrigley had to show Sianis and Murphy the door based on complaints about the aroma of the latter.
As legend and local lore have it, Sianis was said to have exclaimed that “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.” The end result was that Chicago dropped three of the next four to the Tigers at home and has never been back to the World Series since. To help put this into perspective, the Cubs had to this point represented the National League in 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, and 1938. Counting 1945, that’s ten out of forty-two chances or almost one in every four events. Today Cubbies are looking at seventy-one years without a pennant and no current club has had to wait that long as they have.
If you were looking to obtain an artifact from this high water mark in Cubs post-season history, you would find that over the years, you could have picked up:
-1945 World Series Press pins and media credentials.
-1945 World Series score cards, ticket stubs.
– A Wrigley Field stadium seat.
– A Hillerich and Bradsby Chicago Cubs National League Champions bat.
-World Series pennants, photographs, and various autographed items.
-A team jacket, cap or jersey from the 1945 season.
-A game used bat from a member of the 1945 Cubs.
-A tattered 7” x 9” banner that flew over Wrigley Field during the series.
While these are all wonderful pieces of memorabilia, the one thing collectors and players (in addition to the World Series check) want more than anything else is…The Ring. The World Series ring, or in this case a 1945 National League Championship ring has to rank as the most tangible and sought after connection to the Curse of the Goat and the Cubs seventy-one year National League pennant drought.
While a couple of the 1945 Tigers World Series ring have come to auction over in recent years:
-Eddie Mayo (Player) Heritage Auctions; February, 2013 (Price Realized – $17,925)
-Charles Martin (Front Office Staff). Heritage Auctions, February, 2015 (Price Realized – $11,950)
We have never seen a 1945 Chicago Cubs ring…that is until now. The closest we have seen is a 1938 Cubs National League Championship ring offered:
-James Asbell (Player) Goodwin Actions; June 2013 (Price Realized – $14,945)
That being said, the MEARS Museum collection has just obtained Harry “Peanuts” Lowery’s 1945 Chicago Cubs National League Championship ring. The condition of the ring is superb with vast majority of the original enamel remaining on both the face and the shanks. The ring was acquired from a California based dealer who obtained the ring directly from Lowery’s daughter. Examination of the ring by an independent and experienced jeweler shows that the ring is in fact 14K gold, original in all facets (to include the original diamond and enamel), and completely consistent with respect to construction and characteristics for a ring produced in the 1940s.
-Whose ring it is (player, coach, team personnel).
-The World Series in question.
-The condition of the ring.
-The materials and composition of the ring.
-The number and price of comparable examples.
In this case we have a superb condition example, from a regular starting position player (143 games for the Cubs in 1945) who had a pretty good World Series (played in all seven games with a .310 batting average), and from the historic, yet tragic 1945 World Series for the Cubs. With respect to the number of comparable 1945 Chicago Cubs National League Championship rings, we have yet to find another example offered in the hobby. According to championship ring expert/dealer Scott Welkowsky, “In 34-years of collecting championship rings, I have never seen one.”
While at first this might be an issue for some, my concerns were helped laid to rest by research and information partially contained in Baseball’s Natural: The Eddie Waitkus Story by John Theodore (page 32). Here the author states that “Waitkus even owned a Cubs National League Championship ring, although he was in Japan when the Cubs were winning the pennant. Cubs Owner P.K. Wrigley had the championship ring designed especially for his players-he was proud of his team. But he was not totally benevolent; the players had to purchase the rings.”
This passage from Theodore’s book help to explain:
1. Why there is no mention of a ring presentation to the Cubs in 1946 in either The Sporting News or contemporary newspapers. (The Sporting News, 26 June 1946 has the Tigers rings being presented at Briggs Stadium on 14 June. The article goes on to say that nineteen rings were presented and another sixteen were mailed out to players who had left the club. The cost of the rings was listed at $100.00 each). In 1945, the average/median household income was $2,379 a year or $45.75 a week.
2. Why the 1945 Cubs National League Championships rings have not shown up in the same number as comparable rings of the same period as they had to be purchased and were not gifted gratis by the club. Minimum salaries for major league players were established at $5,000 in 1946. Even at this level, a $100 ring would have been better than a weeks’ pay for some ball players.
It’s also important to note that the 1945 Cubs National League Championship ring is said to have been designed by the club. According to The Sporting News 8 April, 1943 edition, the St. Louis Cardinals made their selection “from drawings, nine of which were submitted by manufacturers.” In my mind, this lays the rest the historical hobby position that if the rings (World Series or League Championship) were not formally presented by the team or league, then they are not “official rings” as here we have the design involving the Cubs Owner. The article also states that the rings selected for manufacturer and production by the Cardinals were to be in a “green gold”, so take that into account when looking to acquire a 1942 St. Louis Cardinals World Series ring.
Getting back to the subject at hand, while I have no idea how many Chicago Cubs players, coaches, or team personnel ordered these team designed rings, it is fair to assume the total number actually produced was far lower than the gratis 1945 Detroit Tigers rings. In addition to the Waitkus ring, there appears to be evidence of at least one other player from the 1945 Cubs team who purchased one these team designed rings. According to a 7 June 2014 Associated Press article titled “Lone living player from Cubs’ last world series returns to Wrigley,” it mentions that Lennie Merullo “wore a Cubs hat and rings on the ring and pinkie fingers of his left hand. One ring was for being named Cubs scout of the year and the other was for winning the National League pennant”. This is something that is confirmed by Getty Images with Photo Credit to Brian D. Kersey. The Merullo sighting further confirms the existence of these rings. So yes, it appears they are in fact out there, just not in great numbers.
The rings awarded to the winners of the World Series are generally far more plentiful than their opponents who can only claim a league pennant. But even when teams won a World Series and rings were presented by the ball club, a ring may not exist for every player or coach. The St. Louis Browns were awarded rings for their 1944 American League Championship (records indicate that at least eight of these have come to auction over the years), but things appear a little different for the Cardinals. According the article in the June 21st 1945 edition of The Sporting News, Coach Mike Gonzalez, Johnny Hopp, and Whitey Kurowski chose watches over rings. In addition to these three, examples of these watches have surfaced over the years for George Munger and Leo Ward.
For team collectors, these early League Championship rings are obviously scarce. Consider the difference between 1939-1940 Cincinnati Reds. I have found only two examples of 1939 awards (National League Champions):
-Bucky Walters: Ring
-Johnny Vander Meer: Tie Tack
Yet for the 1940 World Championship team, there have been rings offered for Junior Thompson, Harry Craft, Whitey Moore, Jim Turner, Ernie Lombardi, Bucky Walters, Bill Baker, and Bill McKechnie. In addition, I found no mention of any presentations for awards to the 1939 Cincinnati ball club. The same could be said for the 1934 Detroit Tigers; rings for Rudy York and Tommy Bridges but no mention of ceremony. The York and Bridges rings are of a common design so these do not appear to be an independent player production effort.
The 1948 Boston Braves may have also had to purchase their own National League Championship rings. Although examples can be found for Jeff Heath (Player),
Billy Southworth (Mgr), Jerry Cooney (Player), Bob Keely (Coach) and Si Johnson (Player), an article in the May 11th1949 edition of The Sporting News details that “Lou Perini’s plan to buy rings costing $500 apiece for members of the Braves, so that they might have them as remembrances, even though losing the World Series, was nixed by Commissioner Albert B. Chandler.” It is also possible the Braves were forced to go with a less expensive option.
What all of this suggests to me is that if League Championship rings exist prior to the 1950s (1944 Browns may have had the rings produced and presented by the team and the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers certainly did), they were likely designed by the club, but players were given the option and financial responsibility to obtain them. Much in the same way World Series Champions were given the option of say a ring over a watch. This means if these early League Championship rings exist at all, you should expect to see them in severely limited numbers. As such, this extreme rarity should be expected to impact pricing if and when they do show up. With respect to the Chicago Cubs, this appears to be the case as seen in the 1938 James Asbell ring ($14,945). Remember that Asbell only logged one season in the majors and appeared in only seventeen games for the 1938 Cubs, so I don’t think it was the strength of the player that drove the hammer number and comparative pricing against period World Champion Rings supports this:
1938 James Asbell Chicago Cubs NL Champions Ring: ($14,945)
1940 Harry Craft Cincinnati Reds WS Ring: $12,650 (Hunts, July 2015)
1945 Charles Martin Detroit Tigers WS Ring: $11,950 (Heritage, Feb 2015)
1940 Bill Baker Cincinnati Reds WS Ring: $11,900 (Golden, August 2015)
1941 Spud Chandler New York Yankees WS Ring: $10,755 (Heritage, Feb 2015)
1949 Bill Buxton New York Yankees Ring: $10,710 (Golden, August 2015)
1939 Spud Chandler New York Yankees WS Ring: $9,560 (Heritage, Feb 2015)
1944 Augie Bergamo St. Louis Cardinals WS Ring: $8,295 (Goldin, Feb 2015)
1949 Joe Morine New York Yankees Ring: $7,200 (REA, April 2015)
1948 Oscar Mellilo Cleveland Indians WS Ring: $7,170 (Heritage 2015)
1930 Thomas Shibe Philadelphia Athletics WS Ring: $6,517 (Golden, May 2015)
What we see here is that little known player purchased League Championship ring out paced ten comparable period World Series Rings in the past year. As I compare the 1938 Asbell Cubs ring to the 1945 Lowery Cubs ring, the Lowery ring claims the title with respect to:
Factoring all of this in, the MEARS Museum collection will insure the Lowery ring at a price higher than the $14,945 Asbell 1938 Cubs National League Champions ring. Our immediate plans are to install it as part of the Chicago Cubs display at the MEARS Museum and make it available for viewing during the 2016 Open House Program.
So if you’re a Cubs fan and weren’t on hand for the 1945 World Series, we invite you to stop by and enjoy what may be the most significant surviving artifact from the Fall Classic that got Chicago’s Goat.
MEARS Auth, LLC / Curator, MEARS Museum Collection / email@example.com