By: Kurt Snyder
I have really enjoyed the playoffs this season so far. They have served as great medicine after having watched everything we had to endure as Tiger fans this season. Well-played baseball can make up for a whole batch of bad.
It’s fascinating to watch playoff teams compete to win all the marbles. It’s quite amazing how their competitive spirit reigns supreme over any amount of money they make. Winning, in the end, is everything. And it all comes to a grand crescendo when a champion is crowned and they receive ‘The Trophy’ and of course ‘The Ring.’
Sure, the World Series Champs ultimately get to bask in the glow of their well-earned title, celebrating in the clubhouse, spraying the champagne and passing around the trophy. But deep down, the players want most what they will call their own.
They patiently wait for the opportunity the following season to receive their World Series Championship rings. ‘The Ring’ is the thing. It validates their success.
But behind those great players and behind the team ownership are employees who have worked hard for the organization. They are the men and women behind the scenes in the front office, who are lucky enough to also earn the ultimate prize; their own reward for a job well done, ‘The Ring.’
In 1968, my dad was the Assistant Scouting Director for the Tigers, and was honored to receive a World Series ring. And he loved wearing it, he seemed honored to display it and he wore it proudly.
In 1984, as the Director of Tiger Stadium Operations, the Tigers won another championship, and Dad was the proud owner of a second World Series ring. He never wore them both together, but just like his 1968 ring, he loved sporting the 1984 version.
The rings were special to him. And whenever he wore them, it reminded all of us of those great seasons, all the great games and the priceless times we spent as a family celebrating the Tigers and my Dad’s success with the organization.
When my dad left the Tigers, it was a bitter time for him and all of us. The day that Mike Ilitch bought the Tigers may have been an exciting time for a lot of people, but it was quite a heartbreaking day for many who had worked so long for the ball club. It was one of the worst days of Dad’s life.
His dismissal from the Tigers tore him down as a man. He felt belittled, he felt disrespected and unappreciated. He had spent 46 years with the Tigers and in one day, was asked to leave and not come back.
It was a great career; a long career, marred only by the day he was told to leave. They took a lot away from Dad that day, but they could not take away the memories of all those games he had witnessed at The Corner; all those playoff games, highlighted of course by the 1984 championship won at Tiger Stadium.
I can only look back at those moments and smile. But the more I think about it, maybe Dad was making his own personal statement when he wore those rings. They were something the Tigers couldn’t take from him. He wasn’t flaunting them. They were just validation of over 4 decades of service to the Tigers and the success of the organization.
But after my dad left the Tigers, something happened to him; something none of us could understand and never will. He became a Yankee fan. And in the mid 90’s, being a Yankee fan was a pretty fun time. He loved Derek Jeter, he loved Joe Torre and somehow found it in his heart to profess that he respected their organization.
This was a man who for my whole life, hated the Yankees. Heck, we were all pretty much taught to hate them. But you know, who could blame him really?
He was a man who loved when the game was played well. So maybe, the Yankees, being the kings of baseball during that time, were his outlet while he struggled with how his career with the Tigers had ended.
He began to watch the Tigers again eventually, but not with the same passion. A lot of the passion had been stolen from him.
So, in 2004, we decided we would take Dad on a baseball trip. And there was never really a question of where we would go. We would head east first to New York to see the Yanks and then to Boston to see the Red Sox at Fenway.
It was a trip we will never forget. Remember, we spent our lives at Tiger Stadium, so we were a family in love with iconic stadiums, and Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park certainly filled the bill.
But something happened in New York that has been talked about in our family for years since. Even now, I still shake my head about what Dad did on the subway on the way to The Bronx to watch the Yankees.
Remember the theme here folks? What do you think my Dad wore to the Yankee game? That’s right, his 1984 World Series ring. Was it one of his best ideas? No way.
But as we travelled on the subway to Yankee Stadium, which took about 40 minutes with all the different stops along the way, none of us really noticed that Dad was wearing one of his rings. But the guy sitting next to him sure did. And sometimes my dad had a worrisome trust of people.
And then it happened.
“Excuse me, sir, is that a World Series ring you have on?” It probably wasn’t spoken that loudly, but to me, when the man asked Dad that question, it sounded like he had announced it to the whole subway car.
My 3 brothers and I all cringed, not just because the guy had noticed it and asked about it, but just the fact that Dad would choose to wear it at all, in New York, on the subway!
Dad always taught us to make good decisions, but this was not his finest hour. So what do you think my dad’s response might have been to the enquiring baseball fan?
After the Yankee fan asked him about his ring, my dad, without hesitation, took the ring off his finger and handed it to the man, saying, “You wanna see it?”
We were flabbergasted! And all 4 of us, all standing, all watching Dad, started to scan the area. We looked at all the people. The man’s question had caused a stir and when Dad took the ring off, we were beside ourselves. Luckily, nothing bad happened. The man looked at it, appreciated my dad showing it to him and handed it back over. Disaster averted.
My dad was something else. Baseball was his life and he was proud of the role he played. So when he was removed from the game, he still wanted to let people know that baseball would always be a part of him. He wanted to leave an impression.
And that guy on the subway in New York has probably never forgotten the old man who handed over his World Series ring.