The Yankees' Clean-Up Man

Rudy went to bat for the Yanks, and look what he scored.

Jerry McNeal, a World Series historian associated with the Baseball Hall of Fame, says that public officials don't usually get rings. "No, you have to be associated with the team in some way," says McNeal. "When the L.A. Dodgers won the world championship, Frank Sinatra was good friends with the manager, Tommy Lasorda, but he couldn't get a ring." Phyllis Merhige, senior vice president of the American League, says she isn't aware of rings going to public officials. "In a situation, I'm guessing, an official that was involved in the building of a new stadium or keeping a team in a city would be considered for a ring. But I couldn't tell you whether it's been done or not. There are no records." She says that congressional representatives are barred by law from receiving rings or other gifts from teams.

McNeal estimates that Giuliani's rings "would go for at least $50,000 apiece," adding that they "might even go for more than that." If Giuliani were elected president, he says, the rings "would skyrocket in value." Pete Siegel, the president of Gotta Have It Collectibles on East 57th Street, puts the value of Giuliani's four-ring set at a quarter of a million dollars. Siegel says that Giuliani has purchased sports items at his store and even came in once wearing a World Series ring. Having just sold two 1998 rings owned by a coach and front-office executive for $28,000 and $29,000, Siegel says that "Giuliani's rings would be on the same level as players' rings for all those years." He says he knows that Giuliani "definitely has a 1996 ring," though he is unsure if that was the ring the former mayor wore to his store.

Robert Lifson of Robert Edwards Auctions maintains that Giuliani's rings would be "more meaningful and valuable than some of the players'." Lifson's "gut" tells him the value could "go through the roof," estimating that they would sell for "north of $25,000 apiece." People would pay "a much bigger premium to have the ring of America's Mayor than an executive that nobody knows," says Lifson, who insists that "any modern Yankee ring" would sell for five figures even if it were the ring of an unknown. He says the rings are "works of art" that serve also as "a symbol of greatness in sports." Spencer Lader, a certified appraiser for the Yankees who has appeared on their TV network's memorabilia show, tells the Voice he puts the overall value of Giuliani's collection at about $200,000, adding, as did others, that the 1996 ring is "the most coveted."

Illustration by David O'Keefe


Research assistance: Matt Friedman, Dan House, Clare Trapasso, and Hannah Vahl

Tune in: Wayne Barrett on how he got the Rudy story

But when did Giuliani get that 1996 ring? Did he, as the Yankee spokeswoman suggests, receive it only when he made a token payment for it in 2004, after he was no longer mayor?

Not according to the man who actually made the ring, William Sandoval.

Sandoval says he's made rings for 26 years. After attending a stone-setter school, he went to work for L.G. Balfour in Attleboro, Massachusetts, which manufactured sports and school rings at its plant there for 84 years. "I was a special maker, doing diamond settings and customer repair," the Guatemala-born jeweler, now with his own small business in Rhode Island, tells the Voice. "I did the Yankees, the Celtics, and the Baltimore Orioles. Balfour liked my work. I did every championship ring." He particularly recalls the 1996 ring he did for the Yankees. Fifty percent larger than any previous team ring, the famous interlocking NY at the center was made of 23 diamonds, one for each title, encircled by the words World Champion. With the Series trophy and courage and heart on one side, the ring also featured the Yankee Stadium facade, the Yankees top hat, and the word tradition on the other.

It was easy to remember because it was Sandoval's last championship ring. Balfour was acquired by a New York investment firm in 1996 and closed its Attleboro plant to move to Texas in late 1997, laying off hundreds of workers. Its successor firm, American Achievement, still does Yankee work.

Sandoval distinctly remembers that they made a ring for Giuliani because, he says, he crafted it himself. Asked if he was certain if the Giuliani ring was made at the same time as the rest, he says: "It has to be at the same time." Asked again if he "definitely" remembers making a ring for Rudy Giuliani, Sandoval replies: "Yes. Oh, yes." His memory is confirmed by a former Balfour vice president who oversaw sports sales and asked that his name not be used. "I honestly think that Giuliani did get a ring," he says. "The only people who could get rings had to have a letter signed by Steinbrenner on Yankee stationery." Attempts to get the current manufacturer to confirm that rings were made for Giuliani for the other three championships were unsuccessful; the sales representative for the firm referred all questions to the Yankees.

Two other sources who asked that they not be named recall the 1996 ring. A member of Giuliani's police detail remembers attending a barbecue at Gracie Mansion after the ticker tape parade for the Yankees on October 29, 1996. Giuliani was so involved in the Yankee celebration, he personally reviewed the guest lists for the barbecue and an earlier event at City Hall. A photo of him in Yankee pinstripes appeared on the passes for attendees. His two prime Democratic opponents for the 1997 campaign had to settle for seats in the crowd at City Hall, though both were borough presidents, one from the Bronx. "George and he went into the Green Room at one point," the ex-cop recalls, referring to a den where Giuliani frequently entertained friends and close associates. "They were gone for about 15 minutes. He came out and said to us, 'I'm getting a ring. George is giving me a ring.' " Though the cop can't recall seeing the ring after that, he says that another Giuliani aide told him that the mayor got it, as well as other rings.

That aide, who worked in City Hall throughout the Giuliani years, says the mayor got the ring sometime in 1997, around the time that the players got their rings in mid May. "The ring was kept in the second or third drawer of Beth Petrone's cabinet in Rudy's outer office at City Hall," says the aide, referring to Giuliani's executive assistant, who is currently the office manager for Bracewell & Giuliani, the Texas-based law firm that Giuliani has joined. "He actually wore it about once a year. He may have worn it during the playoffs in 1997 as a lucky charm.
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