For Braves, 2nd place would ring hollow


ATLANTA -- Diamonds sparkle on their two gold National League championship rings. On the 1991 ring an "A" in diamonds is set into a red ruby stone. On the 1992 ring diamonds create a miniature baseball. Nine members of the Braves possess those two rings, but they seldom wear either one.

"They're pretty; they fit," shortstop Jeff Blauser was saying. "But they're the second-place ring."

As the Braves and the Indians opened the World Series last night after last year's empty October, those nine Braves don't want a third NL ring as a consolation prize. "I'm proud of the two rings I have," left-hander Tom Glavine said, "but I've got enough of 'em."

Right fielder David Justice, second baseman Mark Lemke, shortstop Rafael Belliard, right-hander John Smoltz, left-hander

Steve Avery, right-hander Mark Wohlers and left-hander Kent Mercker are the current Braves who lost both the 1991 Series to the Twins and the 1992 Series to the Blue Jays.

"If we get a Series ring, great," Justice said. "If we don't, we've still had another successful year."

But not a fulfilling year. Not for the nine who would be on three losing Series teams. Over those other two Series, Justice hit three homers and drove in six runs with a .217 average, but he doesn't wear his NL ring.

"When I go out," he said, "I'm trying to deflect attention, not attract it."

Avery, who was 0-1 in four Series starts, doesn't wear either of his NL rings.

"I don't wear any jewelry," he said. "I probably wouldn't wear a World Series ring either. I'd want to keep that one nice."

That doesn't mean he wouldn't think about it or look at it every so often.

"I've seen some Series rings," said Glavine, who will take a 2-2 Series record into tonight's second game against Dennis Martinez. "When we had Charlie Leibrandt, I saw his '85 Royals ring. I saw Randy Myers's ring from the '90 Reds and Joe Carter's ring from the '92 Jays. They're bigger and a little gaudier than ours."

Glavine doesn't wear either of his NL rings, but he has a reason. "I'm afraid I'd lose it," he said. "But if I get a World Series ring, I'd probably wear it all next season."

Smoltz doesn't wear any rings, much less either of his NL rings. "I wouldn't wear a World Series ring either," said Tuesday night's third-game starter. "When I'm out of the game, maybe I'd wear it then."

Mercker, listed for long relief against the Indians, seldom wears either of his NL rings.

"My wedding ring, that's it," he said. "But if I go to a baseball banquet, I might wear one of the National League rings with my name on it, just to prove I'm me. I'm sure I'd wear a World Series ring more often."

Blauser, with a .233 Series average, remembered wearing each of his NL rings "one time before I put 'em up," but his double-play partner, Lemke, apparently wears his rings more often than any of his teammates.

"At least half a dozen times a year," said the second baseman whose .417 average against the Twins in 1991 included three triples. "I'm sure I'd wear a World Series ring a lot more."

Wohlers, who has finally emerged as the Braves' closer with a fastball that is clocked at close to 100 MPH, has worn one of his NL rings on what he calls "certain occasions." But of the nine Braves with those two rings, Belliard has been slightly more frustrated.

Although a dozen Yankees were in five consecutive World Series from 1949 through 1953, the 5-foot-6-inch 160-pound Belliard is the first National Leaguer to be on five post-season teams. The tiny Dominican was on the 1990 Pirates who lost the NL Championship Series to the Reds.

And if last year's post-season hadn't been canceled by the labor dispute, Belliard would be in the post-season for the sixth consecutive year. But he seldom wears either of his NL rings.

"I wear them in the off season sometimes; during the season they are too heavy for me," he said, laughing. "But if we win the World Series this time, I'd probably wear that ring every day."

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