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A popular photo-op, but World Series trophy lacks aura of its counterparts

While it will be a popular photo-op for Cubs fans at the convention, the Commissioner's Trophy lacks the aura of its counterparts in other sports.

Having won their first World Series in more than a century, the Cubs have the Commissioner's Trophy to show for it.

Now they get to show it off.

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It is more than a mere award for the Cubs and their fans. It's the monkey off their back, 108 years of effort and emotion in silver and gold.

The Commissioner's Trophy will be on display at this weekend's Cubs Convention, the latest stop on the award's regional post-Series tour before it winds up in the team's new offices, in the building now under construction next to Wrigley Field

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"The way you come into our office building will be an open-to-the-public display of not only this trophy but some other things we have from the past," Cubs business boss Crane Kenney said in an interview. "I don't want to call it a Hall of Fame because I think it sounds too grandiose."

Figuring out where to put trophies has not been a problem for the Cubs, though they would like it to become one. Embracing their history with an eye to the future, they plan to hire an archivist to take stock of all the souvenirs they've amassed over the years.

But the centerpiece of that collection, at least until there's another to go with it, is likely to be the prize Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred presented to Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts in the visitors clubhouse after Game 7 in Cleveland.

The last time the Cubs won a World Series, in 1908, baseball had no commissioner and no trophy.

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Major League Baseball's championship didn't have a dedicated prize for its winner the first 64 times it was contested. It arguably didn't need one, given the primacy the sport and its championship showcase enjoyed in American culture. To that point, it had been left to the winning baseball teams themselves to decide how to commemorate their triumphs, and they tended to award players baubles such as special pocket watches. The 1922 New York Giants opted for something new, special World Series rings, a tradition that would become commonplace a decade later.

Awarding the silver-and-gold hunk of shiny validation — two feet high, 11 inches in diameter — didn't even become an MLB championship ritual until 1967.

But 1967 also was the year of the first Super Bowl — introducing what later would be christened the Vince Lombardi Trophy, yet that year simply a trophy awarded to Lombardi's Green Bay Packers — representing the NFL's new standing in the American consciousness.

The opportunity for baseball to have a ceremony on television amid the celebration after the final World Series game may have figured into the decision. MLB's official historian, John Thorn, and others say they don't know for certain what compelled the sport to start handing out a trophy, however.

While it undoubtedly will be a popular photo-op destination for Cubs fans at the convention, it's fair to say that the Commissioner's Trophy lacks the aura of its counterparts in other sports, perhaps because it is relatively new and not yet burnished with the patina of history.

The National Hockey League's Stanley Cup is treated as a visiting movie star wherever it goes. The National Basketball Association, noting the Stanley Cup's standing as an ambassador for its sport, last decade sent its Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy on publicity tours accompanied by NBA legends trying to gin up a similar mystique.

Last summer, Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James cast the "Larry" as his girlfriend, taking it out to dinner and professing his love in a video on social media. Even nonfans can recognize the National Football League's simple but iconic Vince Lombardi Trophy.

It might help the Commissioner's Trophy to be named for a specific person instead of a job title. Its current name doesn't exactly lend itself to having a social media persona. It's not even a great hashtag, as evidenced by the Cubs promoting it instead with #CubsTrophyTour.

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Of all the trophies, Lord Stanley's Cup stands tallest — and not just because of its physical height. Perched on rings of rosters etched with the names of those on past championship teams, there's nothing quite like it. Though the Stanley Cup's design has evolved over the years, it has a timeless quality.

The Commissioner Trophy's most distinctive feature is its 32 miniature pennants, one for each of MLB's 30 teams. The flags — albeit fewer because there were fewer teams then — were in the original Balfour Co. design from 1967. That model had a silver baseball at the base, a golden band above topped by a crown and featured press pins for the two competing teams.

It was … busy.

Tiffany & Co., which also makes the championship trophies for the NBA and NFL, streamlined the design for the version of the Commissioner's Trophy first handed out in 2000. Its iteration nixed the crown, ball and pins. It has a dome base with lines of latitude and longitude etched to evoke a globe and 24-karat gold vermeil arranged to resemble baseball stitching along with the flags.

The Stanley Cup also stands out because it holds to the old-style tradition in which a reigning champ would surrender its award when it ceded its title. Pro football and basketball used to share their trophies, too, but no more.

Certainly, the Stanley Cup has owned Chicago when it has been held by the Blackhawks, who squired it around town and elsewhere. The temporary nature of possession possibly makes it all the more precious, not to mention the emergence of endearing traditions, such as allowing each winning player to keep the Cup for a day in the offseason.

The Commissioner's Trophy has no such traditions or customs. It's left to each team to decide what to do with the World Series trophy once it is in their hands.

Teams that win the Commissioner's Trophy are authorized to buy smaller replicas, but the Cubs do not plan to do so for individuals in the organization.

"Our goal is to use the trophy in a way that expands the Cubs' reach and brand," Cubs spokesman Julian Green said. "While we will arrange local area visits to allow fans to get a glimpse of the trophy, look for visits outside the Chicago area in the coming months to tap into our fan bases downstate and near the Quad Cities."

After the Boston Red Sox snapped their 86-year World Series title drought in 2004, team executive Larry Lucchino — overwhelmed by what he later referred to as "irrational exuberance" — vowed the trophy would go to every city and town in Massachusetts.

That would be 351 in all, and the state lottery signed on as presenting sponsor.

By the time the trophy completed the road show in late June, in the tiny Massachusetts island community of Gosnold (population 86 in the prior census), it had traveled more than 16,000 miles within the state and more than 37,000 miles overall.

When the White Sox snapped their 88-year streak without a World Series championship, their trophy went to more than 125 cities in nine states between December 2005 and September 2006. That included visiting every one of the team's minor-league affiliates. Plus, manager Ozzie Guillen briefly took it home to Venezuela.

Asking a $10 donation of everyone who wanted to be photographed with the trophy, the White Sox raised more than $200,000 for the team's charity.

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"The trophy is bit of (a) celebrity on its own," Steve Arocho, MLB's director of business communications, said.

As the Cubs inched closer to their first World Series title in generations, it sometimes seemed that the Commissioner's Trophy was more prominently displayed than usual, with Fox using it to segue in and out of commercials.

Looking for something to put on the front of some of its World Series champion caps this year, New Era decided upon the image of the Commissioner's Trophy. No words were necessary.

"When it comes right down to it, this is all about, 'My team has won the championship,'" said Tony DeSimone, New Era's category director for MLB. "What says it more than the trophy itself?"

MLB officials, however, say they have not consciously worked to raise the profile of their top prize.

"It hasn't been a conscious move" on MLB's part, Noah Garden, MLB's executive vice president for business, said of making the trophy a focal point. "That's the trophy they all play for and that everyone's driving for from when pitchers and catchers report in February until the end of the season.

"You can't drink out of it like the Stanley Cup," he said, "but it's a trophy that's coveted."

Chicago Tribune's Phil Thompson and Kori Rumore contributed.

philrosenthal@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phil_rosenthal

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