Chris Archer had heard the stories before, from his friend and Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, from Tampa Bay Rays teammates, from others in the sport, of what it’s like to lose diamonds on the baseball diamond. Really, no one can truly prepare for the moment it happens.
One day last year, as Archer warmed up in the bullpen at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, the chain, draped around his neck, broke, and diamonds went flying across the bullpen dirt. The feeling is part panic and part resignation, mixed with a sudden desire to channel your inner Indiana Jones. A diamond had gotten stuck on part of Archer’s jersey, and as he threw a warm-up pitch, the necklace snapped.
Before he knew it, the relievers and bullpen crew turned into scavengers, digging through the dirt with the urgency of Nicolas Cage in National Treasure. Archer picked up half the diamonds, while the other guys managed to find most of the other half. Only three diamonds went missing.
“We know we’re taking that risk with our own money,” Archer said of buying, wearing and possibly having a diamond necklace snap during a game. “It happens, and it’s going to happen again. You just chalk it up as an L. It’s an expensive L, but it’s an L.”
It’s a problem that’s emerged in the last five or six years within baseball as more and more players have outwardly worn jewelry on the field. Archer couldn’t help but feel bad when he saw Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes go through a similar debacle during a game in early May, as his diamond necklace snapped on a slide into second base. After standing up, Cespedes noticed the broken jewelry hanging around his neck and slammed it into the ground in frustration. Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera picked up some of the diamonds in the next half-inning.
David J. Phillip/Associated Press/Associated Press
Last year during the American League Championship Series, Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. spent a replay review looking through the dirt behind the mound for some diamonds. It’s the risk-reward proposition many accept when they adorn their uniform with a chain.
“Derek Jeter always wore a nice black diamond chain, but he just kept it tucked in,” Archer said. “People used to wear gold chains back in the day, but they kept them tucked. The difference is they’re just letting them hang out now.”
Because of the nature of the uniforms and the game itself, baseball remains one of the few sports where outwardly wearing a chain while playing is plausible. In the mid-2000s, many players wore Phiten titanium necklaces, which are Japanese-developed nylon-coated accessories that claim to maximize wearers’ strength and energy.
By 2016, that trend began to die as players started wearing more diamond-encrusted jewelry on the field. While many players wore fancy necklaces during games, most would place them beneath their undershirts or uniforms and quickly tuck them back in if they popped out. In recent years, that has changed.
“I remember seeing David Ortiz wearing his chain out with big medallions in 2015, 2016. He was the origin of the chains trend, probably,” Archer said. “You see one guy doing it, and you’re like, You know what? Maybe I won’t be so conscious every time it comes out to put it back in. Now it’s to the point where people are deliberately wearing them out.”
Photo by Joon Lee
The chains aren’t all diamond-encrusted and super-flashy. Among those players who are wearing subtler jewelry is Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, who wears two necklaces during games. The first is a gold chain given to him by his father, Willie, when he signed with the Red Sox in 2011. The other is a necklace given to him by a teenage fan during spring training featuring a tiny plastic baseball and bat. Both can frequently be seen outside Betts’ uniform during games.
“The fan gave it to me before BP, and I didn’t want to put it in my pocket, so I said just forget it and put it on. I honestly kind of just forgot it was there, and now I just like it,” Betts said. “With my gold chain, it’s like memories with my father are always there with me.”
It’s become a conversation starter for players. Before games, during batting practice, while shagging fly balls, players will often exchange the name of their jeweler and comment on each other’s jewelry.
“I think Mookie needs a new chain,” Archer said with a laugh. “He’s been rocking that one since high school.”
Betts recently asked Archer’s teammate, Mallex Smith, about his chain, a piece that is impossible to miss. Smith, a Florida native, rocks a chain with a diamond-encrusted silhouette of the Sunshine State with a black diamond over Tallahassee, his hometown.
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press/Associated Press
Smith said he decided to start wearing his chain after watching young stars like Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez rock jewelry on the job. Hoping to design a unique piece, Smith contacted Gabriel Jacobs of Rafaello & Co. in New York City, a popular destination for visiting ballplayers. With Jacobs, Smith figured out the ideal playing weight for his necklace so it wouldn’t hit him in the face while he was running and fielding.
“If the pendant is too heavy, then it’ll be bouncing on your chest really, really hard. It’ll hurt when you run and possibly bounce up and hit you in the face,” Smith said.
His flashy piece has elicited questions from everyone—fans and teammates alike—who ask about its inspiration, where he got it and why he wears it on the field.
“When we play sports, this is a show. This is a show and showmanship,” Smith said. “Wearing a chain is just like a show within the show. You get to give the people something to talk about. If you’re doing good and you’re shining, it’s like, Wow, that guy has swag. He’s fly.“
Smith hopes his wearing a chain helps normalize the practice within the sport, which often discourages players from stepping outside the unwritten rules. But with players like Archer, Betts and Smith wearing necklaces, it may catch the attention of young fans who may not pay close attention to baseball or have written off the sport entirely.
“I would love to find a way to strike the interest of more young black players to consider baseball as a sport to play,” Smith said. “Normally, it’s slow and boring. That’s the mindset of guys when they think about baseball, especially brothers. … I like to think that it could maybe grab the interest of other black young men that may like it and see they’re allowed to have a personality in this sport, too. You can still have some spizazz about yourself out there.”
In the past five years, Archer has seen players become more comfortable with showing emotion and exhibiting more flair on the field. No longer does everyone wear the uniform the same way.
“The game has come a long way, myself included. We are able to express ourselves through our uniform now,” Archer said. “Whether it’s a flat bill or curved bill, whether it’s baggy or tight pants, whether we wear fresh spikes or earrings, arm sleeves or bracelets, the necklace has become the way to express yourself.”
Players often ask Smith why he would ever get such a flashy piece. None of that talk bothers him, though. He’s going to wear his jewelry, regardless of whether others like it.
“Some people just like flashy things,” Smith said. “A young man like me, I like a little flash, a little spizazz. You know?”