The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are back, only this time, their on-field performance will match their uniforms.
Earlier this spring, the Rays announced they would be bringing back their original uniforms, once again, from their first couple of years as a franchise, with an incredible hype video:
From 1998 to 2000, the then-Devil Rays wore a jersey with a rainbow gradient logo, with the player’s name and number etched in a bright purple on the back.
To fully understand the uniform, you must take a look at how it came to be. When Tampa Bay was finally awarded a franchise, a lot went into what the team’s name should be and how they should look.
Anne Occi — who is basically the czar of baseball uniforms and logos — came on board to assist both Tampa Bay and Phoenix in their endeavors.
However, before a uniform could even be designed, the team would have to be named and with this being the Vincent J Naimoli-owned franchise, the process could not be simple, easy, or lack controversy.
Only one thing was certain with the team: it would include the name ‘Rays’ somewhere in it. Rays were so abundant in the Gulf of the Mexico that the Florida Aquarium (opened in 1995) erected a large statue of the cartilaginous fish right in front of the building; a statue that is still there to this day.
The city and team crowd-sourced and ultimately all parties involved agreed that the team should be dubbed, “the Tampa Bay Sting Rays.”
But there was a problem.
The Maui Sting Rays already held the rights to the name and Vince Naimoli was not about to pay the fee of — and I’m not kidding — $35,000 to buy the name away from the small Hawaiian franchise, so it was back to the drawing board.
There was the option of simply naming the team ‘Rays’ but Occi thought the name wasn’t masculine enough to be a professional sports team, so the team got even more specific.
In the end, the team became the local variety of the sting ray, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and everyone was happy and the franchise enjoyed several winning seasons as Wade Boggs, Fred McGriff, and Wilson Alvarez all enjoyed career renaissances.
No, wait, that’s not actually what happened.
Instead, the local public hated the name and the team now faced a crisis.
Do they move forward with the name their fans hate, but that they had already spent a lot of money marketing and producing merchandise with... or appease the public and change the name?
Tampa Bay would stay the Devil Rays.
It was now up to Occi to come up with a design, befitting of that name and the Tampa Bay area. After several long months of planning, plotting, and numerous trips to Tampa Bay to meet with the team officials, the uniforms were finally unveiled at the Florida Aquarium.
Upon their first reveal at the Florida Aquarium on November 2nd, 1995... this was again hated. To take an excerpt from Jonah Keri’s ‘Extra 2%’ (which also covered much of the uniform’s history):
“It was a mess, the kind of logo that even the most ironic, retro-loving hipster would struggle to wear today.”
After just three seasons, the Rays front office decided to make a change — either to try and draw merchandise sales, or to distance themselves from their disastrous first three years of existence, or both.
The rainbow jersey was closeted and the Rays embraced Green and vests from 2001 to 2007.
After, the Rays brought back their original uniforms for a ‘throwback’ night on July 11th, 2009, but not that many people were able to bear witness. The game wasn’t broadcast, although there were over 33,000 people reportedly in attendance for the Saturday night game between the Rays and Oakland Athletics.
Side note: Tampa Bay would turn in a Devil Ray-like performance, as they took a 2-0 lead into the 7th inning, only to implode and eventually lose the contest, 7-2.
It would be decade before the Rays dusted off their rainbow’d beauties, finally deciding to celebrate their history after 20 years as a franchise with their retro jersey. During the 2018 season, the Rays embraced their rainbow gradient history and took to the field in their original jerseys four times (and they were victorious in three of the four contests).
Shockingly, the jerseys were now a hit, with even a viral celebrity sighting in the Devil Rays throwback:
OBJ x DRays.— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) May 19, 2018
We you, @OBJ_3. pic.twitter.com/FL2LsE4HeV
Odell goes YARD. pic.twitter.com/oPZpukouUu— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) May 19, 2018
As the throwbacks proved to be popular among the fanbase and baseball in general, and the Rays since announced four more games during the 2019 season, and then tacked on a fifth.
- April 20 vs Red Sox (Ryne Stanek Bottle Opener day)
- May 11 vs Yankees (Tropical shirt day)
- June 15 vs Angels (Short Sleeve Hoodie day)
- August 17 vs Tigers (Willy Adames bobblehead day)
- September 21 vs Red Sox (promotion TBD)
This season the Rays will debut new, brighter LED lighting in Tropicana Field, which will be sure to make these throwbacks pop even more. Before they were worn in the light, the hollowed out hockey arena that was Tropicana Field was a dim, confused stadium debuting in disrepair.
Nevertheless, the Devil Rays jerseys shined beyond their dim lighting and dimmer on-field performance; they were rainbows in the dark.