Death of the Devil

Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, February 14, 2008

You know what I miss?

The old Tampa Bay Buccaneers peach jerseys.

It’s not that I don’t like the Bucs’ current red and pewter look; I like it very much.  It’s stylish.

I just miss Bucco Bruce and those ol’ peach eyesores.

Nostalgia can cause us to fondly remember even the most ridiculous ideas.  Witness the popularity of throwback jerseys and movie remakes.  Pro sports, featuring constant expansions, moves, and changing fashions, arguably sees as much change as any other aspect of society.

Still, nostalgia usually requires years to develop, not a few months.

So help me, I’m already missing the Devil Rays.

The woeful Tampa-based team has been a bottom-feeder in the American League East nearly every season since its inception in 1998.  But reinvigorated by a new ownership, a new front office, and a prospect-laden farm system and a talented young roster, the franchise decided a makeover was in order this offseason.

The Onion, the renowned satire newspaper and website, leapt on the news with a brief article entitled, “Tampa Bay Devil Rays Change Name, Uniforms, Sport.”  Included in the piece, star outfielder Carl Crawford (now the “Rays goalie”) states, “‘We tried calling ourselves the Devil Rays… and playing the sport of baseball for 10 years, and it just didn’t work out…. These changes will make our team more marketable, triple our fan base, and finally, give us a realistic chance to win.’”

In reality, Tampa Bay did everything but switch sports, changing its name, its logo, its colors, and its jerseys.  Exit the green and black of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  Enter the navy blue and light blue of the Tampa Bay Rays.  “The two hues of blue,” the Rays’ press release helpfully supplies, “suggest the deep blue waters and bright blue sky for which Florida is known.”

Said owner Stuart Sternberg at the launch party in St. Petersburg, “We are now the ‘Rays’ – a beacon that radiates throughout Tampa Bay and across the entire state of Florida.”  Added team president Matt Silverman, “The Tampa Bay Rays will shine, on the field and in our community.”

A makeover is always an excellent idea for a club in search of a new identity.  In fact, it has become close to tradition for a team to change its logo, colors, and jerseys as ownership anticipates a more successful future.  Before the 2007 season, for example, the Arizona Diamondbacks changed their primary color from purple to ‘Sedona red’ and promptly marched their way to a National League West title.

Of all the teams in the Major Leagues, none needed a new identity more than the Devil Rays.  The club’s name had become synonymous with more than just losing and hopelessness, emerging into the national spotlight only because of highly negative press – top prospect Delmon Young throwing a bat at a minor league umpire in 2006, or equally talented Elijah Dukes’ numerous suspensions, arrests, and off-the-field woes with women.  Both men were traded during the offseason.

Maybe the name change from Devil Rays to Rays wasn’t the most original idea in the world, but it was a start, particularly entering a season in which it isn’t farfetched to believe Tampa Bay will surpass Baltimore (and possibly Toronto) in the American League East standings.  True, that’s just third place but those are reasonably optimistic expectations in a division with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, among the most powerful teams in baseball.


Tampa Bay Devil Rays has a great rhythmic feel.  Tampa Bay Rays doesn’t.  The new uniforms are ‘eh.’  The new caps are ‘eh.’  The new logos are ‘eh.’  The colors, symbolism and all, are ‘eh.’  The inaugural uniforms were a happening!  A massive aquatic creature soaring over a sea of blue, green, yellow.  It was beautiful and bold (and a deep purple, too, because three brilliant colors is never enough).

It was also utterly panned, greeted with disdain and contempt from all who saw it.

Well, so was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  That turned out pretty well regarded by critics in the end, didn’t it?

The D-Rays bravely bore the ridicule for a while before deciding that they should choose one color and stick to it, shifting to a more green appearance under then-skipper Lou Piniella.  All-green alternate jerseys were introduced, as well as a sleeveless look.  It was stylish.  Better than that, it was a look that no other team in the Major Leagues shared, rare in an age of constant imitation,

I suppose that there isn’t a team in the Majors that is navy blue and light blue, either, but the idea of uniqueness given by ownership is an equivocation.  The truth is that the Tampa Bay ownership and front office wanted to fit in more with the other franchises, especially in finding a more “professional” appearance.  You don’t see the Yankees or the Red Sox messing around with cartoonish bat-like fish on their caps, do you?

But the most classic of styles have always emerged from risky creativity.  The early 20th century arrival of the Yankees’ much-admired pinstripes was a daring fashion decision.  The Baltimore Orioles look their best with an image of the team’s winged mascot on their baseball caps, not an unnecessary initial.  And do not forget the notions to put numbers and names on the back of jerseys and how detractors fought against those ideas.

Ah, well.  Smile and bear it; nostalgia is only caused by change after all.  Maybe some good will come of this.  Seems to me that Bucco Bruce and the peach Tampa Bay Buccaneers never won anything, but the red and pewter Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2002-2003 season.  Yes, the old woeful Tampa Bay Devil Rays are dead.  Long live the talented Tampa Bay Rays in 2008!

I can’t wait for Turn Back the Clock Day.

2008 PER Sports, Inc.

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