The Tampa Bay Rays have dropped a traditional baseball look in exchange for one of their own classic uniforms for the 2023 season. This is due to Nike’s new “Four Plus One” guidelines across Major League Baseball, which cap teams at four uniforms plus one additional City Connect set (which Tampa Bay does not yet have).
Like a few other teams this off-season, the Rays were stuck with a tough decision to make. Their jersey closet consisted of their usual home whites and road greys; there were their two alternates: one in navy blue and one in Columbia blue, and then their popular 1998 throwback-style Devil Rays set. Now, bear with me as I do some quick math… okay, so 1, 2, 3… denominator… alright, yes, I can confidently confirm that five is greater than four. Something had to happen.
“We really wanted to keep the Devil Rays uniforms. We initially brought them back in 2018 for the 20th anniversary, and it’s been a huge hit ever since then, but to make room in the style guide, something had to go,” explained Warren Hypes, Vice President, Creative & Brand of the Tampa Bay Rays during a recent chat with SportsLogos.Net. “We have our Columbia Blues, which are also the Spring Training uniforms, we have our Navy jerseys, and obviously, the home whites can’t go anywhere. The natural choice seemed to be to get rid of the grey, so we could put the ‘Devil Rays’ uniform in our style guide.”
Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays are dropping their road grey uniforms; the club plans on wearing their navy blue alternates on the road with the option to wear the Columbia blues, now-and-then, should they choose to do so. The Seattle Mariners made a similar decision this off-season which we had previously covered in a post last month. The Devil Rays’ throwbacks get promoted from mere occasional casuals to an actual, really real, official alternate uniform just in time for the club to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their inaugural season.
As Mr. Hypes mentioned in his comment earlier in this piece, the Rays had been wearing their throwback Devil Rays set a handful of times each year since the 2018 season, in spite of the fact it was never listed in their style guide…
So, why does it even matter that a uniform gets in there?
“When something goes in your style guide, it opens up a lot of options for us as far as the outerwear pieces. The ‘Authentic Collection’ that Nike produces for players to wear on-field are only produced for the ‘Four Plus One’ uniform sets,” said Hypes. “By that, we’re able to do hoodies, outerwear accessory pieces, and all that. It allows us to be a lot more creative with what we’re putting out there with our Authentic Collections.”
Another benefit of promoting the throwback set to a member of the “Four plus One” club is that they can now wear it much more often during the season. Whereas in recent years, the Rays would wear the Devil Rays uniform only four-to-five times per season, here in 2023, they’ll see action in fourteen games, about three times as often — the Devil Rays set will be worn on Opening Day and for all Friday games played at Tropicana Field, all as part of the team’s 25th anniversary celebrations throughout the season.
The Rays will also be wearing a 25th anniversary logo on the jersey sleeves as well as on the side of their caps – the logo features a “25” in white on a yellow and Columbia blue oval trimmed in navy blue, a devil ray on the left and a glint of sunlight on the right.
“When I was approaching this design, as I did with the 20th anniversary logo in 2018, I wanted to look into where we came from — what are our beginnings? Where are we now? It was really important to include those bookends,” recalled Hypes. “A lot of people like ‘Easter eggs’ in logos and hiding different references in designs. I think it’s awesome. I’m a design nerd. I love when SportsLogos.Net has those logo sheets and there are fifteen different arrows pointing to things, but when I’m designing for something like this, I have to think about the different applications, the embroidery, the size of everything, and how it is going to look with the uniform. Yes, it’s all a personal design choice, but I like to go a lot more simple.”
Overall, the Rays’ 25th anniversary logo is a nod to two of the three visual eras of Tampa Bay’s time in Major League Baseball (personally, I’m still hoping the criminally underrated green and black uniforms from 2001 to 2007 will somehow make their way back onto a ball field someday).
Other 25th anniversary celebrations include a commemorative book detailing the history of the team and the establishment of the Tampa Bay Rays Hall of Fame — the late Don Zimmer, Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, and Carl Crawford will make up the inaugural class of inductees this season.