Exorcising the Devil: When the Tampa Bay Rays Became the Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2023, with the team playing its first game back in 1998. As such, the team unveiled a new commemorative logo for the upcoming season, featuring both the burst of sunshine synonymous with the team today and the classic ray logo that the franchise started with (that is still featured on the sleeve of the jersey). In celebration of the upcoming anniversary, let’s take a look at one of the most overlooked and defining changes in franchise history.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the Rays haven’t always simply been known as the ‘Rays.’ One of the first and most difficult jobs for a newly awarded franchise is finding a name for the new team. The owner of the newly awarded franchise, Vince Naimoli, was insistent on having the word ‘Rays’ in it somewhere. The ray species were so abundant in Tampa Bay that the area was known for them, so it made sense for a new sports team to use that to create a link to the area.

The first choice that the city and the ownership agreed upon was the Tampa Bay Stingrays. After all, the stingray is the most well-known animal from the ray species, and they are found in Tampa Bay itself. It was settled then; the team would be called the Tampa Bay Stingrays. Not so fast, though. The trademark for the name ‘Stingrays’ was already owned by the Maui Stingrays, a small team playing in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League. Yeah, me neither. To buy the trademark off the team, Naimoli would have to fork out a fee of $35,000. “$35,000!?. I’m not made of money”, Naimoli must’ve thought while simultaneously paying an expansion fee of $180 million. In fairness, alongside the fee, he would have also had to fight to try and get the name. Thus, it was back to the drawing board.

One of the obvious choices from the start would’ve been to just call the team the ‘Rays.’ This idea was vetoed by Anne Occi, a designer for MLB who was assisting the Tampa Bay franchise, because – and I’m not joking – she thought the name didn’t sound masculine enough. Because nothing says femininity like ‘Rays.’ In the end, the team went for a specific type of stingray, a Devil Ray, to be the basis of the name for the new team. Thus, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were born…

And everyone hated it. Christians, in particular, hated it because it said the word ‘Devil’ in it. Some St. Pete residents hated it because it said ‘Tampa Bay’ instead of ‘St. Pete’. Some people hated the whole idea of having it Ray themed in the first place. It was so bad that Naimoli set up a phone line for fans to vote on whether to keep ‘Devil Rays’ or change it to ‘Tampa Bay Manta Rays.’ Ultimately, the team remained as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Vince Naimoli holding up the original Devil Rays jersey
Credit: Doug Collier/Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

When Stuart Sternberg took a controlling interest in the team in 2005, he was intent on changing the identity of the franchise. Sternberg was quoted as saying, “The Devil was going; I didn’t like it.” As early as 2006, the team announced that they would be changing their name before the 2008 season, giving them a year and a half to come up with another identity. Many names were considered for the change, including ‘Bandits,’ ‘Wave,’ and ‘Stripes.’ Sternberg’s personal favorite was to call the team the ‘Tampa Bay Nine,’ which luckily didn’t transpire. Ultimately, the team settled for the Tampa Bay Rays name that we all know today. This time, the nickname was primarily meant to refer to a ray of sunshine rather than the animal species. The uniforms and logo were also simultaneously redesigned for a cleaner, more classic look by Anne Occi, the same Anne Occi who thought Rays sounded not masculine enough some ten years earlier. In my opinion, she smashed the design out of the park.

In the 2008 season, the perennial cellar dweller made the playoffs and took the American League pennant. Since the name change, they’ve had a winning percentage of .549. Before that, it was .399. By removing the Devil, the team has seemingly entered a new plane of existence. They not only sounded and looked like a serious team, but they played like one. Since 2008, they’ve made two World Series appearances and played in the postseason eight times. “We were tied to the past,” Sternberg said about the name change, “and the past wasn’t necessarily something we wanted to be known for.”

The Tampa Bay Rays celebrating winning the 2008 ALCS
Photo Credit: Brian Blanco/Bradenton Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

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