June 23, 2011
On July 2, the Tampa Bay Rays plan to pay tribute to the 1951 Tampa Smokers by wearing the uniforms their minor league predecessors wore while winning the International League.
There's just one big difference between the real things (left) and the throwbacks (right):
In case you can't spot it, the Rays have removed the picture of the cigar from underneath the "Smokers" name, causing some consternation from the old-timers in Florida. The Tampa Tribune asked about the omission and the team issued the following statement:
"We have chosen to wear the Smokers jersey to celebrate the rich heritage and traditions surrounding baseball in Tampa Bay and this version of the logo is intended only to be a slightly more contemporary version of that wonderful history."
Current attitudes about tobacco being what they are, it's not surprising that the Rays would scissor the stogies from their shirts. But it's also worth asking why they think they should whitewash history if they're going to use the Smokers name for a night anyway.
"It's kind of embarrassing," said Gary Mormino, a University of South Florida history professor and co-director of the Florida Studies Program. "I mean, embrace the past."
Tampa's love affair with the national pastime is equaled by its passion for making and smoking fine cigars, he said.
"Tampa still is known as Cigar City," Mormino said. Prior to the 1950s, dignitaries who came to Tampa got the key to the city along with a box of fine cigars, he said, and mayors always were out in public, chomping on foot-long cigars.
I really don't have a dog in this nostalgia race, so I'm not totally taken aback by the Rays' decision. And perhaps it really was a "darned if you do, darned if you don't" type situation with all the anti-smoking groups that exist nowadays.
At the same time, it seems silly that they would cut the cigars — which really aren't all that noticeable — but still advertise the Smokers name for a game at the same time.
Do they really think kids would be chomping cigars by the end of the night?
Or that Smokers used to mean something else?
What do you think? Should the cigars have been cut from the Rays throwback jerseys?
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