Rays Turn Back the Clock with a fake throwback jersey

2011: Jeff Niemann donned a uniform saluting the 1951 Tampa Smokers when they played the St. Louis Cardinals for ’50s Night at Tropicana Field.
2011: Jeff Niemann donned a uniform saluting the 1951 Tampa Smokers when they played the St. Louis Cardinals for ’50s Night at Tropicana Field.
Published Jun. 30, 2012

Joe Maddon posed with hands on hips, face bursting from the powder blue jersey into a home run grin. The team manager was wearing the Tampa Bay Rays uniform from 1979! What a mind trip back to a time when …

Wait. The Rays didn't exist in 1979. They were born in 1998, all Nintendo 64 and Frasier and Monica Lewinsky. They missed the Bad News Bears, the audacious Bill Buckner facial hair, the colors like warm condiments.

No matter. They just made it up.

The Rays have hosted a Turn Back the Clock game for 10 years. They play retro walk-up songs, post grainy photos on the big screen and cap the night with concerts from bands like the Village People and Sha Na Na. Visiting teams wear throwback jerseys.

The Rays, being youngsters, always wore uniforms of other Florida teams. The 1960 Tampa Tarpons. The 1965 St. Pete Saints. The 1989 St. Pete Pelicans. Three years ago the team wore the original Devil Rays uniform with its rainbow block letters and trademark sea creature. They lost.

It was time to play the Detroit Tigers and celebrate with Earth, Wind & Fire today. But there was a problem.

"We ran out of teams," said Tom Hoof.

The Rays marketing vice president brought a box of old baseball cards to work. He showed them to the team's graphic designers, both in their 30s. Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg also got into it, Hoof said. After 10 drafts, they had a look inspired by the 1979 San Diego Padres, with bubbly lowercase letters, a pinwheel sunburst and a 1979 city of St. Petersburg seal on the sleeve.

They ordered the jerseys for players to wear and fans to buy. A retro T-shirt costs $21.99. An "authentic" Turn Back the Clock jersey for Evan Longoria (born in 1985) costs $301.99.

Maddon, a notorious good sport who has been through a series of fashion battery, seemed to really love it. It reminded him of his old Anaheim Angels getup — pullover shirt, pants that feel like a sweatshirt.

"I think it's outstanding," he said. "I think it's going to become very popular. It's something I think we should consider wearing beyond the throwback day. They're tasty colors, a great design. . . . Definitely a '70s moment."

People crave nostalgia, real or not.

"All this stuff reflects good moments in our past," said Maddon. "I think it's something that elicits good feelings, good vibrations. Because I think we tend to block out and compartmentalize the good stuff over the bad.''

Instagram, an app that turns lame camera phone photos into gems from Grandma's attic, is so popular that Facebook announced plans in April to buy it for $1 billion. Disney is preparing to release Wreck-It Ralph starring an 8-bit arcade game galoot, with a cameo from Q*bert. There's Tom Cruise in Rock of Ages, not to mention an old-school superhero movie every summer. The market for vintage fashion reproductions is always growing.

"There's a huge trend right now in retro clothing," said Desiree Sheridan, who owns Buffalo Gal Vintage on Central Avenue en route to Tropicana Field. She sells 90 percent vintage, plus a couple new lines that look old. "It gives a sense of belonging, particularly in this current society where our families are all over the United States."

Sports, so closely tied to childhood memories, are plum for sentimentality. Mike Brady sells sports collectibles at his Tampa shop, Triple Play Sports Cards and Memorabilia. He's 62. He went to his first Boston Red Sox game in Fenway Park when he was 7. Ted Williams played.

Seeing a 1957 Red Sox uniform takes him back to the smells, the sounds, sitting in the stands with his dad. That kind of thing, you can't fake.

"It's something that grandfathers pass on to their sons, and their sons pass on," Brady said.

The 1998 Rays jersey will become its own throwback one day, he said. It needs time.

"You just have to get old."

Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (727) 893-8857.