HomeTrending MLB NewsHow Do You Illustrate Rays of the Sun?

How Do You Illustrate Rays of the Sun?

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This all started because I was staring at Jose Siri. I don’t think I’ve ever set out with the intention of staring at Jose Siri, but it ends up happening kind of a lot. He’s very watchable. He runs like the wind, if the wind had big muscles. He swings with a righteous fury, and on the rare occasions when he connects with the baseball, he threatens to reduce it to a smoking heap of carbonized yarn. He throws hard too, but not hard enough to wax poetic about it. A few weeks ago, I was researching tromps and whomps (you know, baseball stuff) when I noticed the emblem on Siri’s jersey. It wasn’t the entire Rays logo. It was just a tiny part of it meant to symbolize the whole. Jose Siri was wearing a metonym.

I started wondering about that yellow starburst design: where it came from, what it was supposed to be, and how long I’d been staring at it without actually seeing it. Despite the bright colors, Tampa Bay’s Columbia Blue alternates are the sparsest jerseys in baseball. No other team has a jersey whose front features a graphic with no characters whatsoever. Few teams in the history of the league have worn jerseys like that, and when they did, the graphics were much more representational than the asymmetrical sunburst shape that Tampa Bay uses to evoke a ray of sunshine. Over the past few weeks, I spoke to several people with knowledge of the intersection between art, graphic design, and baseball. I was also lucky enough to speak to two of the people who created the logo in the first place. As it turns out, that piece of the logo is called “the glint,” and it was born on a rooftop in New Jersey.

I first spoke to artist Graig Kreindler. He hadn’t noticed the jerseys either, and he gamely agreed to let me send him some pictures the moment before we got on the phone so that he could give me his reaction in real time. Kreindler loved the jerseys. “I had no idea that they’d gotten rid of the type altogether,” he said. “I love that idea of having your visual identity tied around something… that in this case is pretty abstract.” Kreindler specializes in gorgeously detailed paintings of baseball players and scenes, usually from previous eras. When I asked him whether he could think of anything comparable to the Rays jerseys, he brought up the Philadelphia Athletics of the 1920s, whose jerseys had an elephant on the breast, and who were apparently forbidden from smiling.

“Anything that makes me think of something vintage,” said Kreindler, “I’m all for it.” As a painter rather than a graphic designer, he was also acutely aware of how challenging this logo must have been to come up with. “I guess it’s kind of hard to make a shape —” he started, but then he cut himself off. “How do you illustrate rays of the sun?”

It’s a good point. After all, until a ray of sunshine hits something, it’s just a line. It’s hard to make that fun enough to put on a hat or a jersey. Still, there are plenty of wrong ways to answer the question. Just ask the Hagerstown Suns, who decided to lean into their name and ended up going full-on Raisin Bran.

MLB teams don’t just pick their own logos. The league has a carefully curated aesthetic, overseen by the internal MLB Design Services team. Some clubs have been around since the 19th century, and anything new needs to be of a piece with what came before, as well as with the league’s vision for the future. And there is more new design work than you might realize. Each season, there are a million things that require branding: the All-Star Game, the World Series, spring training, each round of the playoffs, the Home Run Derby, All-Star workout day, the Futures Game. Even the Winter Meetings get a new logo every year.

Long before Tampa Bay picked just a portion of its visual identity to focus on, it did the same thing with its name. From the franchise’s 1998 debut to 2007, the Devil Rays ran the worst record in baseball and finished last in the AL East nine times. When Stu Sternberg assumed full ownership of the team in 2005, it was in need of an exorcism. Whether or not it had anything to do with complaints from religious groups, Sternberg’s top-to-bottom reinvention of the franchise included a name change. Before the 2008 season, Tampa Bay dropped the word Devil and set out to rebrand around the idea of rays of sunshine. They were no longer fish; they were photons. (The devil can be hard to renounce, though. Rather than shell out for new uniforms, the team’s Appalachian League affiliate in Princeton, West Virginia, stayed the Devil Rays for an extra year.)

That history has colored how some people view the rebrand. Sarah Ingber is an artist who worked on the Too Far From Town project at Baseball Prospectus. When she looks at the new logo, her first association is a religious one: the Star of Bethlehem. However, she readily admits that the origin of the name change left her biased. “Devil Rays are a weird team name but cool animal,” she told me. “They can’t help their little head shapes. Justice for satanic nomenclature!”

Courtesy of FanBrandz

Once the decision to cast out the devil had been made, MLB brought on FanBrandz, a sports branding agency run by Bill Frederick, to create the visual identity for the Rays. A team of four or five people worked on the project, with MLB vice president of design Anne Occi essentially acting as creative director. It was the first big project Maureen Raisch, a designer not long out of college, had worked on. “They really threw me in the deep end creatively, which was really exciting,” she said.

Raisch and Frederick explained that Sternberg, a Brooklyn native who grew up worshipping Sandy Koufax, had a very specific aesthetic in mind. “In the meetings, he really wanted the sophistication of the Yankees uniform,” said Frederick. “So that really drove the process.” The futuristic fonts and rainbow gradients of the Devil Rays were out. Navy blue was in. “Classic typography,” explained Raisch, “you want that in baseball. It’s right at home in the aesthetic of MLB.” However, she drew the line when there was talk of pinstripes. “Do not do it. You cannot,” she remembered thinking. “For God’s sake, you’re in the division with the Yankees!”

“I think that the glint came very, very late in the process,” said Frederick. “We had done quite a bit of exploration at that point.” His team had tried out concepts using sunbeams to create the leg of the R in Rays, or coming through the wordmark. “We had done some stuff that was very expressive, and it was determined that it really should become much more sophisticated.” Eventually, they hit on the winner. Said Raisch, “These classic baseball letter forms were going to be the thing. You kind of knew that.” That simpler design “needed that little special thing.” The idea for the glint arose during a meeting at MLB’s New York office in early January 2008. “We had this meeting, just up here on Park Ave,” said Raisch. “And something in this meeting sparked, where I go, “I know what we’re going to do.”

“We had played around a lot with it,” said Frederick. “And it just occurred to us at some point, and I think it was probably with Maureen. We said, ‘Well, what about what the sun does to the type?’ It actually reflects off the type, as opposed to trying to image sunbeams. And then Maureen basically took it on herself.”

Rather than simply draw a cartoon glint, Raisch preferred to work from real life. “I think it speaks to the way I approach creative work in sports,” she said. “I think everything should be kind of grounded in reality. Reality is what is familiar to the human eye, so you can’t fake it. Think of movies done with practical, in-camera effects. They’re the best, they hold up. Indiana Jones, from 1981, still looks great.”

Raisch went looking for gold lettering, the kind you’d get from a hardware store to put your street address on your front door. “So I go back home and all I could get is a [number] four. Like a mailbox, brass four.” She took it up to the roof of her Jersey City apartment and took pictures of the four catching the setting sun. “In my mind’s eye, it was more about maybe we bevel or give it a dimensionality, and you’d have this real hotspot. That was kind of the theory.”

Raisch still has the photos, which she showed to me. Wearing gloves to ward off the cold, she held the four by the base with a pair of needle-nose pliers. With a flaming sunset and shadowed Jersey City skyline as the background, the sun shines through the crook of the four, glancing off the corner and refracting into five beams of light. Another picture shows two images side by side, the glint coming off the four and the glint coming off the R in the finished Rays jersey. The two match almost perfectly.

“That’s how it was created,” said Raisch. “There’s my hand in a glove. I swear it’s my hand. That’s Jersey City also; not sunny Florida, you can tell.” The idea took off. Said Frederick, “I think it was very novel. It had a lot of energy. It was different, you know? It was special. And the team really embraced it, and we saw that aspect of the logo really gain traction very quickly after we introduced it. And the next thing you know we see it being used independently as its own graphic.”

He’s not wrong. The glint is absolutely everywhere. Glint-only hats were rolled out for spring training and batting practice in 2013. Since then, it has worked its way into every corner of the franchise. There are multiple variations of it on the team website. It’s on the mound and the outfield wall. The glint-only jerseys became the team’s spring training look in 2016 and the regular season alternates in 2022. “The jerseys themselves are awesome,” said Dan Abrams, the designer behind Athlete Logos. “I love the color combo and just having a graphic logo on the front chest like that.”

LJ Rader, the art history savant behind Art But Make It Sports, prefers the boldness of the original Devil Rays logo — after sending me a picture of Randy Arozarena in a throwback uniform, he wrote, “like, these slap so hard why would you ever not make this your branding” — but he did identify some touchstones for the glint. He first thought of it as a 21st century take on a Joan Miró star.

After chatting for a few more minutes, he sent an image of Edvard Munch’s “The Sun.” It was a picture he had taken at the recent Munch exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. That brought him to an ironic point about the heliocentric rebrand: The Rays play in Tropicana Field, arguably the gloomiest place in baseball.

Courtesy of LJ Rader

Tampa Bay is well aware that some people adore its original Devil Rays look. This year, clubs were limited to four sets of uniforms. Rather than lose the glint or the throwbacks, the team jettisoned its road grays. (This proved wise, as it turns out that when exposed to so much as one drop of sweat, the new road grays take on the appearance of a drowned moth.) Predictably, some people are bothered by that decision. Chris Creamer, the founder and editor of SportsLogos.net, wants the team to pick a lane, rather than staying beholden to both its old and new identities. “If you are going to lean into the glint as the primary image of your brand, jump in with both feet,” he said. “Go with a yellow uniform. If this team is named after sun rays, the sun is yellow; let’s go yellow. Let’s really have fun with this.”

Still, the focus on the glint has only grown over time. Amazingly, the team didn’t alter the glint whatsoever when it decided to make it the focal point. When the glint is on its own, said Luke Hooper, who has designed many of the graphics here at FanGraphs, “you really notice how strange it is.” It would have been reasonable to rework it, given its new, more prominent role. But it still has the exact same dimensions, the little curve in the middle surrounded by all those sharp angles. The strangeness that gives it character really shines through.

Neither Frederick nor Raisch had any idea that the team would come to focus on the glint. “No,” said Raisch. “Absolutely delighted. I think they make foam glints. I think there are people with tattoos, if you want to Google this. I know during the playoffs, I found a guy with it shaved into the side of his head.” Said Frederick, “We didn’t know it was going to take on a life of its own to that degree. It was fun to watch, because all of a sudden, they really embraced it and started using it all over the place: in front of the stadium, in the entrance, and in the outfield cutting it in the grass. It was just turning up all over the place. It was really fun. They were able to find the most fun aspect of the identity.”

At this point, FanBrandz has worked on 28 All-Star Games and more than 15 World Series. Raisch spent 14 seasons designing for MLB and the NHL. In 2019, she left to become a senior designer for the NFL. In 2022, she became creative director for the National Women’s Soccer League, entrusted with shaping the aesthetic of the young league the same way Anne Occi did for MLB. “We’re creating an ethos at this league,” she said. “The Tampa Bay Rays glint is older than this league. And if you’re a 10-year-old league… you can actually really do different things that an NFL and a Major League Baseball, over 100-year-old brands, can’t do.”

The last thing I asked Raisch was whether she would go back and change anything about her work for the Rays if she could. She didn’t miss a beat, jumping into an idea she’d had for working the glint into the hats. Just as quickly, she caught herself, and relayed something she heard from a designer who worked on the NWSL’s new championship trophy: “There’s a fine line between simple and elegant, simple and classy, and simple and bland.” She went on, “So no, we wouldn’t do more with that. That is what makes a major league franchise feel on the level of a major league. They’re simple, they’re elegant, they’re poignant. They’re not overdone. So putting the glint there, I just corrected my 22-year-old wannabe thing that I would have wanted to do. Because it would have been too much on a TV. It would have junked it up.”

The Rays rebrand remains special to Raisch. She even wears their gear around New York City, occasionally drawing the ire of hometown fans. “I’ve had Yankee fans get nasty with me,” she said. Then she laughed. “And I’m like, ‘But do you like the glint though?’”

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