Cigar Aficionado

No Cigar For the Rays

Tampa, Florida, is a town with a rich cigar history. In the days before the U.S. Embargo against Cuba, tons upon tons of Cuban tobacco leaf was shipped to Tampa every year, and the city's myriad cigar factories rolled them into beautiful smokes known as Clear Havanas. At the peak of the Tampa cigar trade, in 1929, more than 500 million cigars were rolled in that city alone. For some perspective, that's more cigars than were sold in all of 1997, the peak year of the modern day cigar boom. Is it any surprise that one of the city's old baseball teams was known as the Tampa Smokers, and its logo had a big cigar right on the chest? Tampa is a cigar town, period.

Someone needs to tell that to the Tampa Rays. I just finished reading a news story written by Keith Morelli in yesterday's Tampa Tribune. Morelli points out that the Rays are having their players wear throwback jerseys of the Smokers for a July 2 game. But he noticed that there's something big missing from the jersey—the cigar.

"So, the Smokers' stogie was unceremoniously un-stitched from the shirt," Morelli wrote. When questioned about the decision, the Rays issued a statement, which was quoted by the Tribune: "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."

Every other detail about the shirt is virtually identical to the original. The only notable change I see is the missing cigar.

This isn't the first time the Rays have taken the red pen to a cigar. I had the pleasure of attending a Rays game in 2009 with Eric and Bobby Newman of Tampa's very own J.C. Newman Cigar Co., which still makes some cigars by machine in Tampa today. (Read my story on J.C. Newman here.)

I'm no Rays fan (any reader of this blog knows I love their rivals, the New York Yankees), and while I think the Yankees are the better team, there is one thing in the Ray's Tropicana Field that Yankees Stadium can't match—a cigar bar. Tropicana Field has a cigar bar! But while you can puff away in peace inside the stadium (you can't view the field from there, but you can watch the game on TV) the Rays try to hide that fact.

I visited the cigar bar that September evening, but if you didn't know it was there, you'd have a hard time finding it. The team has removed the word "cigar" from the maps in the stadium, so it now is known as the "Cuesta-Rey Bar" instead of the "Cuesta-Rey Cigar Bar," as it was originally dubbed. And the Newmans, who created the bar, are no longer allowed to promote a cigar giveaway on the scoreboard, which they used to do during the seventh inning stretch.

Wake up Tampa. Cigars made your town. The city is full of the sons, daughters and grandchildren of proud cigarmakers who have tobacco in their blood. Don't be ashamed of your history. Embrace it.

"First of all, since the Mariners left the Kingdome, Tropicana is the WORST stadium in major league baseball. Then, it's not even IN Tampa. Just move the Rays and take the cigar bar along to their new home. " —July 11, 2011 12:14 PM
"JC Newman (Tampa's own) just Tweeted this. Tell the Rays how you feel! RT @JCNewmanCigars: Tell the Tampa Bay Rays what you think about their decision to eliminate the cigar from their Throwback Jerseys here:" —June 27, 2011 14:08 PM
"Paul, very funny, but also very scary. Not sure I can afford such a penalty!" —June 24, 2011 10:11 AM
"Michael, thank you for the catch. I've corrected the copy. " —June 24, 2011 10:10 AM
""are [no] longer allowed," I presume. Give that man a cigar, no?" —June 24, 2011 09:57 AM
"Careful David. I hear New York State will soon be charging a $20 tax every time you use the word "cigar" in an article. Better start calling them something else. Maybe "stupid politician" is a better name. Welcome to the Tampa Bay Cuesta-Rey Stupid Politician Bar. Okay maybe not. The line up would be so long we'd never get in." —June 23, 2011 18:32 PM