The relationship between the Texas Rangers and the city of Dallas is surprisingly complicated. To put it plainly, it matters to the organization, the public, and the municipality where the team plays that fans know the Rangers are based in Arlington—which made participating in the Nike City Connect project, in which each team gets a new special uniform to reflect its hometown, a bit of a challenge. How do you encapsulate Arlington, a Tarrant County city a fraction of the size of Dallas or Fort Worth?
The easy solution would be to just honor Dallas, of course. Dallas is the third-largest city in Texas (number nine nationally), and Globe Life Field is a mere eighteen miles from Dallas City Hall. For most pro sports teams, a home city just rounds up to the nearest megalopolis: see the Atlanta Braves (who play in Cumberland, Georgia), the San Francisco 49ers (whose stadium is 42 miles away, in Santa Clara), the New York Giants and Jets (who play in New Jersey!), and—er—the Dallas Cowboys, whose own Arlington stadium is but a brisk five-minute walk from Globe Life Field.
But Rangers fans are resistant to being folded into Dallas, and Arlington is focused on staking out its own identity. In 2015, Major League Baseball designed shirts featuring each division winner’s local skyline. The Rangers topped the AL West that season, but the franchise refused to sell the apparel, which was emblazoned with the Dallas skyline rather than that of Arlington (which would presumably be a Six Flags roller coaster towering over a Walmart).
Managing this dilemma was the unique challenge for this year’s City Connect project, which surely sought to avoid reopening old wounds between Arlington, Dallas, and Fort Worth. Here’s what it came up with:
While MLB calls the design “a jersey for all of Texas” that “honors the history of baseball in the Lone Star State,” it’s really more of a design for North Texans that honors the intention of not aggravating regional rivalries in the DFW metroplex. That’s a noble—and complex—aim of its own, to be sure, so let’s examine how the uniform walks this tightrope.
We’ll start by comparing the complicated issues inherent in the Rangers’ design with the very straightforward implementation from Nike for the Astros. In Houston, the uniform merely goes a deep, space-y shade of blue, with the words “Space City” across the chest and a redesigned logo featuring the familiar H-and-star iconography, along with a ball that (after the appropriate number of trash can bangs) was hit into literal orbit around it. The closest the Astros uniforms came to stirring the pot was a decision to put the player’s number on the right pant leg, to “[illustrate] the organization’s desire to blaze its own path.” Okay, sure!
Now, on to the Rangers. First off: the “TX” logo on the hat (which you could be forgiven for mistaking as an “FX,” given that this “T” has a bonus line running through its middle) is a nod to that used by the Oak Cliff–based Dallas Eagles, the minor league team that called the city home from 1949 to 1957. That hat tip to Dallas is kept in check by the uniform’s numbers, which appear in a font inspired by the Fort Worth Panthers, the city’s famed minor league team of the pre–World War II era. The “panther” nickname was itself a roundabout way for Fort Worth to turn a nineteenth-century potshot from Dallas into a mark of civic pride in the earliest days of the intercity rivalry. This stuff really does run deep.
The two cities come together in a key innovation on the uniform’s sleeve: a new mascot called the Peagle. If you read the previous paragraph, you can probably guess where that name comes from. It’s an unfortunate title for a mighty-looking beast; the peagle already exists, but rather than being an intimidating mix of a panther and an eagle, it’s a wee li’l pup bred from a Pekingese and a beagle. We suppose inverting the portmanteau into the “Eather” isn’t much better, although the Dallas Morning News’s Rangers beat writer Evan Grant cleverly suggested the Vandergriffin—a name whose significance we’ll explain as we continue our tour through the jersey features.
Next up, we have a few specific nods to the DFW Spurs, the minor league team that immediately preceded the Rangers and attempted to unite the region in Arlington in the sixties. These Spurs had a logo that featured the team name spelled out in rope—a design feature the City Connect uniforms incorporate on the calves—and included a spur image that covered one of the (frankly) ugliest-looking Texases we’ve ever seen, stretching from Big Bend out to somewhere maybe in Tamaulipas state, Mexico? That spur reappears here, appearing over a slightly (but only slightly) more accurate Texas.
Finally, we get a few subtle nods to Arlington. On the bottom-left corner of the jersey, there’s a small tag that reads “Dream the big dream,” a quote from Tom Vandergriff, the former Arlington mayor whose push to bring Major League Baseball to the city put it on the map. Which leads us back to Grant’s “Vandergriffin” suggestion—wouldn’t that be a better namesake for the ferocious chimera than the puny peagle? Then, on the inside collar, “4-21” appears, a reference to the date the Texas Rangers played their first home game in 1972, as well as the date back in 1868 when the first championship baseball game took place in Texas. (As any student of Texas history knows, it’s also the date of the Battle of San Jacinto. And my wedding anniversary!)
That’s a whole lot of work for uniforms that only get worn a handful of times each year—usually on holidays or special occasions—but MLB knows, at this point, that tackling the unique regional dynamics at play when it comes to the Rangers comes with a certain degree of risk. The new City Connect jersey deftly threads that needle, giving the Rangers a look that ought not alienate anyone (though it might confuse them)—be they Arlingtonian, Dallasite, or Fort Worthian.
Arlington may hate being mistaken for a mere addendum to Dallas, but the city has long been comfortable identifying as the middle of the Venn diagram between the Big D and Fort Worth, and the new uniform puts that identity front and center. Tom Vandergriff would be proud.