MBTN reader Steve P writes:
Quick question….noticed that Mitchell & Ness created a 1965 Tug McGraw replica jersey with number 56 on the back … I checked with your site and noticed that McGraw never wore that number. While I guess it is possible that M&N created a replica spring training jersey (they’ve done that with St. Patrick’s Day jerseys), it seems odd for them to do so (they could have produced a McGraw with the more familiar 45 and still included the World’s Fair patch). Any idea what M&N was thinking?
As I told Steve, I’m not entirely sure but would guess they’d made a simple mistake. I seem to recall a photo of Tug appearing in 56 make its way into circulation through a yearbook or baseball card from that era, and it was not at all unusual for those shots to be taken during spring training. Further research led me to a discussion forum here where for what it’s worth, a writer says they checked with Mitchell & Ness who confirmed their replica is based on a spring training model. You’d think for $275 bucks you’d get the real thing but jerseys ain’t my cup of meat.
Just what McGraw was doing in any number in 1965 has always been a little more intriguing a mystery. After all he was only 20 years old then, and wouldn’t stick in the majors to stay until 1969. The answer has to do with the way baseball’s rules treated first-year players at the time: In an effort to put an artificial drag on bonuses, those players not promoted to the big-league club after their first year were subject to a special draft.
With the Mets still early in the talent-assembly game they took no chances. McGraw was among five 1964 signees who cracked the team in 1965. Ron Swoboda, 21; Kevin Collins, 19; Danny Napoleon, 23; and Jim Bethke, 18, were the others. McGraw, whose developing screwball brought him surprising early success, would return to the development pipeline — and wait out military service requirements and injuries — before arriving for good. And though he was always in No. 45, the Mets reissued the No. 45 jersey twice during the periods following McGraw’s debut: In 1966 for Darryl Sutherland and in 1968 for Bill Connors.
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Good read in Sunday’s Daily News catching up with Jon Matlack, the hard-throwing, hard-luck lefty of the 1970s. I remember Matlack as a master of broken bats who threw hard inside stuff, didn’t walk many, and could ring up the whiffs: It’s a mystery he wasn’t more successful.