The most famous 61 since Roger Maris’ shot off future Met Jack Fisher has come gloriously back to life.
Just in, Met historian Dennis D’Agostino alerted me to a newly published Youtube of the entire WGN broadcast of 1979’s Opening Day Mets-Cubs game at Wrigley Field that included the major-league debut of the Mets’ Jesse Orosco. As readers of this site know this was an important historical moment not just because Orosco would go to make another 1,251 appearances–the most for a pitcher in baseball history–but that for the unusual circumstances under which he appeared: Wearing a jersey that bore No. 61, with no name on the back. Verifying this bit of odd history–Orosco made all of his subsequent appearances for the Mets wearing No. 47–and maintained that number for 23 years until a career-ending 8-game stretch with Minnesota when teammate Corey Koskie wore 47–was one of the landmark Holy Grails of this project.
Over the years and with the help of good people like like Dennis, my Cub fan friend Kasey Ignarski, who provided his own hand-scored scoresheet, and a third fan who provided video stills of the game, we nailed this. But I never saw the whole broadcast until yesterday. You will die when you hear Jack Brickhouse’s commentary at the 2:25:30 mark. Start here:
As previously relayed, that a 22-year-old Orosco even made the trip was something of a surprise it itself. The lefty was selected ahead of more accomplished contenders like Nelson Briles, due primarily to the austerity measures enacted as the ’79 club crawled to the finish line of the Payson-deRoulet Era as a destitute franchise. Its likely the club simply didn’t have the time or money to spring for a “proper” jersey (61 was outrageously high then) that wasn’t a spring training used jersey. ’79 was also the first year that Mets affixed names to jerseys but as shown they didn’t get around to all of them.
Lee Mazzilli also lacked a name on back–but Kelvin Chapman did not.
Joe Torre preferred Briles to Orosco, Scott and Allen
Kasey Ignarski’s hand-written scorecard: The same data Jack Brickhouse had!
I probably should have investigated this before the man was dead, but didn’t realize till just now that Andy Hassler is among those Mets who purportedly have worn another number than the one listed here for him.
Game-worn Hassler jersey
Hassler, a lefty whom the Mets acquired at the ’79 June trade deadline from Boston, and who sadly just died at age 68, wore the number 44 jersey pictured here (found this pic on an online auction site, reportedly it’s game-worn). But the shirt I was looking for would bear No. 50, one of two Mets numbers listed as having been worn by Hassler at the Baseball Reference site (bbr appears to use Jack Looney’s NOW BATTING, NUMBER… as a reference. Neither is precise enough to identify the times and dates worn).
Orosco’s debut, opening day 1979 (Bill Buckner batting!)
While anything is possible, I’m fairly confident Hassler didn’t wear No. 50. For one thing that would have made him the very first position player ever to have been issued a number in the 50s for the Mets (as noted here before, it wasn’t until 1980 that the Mets started goofing around like that, even though Jesse Orosco earlier that year broke the 60s cherry). For another it would counter plenty of memories and photos and rosters showing Hassler wearing 44.
Hassler was a Met only through the end of that 1979 year so pickings are slim. If he did wear 50, it would likely have been in his June 19 debut at Houston (occasionally when the Mets were traveling back then a debut player might be issued a number he wouldn’t wear once the club returned home, like Tom Hall wearing No. 42). Would the ’79 Mets be traveling with a spare No. 50 jersey? Perhaps, were they planning to fire a coach but I don’t see an obvious occasion for it.
Do you know something? Please let me know! I know there are several of these mysteries out there still.
As to Hassler, he was acquired on the same day the Mets picked up Dock Ellis in a separate trade, an admission that the pre-season gamble of going with young guys like Orosco over costlier rejects like Nelson Briles that spring had failed. Hassler was just off having hospitalized once-and-future Met Mike Jorgensen with a ball off the noggin. For the Mets he was a swingman with a good curve but poor control and ultimately allowed to leave as a free agent.
Only a matter of hours after posing the question MBTN readers came through with the definitive proof: Willie Montañez went tilde-less during 1979, as shown in this screen capture sent in by on-the-spot reader Paul C. Interestingly, this cap came from the same ’79 opening-day footage that Paul provided earlier to solve the Jesse Orosco 61 controversy: It’s also first day the Mets (except for young Orosco) ever wore their names above their numbers. That font by the way looks a lot chunkier than that which we’ve become accustomed to, and we needen’t get into the icky use of a separate nameplate. That’s a lot of mileage from a single game.
Greg (you should read his blog) in the meantime confirmed Rory’s earlier contention that Alex Treviño in 1980 was the first Met to sport a tilde. Others, according to Rory: Roger Cedeño, Rey Ordoñez, Alejandro Peña, Edwin Nuñez and Fernando Viña.
If the above interests you then by all means you should be reading the Uni Watch Blog, where recent discussion involves nameplates bearing the æ and ø characters.
Thanks also to Stephen (and Steve) for the updates to the Uni-Controversies list: Both guys wrote recently to remind that Rusty Staub waited patiently (three years!) for the Mets to finally trade Duffy Dyer and assume the No. 10 jersey he wore. Stephen also recounts that Jeff Reardon requested No.41 when he arrived as a Met and couldn’t understand that if it hadn’t been retired yet why equipment manager Herb Norman wouldn’t issue it to him. “So he settled for 45. Apparently, Norman didn’t feel the same way about Tug McGraw.”
Final Update: Reports this morning say Mike Pelfrey 34 was in fact not recalled but is attending to a sore back in St. Lucie.