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.