Peter Capolino didn’t feel as if he was having the proverbial wool pulled over his eyes back in 1985. Capolino was the owner of Mitchell & Ness Sporting Goods in Philadelphia when he visited an area manufacturer and saw some piles of old wool flannel lying around. Historic baseball caps were one of Capolino’s specialties and the old wool sparked an idea that baseball fans might have similar interest in vintage jerseys. Capolino’s idea with “throwback” jerseys turned out even better than he could have envisioned as he quickly made it the sole business focus of Mitchell & Ness Nostalgia Company. People of all ages are buying them for football, basketball and hockey as well as baseball. The success of the concept led to Capolino’s inclusion in the Class of 2020 of the Sporting Goods Industry Hall of Fame. Mitchell & Ness opened in 1904 and became a Philadelphia institution in the sale of sporting goods. Capolino’s father Sisto started working there in 1917 as a stockboy, bought the company in 1950 and served as treasurer of the NSGA Board of Directors from 1970-72. Peter started working for his father at age 11 and took over the store in 1978.
After Capolino came up with the “throwback” baseball jersey idea, he did extensive research to ensure even the most minute details were accurate. A Sports Illustrated story in 1987 about Capolino’s concept led to international consumer demand that helped the concept take off. Mitchell & Ness eventually began producing “throwback” jerseys for all the major sports leagues – the NFL, NBA and NHL. Capolino originally believed his idea would be tailored most for a middle-aged and older white male demographic. His employees convinced him they could target a younger urban consumer after the rap music group Outkast wore one of his jerseys in a 1998 music video. The jerseys also resonated with current professional athletes and celebrities. NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who had a Philadelphia 76ers jersey like the one his dad Joe “Jellybean” Bryant wore in the 1970s, donned replica jerseys of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson, Edmonton Oilers’ Wayne Gretzky, New York Jets’ Joe Namath and San Francisco 49ers’ Joe Montana during the 2002 postseason. Legendary director and actor Spike Lee called Capolino’s work “exquisite” in a 2003 People magazine story.