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The hottest prospect in Mets history is a lifelong Cubs fan
April 1, 2013 8:51 PM   Subscribe

"I called Joe," Stewart remembers, "and asked if he wanted to come to spring training with me. I said, 'The Mets have this pitcher they picked up. They got him pitching in secret, under a big tarp. He has a 168 mile an hour fastball and he plays the French horn and went to Harvard and he was raised in Tibet by Buddhist monks and he pitches with one foot bare and one foot in a boot. And guess what? You're going to be him.'"

28 years ago today:
"Sports Illustrated ran one of its most celebrated articles, "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch" - in which George Plimpton crafted a 14-page exposé on a bizarre, out-of-nowhere Mets phenom who fired baseballs at a stupefying 168 miles an hour. It instantly became its generation's "War of the Worlds," leaving thousands of frenzied fans either delighted at the April Fools' prank or furious at being duped.

The Museum of Hoaxes lists the Sidd Finch prank second on their Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time. (As judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.)

The Backstory
Reportedly, the magazine received over 20,000(!) letters about the article.
"You lousy, rotten, good-for-nothing blankety-blanks. You got me hook, line and sinker—and I loved it. — MIKE LIDLE, Halifax, Pa."


The photos that accompanied the story, (and a couple that didn't.)

Wikipedia: Mets fans were overjoyed at their luck in finding such a player, and flooded Sports Illustrated with requests for more information. The sports editor of one of New York's newspapers complained to Jay Horwitz, the public relations director of the Mets, for allowing Sports Illustrated to have the scoop. Two general managers called Commissioner of Baseball Peter Ueberroth to ask how their batters could face Finch safely. Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg Times sent a reporter to find Finch, and a radio talk show host claimed he saw Finch pitch. The Mets gave Finch a locker between George Foster and Darryl Strawberry. The three major networks, CBS, NBC, and ABC, and the local St. Petersburg, Florida newspapers sent reporters to Al Lang Stadium for a press conference about Finch. At the April 2 press conference, Berton announced his retirement. Via: The Longform Guide to Hoaxes, Pranks and Outright Fabrications.
posted by zarq (23 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
28 years ago. Wow. I had saved up my paper route money for a subscription to Sports Illustrated and that was one of the first issues I got. It was incredible. Everybody was fooled. It was Sports Illustrated, after all. The authoritative voice on sports. This was at a time when there was no internet, no sports radio, no feedback loop whatsoever. It was just out there, believe it or not, and why wouldn't you believe it?

Man, I am old.
posted by Balonious Assault at 9:18 PM on April 1, 2013


Ha ha! I like the french horn photo. And the lone boot. So awesome.
posted by latkes at 9:20 PM on April 1, 2013


Jay Horwitz previously.

My 8th grade teacher recommended me the novel version of the article and I remember it being rather strange.
posted by edeezy at 9:22 PM on April 1, 2013


I'm sad there's a typo in the SI intro to the photo series and take this as a sign of the publishing industry's unwillingness to pay enough humans to do basic proofing, and as a symbol of the downfall of civilization generally.
posted by latkes at 9:23 PM on April 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm sad there's a typo in the SI intro to the photo series
Interestingly, a search for "ratty hiker's boat", reveals that the typo has been hanging around with this set of photos for a while.
posted by unliteral at 10:36 PM on April 1, 2013


The Mets even put up a tarp to "hide" Finch's imaginary bullpen sessions from the press, then punched holes in the tarp and said his uncatchable fastballs made the holes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:42 PM on April 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The photos are terrific -- those were the days of the truly great leg-pull.
posted by dhartung at 11:48 PM on April 1, 2013


The Trib piece is typoriffic too.
posted by mwhybark at 12:06 AM on April 2, 2013


This was just so much fun. That it even existed!
posted by chavenet at 1:43 AM on April 2, 2013


Plimpton's subsequent novelization of the saga of Sidd Finch, told from the perspective of a fictitious third party, is a pretty fine read and goes wonderfully meta once it gets to the point where Finch's story hits SI. It opens with the Mets coaching staff preparing their catchers by dropping baseballs at 'em from a blimp, as it's the only way they can figure to achieve the velocity of Finch's pitch.
posted by Spatch at 1:48 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect the blimp thing didn't work- a baseball's terminal velocity is around 74 mph, less than half what Finch could achieve.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:12 AM on April 2, 2013


One of the four times in their history the Mets were the best at anything. Come August it is sadly likely that I'd welcome a fictional pitcher for what he'd add to the staff. I'd probably welcome a whole lineup of fictional players. Mets fans are so ripe for trolling.
posted by oneironaut at 4:34 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


That first photo in the slideshow might be my favorite baseball photo of all time.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:49 AM on April 2, 2013


I suspect the blimp thing didn't work- a baseball's terminal velocity is around 74 mph, less than half what Finch could achieve.

I suspect they were joking.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 4:57 AM on April 2, 2013


I'm actually reading the novelization of this right now, and enjoying it immensely.
posted by synecdoche at 4:59 AM on April 2, 2013


(Of course, the incorrect right hand position in the French horn-playing photo is the immediate tell here. Other than the general absurdity of it all.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:44 AM on April 2, 2013


Funny, I was a huge Mets fan in '85 and I barely remember this. I guess nobody where I worked read Sports Illustrated; I know I didn't. This gave me a near heart-stopping hit of nostalgia, though: "Lenny Dykstra, a swift centerfielder who may be the Mets' lead-off man of the future..." God damn, I miss that team.
posted by languagehat at 11:31 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember that really well. My mom's copy of SI had just arrived, so I nabbed it for something to read while babysitting. And the catch, of course, is that while the cover date was April 1, subscription copies arrived days earlier, so you didn't have April Fools on your mind. I remember being boggled, and sure that somebody had been conned, but I couldn't figure out who -- the Mets or SI, and yet there was this little bit of wondering if it was true. I had to resist calling my mom and asking her if she thought it was real. It was quite a while before I looked at the cover and caught the date.
posted by tavella at 11:42 AM on April 2, 2013


languagehat: This gave me a near heart-stopping hit of nostalgia, though: "Lenny Dykstra, a swift centerfielder who may be the Mets' lead-off man of the future..."

Yeah. Weird to think that Sidd Finch's career would be long over by now, if he ever had one.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:58 AM on April 2, 2013


Weird to think that Sidd Finch's career would be long over by now...

What are you talking about? A guy with a 168 mph fastball could lose half his speed and still find a spot on the Twins' pitching staff.
posted by sixpack at 1:55 PM on April 2, 2013


If I remember right, if you took the first letter of every word in the contents-page summary before the article, they spelled out "Happy April Fools' Day."
posted by AJaffe at 2:56 PM on April 2, 2013


What are you talking about? A guy with a 168 mph fastball could lose half his speed and still find a spot on the Twins' pitching staff.

Fair point, but surely his rotator cuff would be dust by this point.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:25 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


From one of those searches for 'ratty hiker's boat' [PDF] [SI article]:

a baseball's terminal velocity is around 74 mph
On July 2, 1957, Moses Johnson, a utility infielder called up by the Yankees from the Denver Bears, hit a ball during batting practice that cleared the facade in rightfield, the first player to hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium. Unbeknownst to him the ball was doctored, made up of the material that goes into a golf ball, very likely by Billy Martin, a known prankster. Johnson was so excited by what he had done that he asked the management for an immediate raise. Sent back to Denver he hit only one home run that summer. After batting a meager .206 for his career, he subsequently retired to Plymouth, Mass., still convinced that he had somehow done the extraordinary.
Weird to think that Sidd Finch's career would be long over by now
Finch resurfaced two years ago (SI, July 31, 2000), preparing to throw a javelin on behalf of England in the Sydney Olympics. Once again, after throwing the javelin an astonishing distance in practice (reportedly a quarter mile), he failed to put his skills to the test. Perhaps worried about injuring someone should the javelin fly out of the Olympic stadium, he never turned up at the games.
Also:
A Canadian light heavyweight boxer named Fernando Epps, known for his zany behaviour in the ring, inserted a toad into his mouth just before the second round of a bout (on Aug 10, 1973, in Toledo) against Yazmo Phipp. He popped the toad out halfway through the round, thoroughly startling Phipp, who went on to lose a decision. Complained Phipp, "I had no idea what else was going to come out."
posted by unliteral at 5:44 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


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