In its April 1985 edition, Sports Illustrated published an article by George Plimpton that described an incredible rookie baseball player who was training at the Mets camp in St. Petersburg, Florida. The player was named Sidd Finch (Sidd being short for Siddhartha, the Indian mystic in Hermann Hesse’s book of the same name). He could reportedly pitch a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy. The fastest previous recorded speed for a pitch was 103 mph.
Finch had never played baseball before. He had been raised in an English orphanage before he was adopted by the archaeologist Francis Whyte-Finch who was later killed in an airplane crash in the Dhaulaglri mountain region of Nepal. Finch briefly attended Harvard before he headed to Tibet where he learned the teachings of the “great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa” and mastered “siddhi, namely the yogic mastery of mind-body.” Through his Tibetan mind-body mastery, Finch had “learned the art of the pitch.”
Finch showed up at the Mets camp in Florida, and so impressed their manager that he was invited to attend training camp. When pitching he looked, in the words of the catcher, “like a pretzel gone loony.”
Finch frequently wore a hiking boot on his right foot while pitching, his other foot being bare. His speed and power were so great that the catcher would only hear a small sound, “a little pft, pft-boom,” before the ball would land in his glove, knocking him two or three feet back. One of the players declared that it was not “humanly possible” to hit Finch’s pitches.
Unfortunately for the Mets, Finch had not yet decided whether to commit himself to a career as a baseball player, or to pursue a career as a French Horn player. He told the Mets management that he would let them know his decision on April 1. Sports Illustrated received almost 2000 letters in response to the article, and it became one of their most famous stories ever. On April 8 they declared that Finch had held a press conference in which he said that he had lost the accuracy needed to throw his fastball and would therefore not be pursuing a career with the Mets. On April 15 they admitted that the story was a hoax.
George Plimpton actually left an obscure hint that the story was a hoax within the article itself (the non-obscure hint being that the story was absurd). The sub-heading of the article read: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga —and his future in baseball.” The first letter of each of these words, taken together, spells “H-a-p-p-y A-p-r-i-l F-o-o-l-s D-a-y.”In an odd follow-up, a baseball team in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, after reading the Sports Illustrated article, tried to invite Finch to its annual banquet. They received a reply that read, “The challenge is reaching the Eightfold Path of right belief or the ninth inning with the proper relief. May you have peace of mind.” They announced that they interpreted the reply to mean that Finch would be attending their banquet. It is not known whether Finch did attend.
- I remember this article and resultant broohaha well. I admired and aspired to the writing of Sports Illustrated fare. Loved George Plimpton, who famously tried to play football. Even though sports didn’t illustrate my life, the deathless prose did.