In 1985, Sports Illustrated writer George Plimpton penned a profile on Mets’ pitching prospect Sidd Finch, a 28-year-old who pitched with a hiking boot on one foot and had a fastball clocked in at 168 miles per hour.
It was a thorough examination of a phenom that was previously unknown.
It was also the greatest April Fools’ joke in sports history.
To create an authenticity to the story, Plimpton contacted his close friend, Nelson Doubleday, the owner of the New York Mets at the time, and received permission to create fictional quotes from the team.
The article included recollections of first person encounters with Finch from Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and outfielder Lenny Dykstra.
But it was also important to have a visual portrait of Finch.
Lane Stewart was the photographer for the article, and he recruited Joe Berton from Chicago who flew to the Mets’ spring training complex in Florida and took pictures throwing with the team with one bare foot and playing a French Horn, all part of the profile crafted by Plimpton.
Sports Illustrated would reveal the hoax a few days after the release of the article, but not before several major league baseball general managers alleged called the commisioner’s office, expressing concern for the safety of their players against Finch’s fastball.
The Mets would hold a Sidd Finch Retirement Day and invited Berton to be part of the event, Plimpton would go onto expand the story of Finch into a novel.
Somehow, Sidd Finch became very much real through our appreciation for what the parties involved had created: a sports cult hero that still doesn’t exist in any form but Plimpton’s fictional account.
Remember one of the greatest April Fools Day pranks ever pulled, a George Plimpton article in Sports Illustrated entitled “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch,” which was published on April 1, 1985. The piece, about a newly discovered, larger-than-life baseball player who could supposedly throw a fastball 168 miles per hour, was presented as fact by the mag and fooled people across the nation for several days.
Of course a clever person could have figured out the hoax from the first line - “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” - with the first letter of every word spelling out “Happy April Fools Day.”
I still have this issue of SI.