George Plimpton, founder of the Paris Review and Sidd Finch

George Plimpton, founder of the Paris Review and Sidd Finch

I was at work yesterday and mentioned that tomorrow (now today) was the 30th anniversary of the Sidd Finch hoax. For those who have never heard, Finch was a hot prospect for the New York Mets in 1985. This was the moment when the Mets were turning it around. Daryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden had won the Rookie of the Year the previous two seasons. Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter were now with the club. Finch was going to take the Mets to Promised Land. There was only one thing: he didn’t exist. It was all an elaborate hoax that appeared in the April 1 edition of Sports Ilustrated. George Plimpton wrote the fifteen page piece on the hurler who could throw it 168 mph. Finch, as the story went, had never played organized ball but had learned an amazing throwing technique while studying Eastern Philosophy in Tibet.

The story sounded so implausible but what made it work was that the April Fools project had the blessing of the Mets management and ownership. Nelson Doubleday owned the publishing firm under which Plimpton was under contract at the time. The general manager of the team and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre also chipped in their support, giving fake interviews to build up the hype and feasibility. An SI photographer went to Port Saint Lucie to record Finch at the Mets training camp. They even found the perfect guy to play Finch, a middle school art teacher from Chicago named Joe Berton.

In today’s world such a tall tale would be debunked pretty quickly. In those days before the internet though, millions fell for the joke. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth was getting anxious calls from baseball people asking for details; editors were chastising beat writers for missing out on the story. It captured Americans’ imaginations for the first of April. It was even on Nightline.

The folks at my job to whom I mentioned it had no idea who Finch was. When I mentioned Plimpton though they lit up. Little did I know that we are in a Sidd Finch renaissance. ESPN’s 30 for 30 released a short today about the whole thing. Take fifteen and have a laugh this April Fools Day.

(image/Nancy Wong)