35 years ago today, the New York Mets were part of the greatest April Fool’s joke in baseball history. It was The Curious Case of Sidd Finch.
As we wait for life to return to normal, no one feels much like joking this April 1st. There’s no baseball, basketball, and contrary to Roger Goodell’s insistence I don’t see the NFL starting on time either. I hope he doesn’t threaten to put a black mark on my permanent record for saying so. So let’s take a trip down memory lane when the New York Mets were part of the best April Fools’ joke in sports history.
The story of Siddartha “Sidd” Finch, was on the Sports Illustrated cover on April 1, 1985. The story inside featured the best Mets prospect since Nolan Ryan.
Finch was a lanky, 6’4″ wunderkind who could throw a fastball 168 miles an hour, hit any spot he wanted with pinpoint control and he did it all with just one shoe on. The young man had never played baseball before but his potential was limitless.
Mets fans were ecstatic when they read about him. Every major network had reporters and cameras for the start of Mets camp in 1985 to get a look at him, and at least two GM’s called the commissioner’s office to find out more info. There was just one problem…Finch was not a real person. This was almost 10 years before crazed football fans tried to find Forest Gump’s stats while a member of the Alabama Crimson tide.
SI gave George Plimpton the assignment to write about the best April Fools’ jokes in sports and discovered there wasn’t much there. So instead he decided to create one himself.r. Sports Illustrated was on board, and eventually, even the Mets agreed to play along. It was the perfect set-up.
When news broke about Finch, local newspapers were upset with the Mets PR staff for not letting them break the story. Photos of Finch circulated showing him chatting with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. SI photographer Lane Stewart got his friend, art teacher Dave Berton, to pose as Finch for the photos. Adding to the realism the Mets even issued him a number, 21.
On April 2, 1985, Finch announced his retirement from baseball to pursue some combination of Yoga, the french horn and/or golf. SI published a follow-up article on April 8th announcing the retirement, and another on April 15th acknowledging the hoax.
Plimpton, who feared the joke would make him a laughingstock if it fell flat, eventually extended the original article into a full book. In case you didn’t know, Plimpton was a writer who joined the Detroit Lions as a third-string quarterback in 1963 to show what it would be like for an average man off the street to be a pro football player. He also wrote a book about that experience, “Paper Lion”.
The Mets then spent the ensuing decades watching more prospects flame out.
So yes, Finch being non-existent was a negative for New York Mets fans, but let’s look at the positives. He never threw bleach or lit firecrackers at reporters. He wasn’t part of Generation K. He wasn’t Lastings Milledge. He never took a called third strike to end the NLCS. He never married Anna Benson. He never ran a pyramid scam. He wasn’t Gregg Jefferies. All in all, I’d rather have had the fictitious Finch then most of what passed through Shea Stadium and Citi Field in the 35 years that followed.
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Not to be left out the Yankees had their own version of Finch in the late ’90s. A five-tool outfielder who drew comparisons to Mickey Mantle. He could run, throw, hit for average and had tremendous power. Reggie Jackson was quoted as saying ” A blind man could see his talent.” He was the best prospect in decades and Yankee fans counted down the days until he debuted.
If only he had followed Finch’s example and retired after his first day at camp. Instead, we discovered he lacked baseball I.Q., had attitude issues and much like Pedro Cerrano, he couldn’t hit breaking pitches. This player was traded for Japan’s version of Finch (Hideki Irabu, the Japanese Nolan Ryan). He eventually ended up back on the club and was released after stealing Derek Jeter‘s glove. I’d take Sidd Finch over Ruben Rivera every time.
Do you remember “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch?” Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below or on social media.