The Curious Case of Sidd Finch
Finch was a rare bird and Plimpton did a helluva a fine job writing about him.
If you missed the article, Finch was believed to have the best arm in baseball ever—as in of all time, not just that year. With a 168 mph fastball and a set-up that outfielder John Christensen likened to “Goofy’s pitching in one of Walt Disney’s cartoon classics,” it was easy to imagine Finch lacked the accuracy to match his speed, but . . . Not the case.
He had speed.
He had accuracy.
He had an extraordinary back-story, too.
Finch’s childhood existed in an orphanage in England, until he was adopted by a world-renowned archaeologist. Little is known of those first few years following his adoption. What we do know is that the archaeologist died in a plane crash in Nepal — and that Finch spent much of the following year wandering through the area near the crash. According to Plimpton, the plane was never found.
Harvard was Finch’s next stop — which proved a short one. He dropped out, but not before leaving a strong impression on his roommate. Seems Finch had a knack for languages and music. Spoke ten languages and his French Horn playing was a thing of beauty.
There’s another gap in Finch’s past and then he pops up in 1985, near a game that had just been played by the Mets’ AAA farm-club. The manager, Bob Schaefer, told Plimpton that when Finch approached him, he thought Finch wanted an autograph. Instead, Finch said something about having learned the “art of the pitch.”
Here’s a direct quote from Schaefer, pulled from Plimpton’s article:
“I am about to hurry on to the hotel when this kid points out a soda bottle on top of a fence post about the same distance home plate is from the pitcher’s rubber. He rears way back, comes around and pops the ball at it. Out there on that fence post the soda bottle explodes. It disintegrates like a rifle bullet hit it—just little specks of vaporized glass in a puff. Beyond the post I could see the ball bouncing across the grass of the park until it stopped about as far away as I can hit a three-wood on a good day.
“I said, very calm, ‘Son, would you mind showing me that again?’
The rest is history.
It’s a remarkable story. It really is.
Young, handsome, likeable kid, void of Ego.
A vagabond without any known bad-public-relations-attracting baggage, who had stumbled into the game. (Or maybe the game stumbled into him?)
A renaissance man, whose deep thoughts ran the line of, “When your mind is empty like a canyon you will know the power of the Way.”
A phenom, being courted by a team that hadn’t won the World Series since 1969.
Also, pure fiction, of the Paul Bunyan variety.
The article appeared on April Fool’s Day. Quite a few people were in on the joke, with the feature including images of Finch traveling the world, Mets players, Finch’s roommate, and even the landlady, Mrs. Roy Butterfield.
Quite a few more people were heartbroken when they tuned into reality.
It was a War of the Worlds moment, with readers believing Plimpton just as listeners had believed Orson Welles decades before.
As War of the Worlds interrupted breaking news, which is how listeners of the time were trained to expect an emergency broadcast, Sidd Finch appeared in Sports Illustrated, in a format — and by a writer — which they were trained to believe authenticated the story.
In both cases, non-believers existed, but why so many believers?
For War of the Worlds, it was the first time, presented by media that was supposed to be trusted.
For Sidd Finch, people wanted to believe in the Mets’ salvation. They wanted the story to be true.
Decades have passed between both and people are still believing media outlets when they should be questioning—and they’re still believing the unbelievable because they hope there’s a grain of truth, that someone could come out of nowhere and end up becoming the basket in which a major league club is placing all its eggs.
Every now and then it happens, but mostly… The Sidd Finches of this world are just what the seventh definition in Plimpton’s dictionary defined “finch” as: “a small lie.” They’re fun to believe in, but the real deals come with decades of work. The rest of them? Question. Question. Question. Just because a journalist says it, doesn’t make it so.
For Plimpton, though, it was solid writing, showing his knowledge of the game and of story — of those elements that had to be included for the story to be believed. While his character retired April 2, 1985, his writing has endured.