What It Takes

What It Takes

The Curious Case of Sidd Finch

By Callie Oettinger | Published: November 6, 2015

Sidd Finch hit the scene in 1985, via a Sports Illustrated exposé written by George Plimpton.

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.

Posted in What It Takes

16 Responses to “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch”

  1. November 6, 2015 at 6:38 am

    I love it. Thanks, Callie.

    “They’re fun to believe in, but the real deals come with decades of work.”

    That’s really the story you end up finding when you look at so-called overnight successes — people who put in their 10,000 hours under the radar before finally breaking out into fame. This especially being the case whenever the “overnight success” ends up staying in the picture and having a career.

    But we all still want to believe, at least a little bit…

  2. Mary Doyle
    November 6, 2015 at 6:49 am

    Thanks for this Callie! I don’t engage in those little fantasies of overnight success the say I did before Steve introduced me to Resistance. Still, as Jeff stated, “we all still want to believe, at least a little bit…”

    • Mary Doyle
      November 6, 2015 at 6:50 am

      Oops…”way” not “say”

  3. November 6, 2015 at 10:02 am

    A cute, thought-provoking story.

  4. November 6, 2015 at 10:59 am

    …so it is 2015, and I was believing in Sidd Finch. I actually winced a bit inside when I read that it was an April Fools Day joke.

    There is not a small part of me that always wants to believe in this ‘silver bullet’. My special blend of Resistance continually tells me that at some point everything will and should be easy.

    Lately I’ve been visualizing putting on armor each morning, knowing that I’m headed into battle with myself.

    Eating cake is easy. Staying fit is hard. Spending the paycheck today is easy, long term financial strategies are hard. Porn is easy, working on marriage is hard. Working for someone else is easy, creation is hard.

    Nothing worth anything is easy, but I still long for it each day. Crazy, but true.

    Thanks again for a thought provoking post Callie.
    bsn

    • November 6, 2015 at 12:46 pm

      I start thinking “Wouldn’t it be great if . . . ?” and wander down the garden path in my mind and then realize hey, that’s just another version of waiting to be picked.

      Nuh-uh. Silver bullets defy the laws of the universe. I’ll do the work.

      • November 7, 2015 at 6:33 am

        Joel,
        Thanks. Your post actually made me reflect a bit more than I had anticipated. What occurred to me is that when I have fully committed to something, it is much easier for me to make the switch to ‘Do the Work’, almost immediately.

        It is for the areas in my life that I have not opted to fully commit. The areas in which I am still an amateur…which begs another question, can I be a Pro in some areas and an Amateur in others.

        I think my answer is no. So…looks like Nelson needs to reflect upon his own level of commitment. Seeing the consequence of the garden path should be a quick realization, instead of wallowing in the fantasy.

        Thanks again.
        bsn

        • November 11, 2015 at 7:32 am

          Everyone is a pro in some areas and an amateur in others.

          But if you’re talking about overall stance in life, who you are, then yeah, either you’re a pro at heart or your not.

          But even a pro lapses sometimes. Making the choice doesn’t kill Resistance, it merely sets the stage for our own level of effort, our own self-perception, when we face it.

  5. Lee Monson
    November 6, 2015 at 11:58 am

    When I need to remind myself why I want to be an artist, a writer in particular, this is the sort of thing I need to be reminded of.
    Bonus: gives me an idea for a play!

  6. Tina Goodman
    November 6, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    I didn’t know anything about this story; thank you for telling it.
    I wondered how someone could know where a plane crashed but not know where the plane is. A mystery there.

  7. Sonja
    November 6, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Man, you had me! I was beginning to wonder why I’d never heard of him before…fantastic writing, thanks Callie!

  8. Dick Yaeger
    November 6, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    I have to say that Schaefer’s quote was technically implausible and gave me instant pause. Nevertheless, I set it aside as writer (or coach) hyperbole, excited to see where you were leading me. Cool. Very nicely done. Great message.

  9. November 6, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    That was a fun read. Thank you Callie!

  10. Todd
    November 7, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    I remember the afternoon that issue of SI arrived at home. It was a story you wanted to believe in. But it was also a day when it paid to be skeptical.

  11. Bob
    November 17, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    Decades have past between both. . . [passed?]

  12. November 19, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    Perhaps it was Sidd Finch in an alternative universe who went on to help the Mets win the World Series in 1986. Great story!