It’s been almost a quarter century since Sports Illustrated pulled off one of the ultimate pranks and ran a featured story on the Mets latest pitching phenom, Sidd Finch.
Finch wasn’t just an ordinary phenom, far from it… More like other worldly… I mean what else do you call a kid who can blaze a 150 mph fastball by your head?
As Sports Illustrated wrote in it’s sub-heading:
“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.”
Only the sharpest of minds would have noticed that the first letter in each word spelled out “Happy April Fools Day.”
After Sports Illustrated ran “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” in its April 1, 1985 issue, all of baseball was a buzz with curiosity; phones were ringing off the hook, reporters scrambled to get a bead on the story, and the baseball commissioner had to field complaints from concerned general managers who were up in arms over the Mets newest fire-balling weapon. Literally thousands of letters poured into Sports Illustrated’s George Plimpton who wrote the article.
Here is the first part of that classic April Fools Day prank, that Sports Illustrated perpetrated on the entire sports world.
The secret cannot be kept much longer. Questions are being asked, and sooner rather than later the New York Mets management will have to produce a statement. It may have started unraveling in St. Petersburg, Florida two weeks ago, on March 14th, to be exact, when Mel Stottelmyre, the Met pitching coach, walked over to the 40-odd Met players doing their morning calisthenics at the Payson Field Complex not far from the golf of Mexico, a solitary figure among the pulsation of jumping jacks, and motioned three Mets to step out of the exercise. The three, all good prospects, were John Christensen, a 24-year-old outfielder; Dave Cochrane, a square but muscular switch-hitting third baseman; and Lenny Dykstra, a swift centerfielder who may be the Mets’ leading man of the future.
Ordering the three to collect their bats and batting helmets, Stottelmyre led the players to the north end of the complex where a large canvas enclosure had been constructed two weeks before. The rumor was that some irrigation machinery was being installed in an underground pit.
Standing outside the enclosure, Stottelmyre explained what he wanted. “First of all,” the coach said, “the club’s got kind of a delicate situation here, and it would help if you keep reasonably quiet about it, O.K.?” The three nodded. Stottelmyre said, “We’ve got a young pitcher we’re looking at. We want to see what he’ll do with a batter standing in the box. We’ll do this alphabetically. John, go on in there, stand at the plate and gave the pitcher a target. That’s all you have to do.”
“Do you want me to take a cut?” Christensen asked.”
Stottelmyre produced a dry chuckle. “You can do anything you want.”
Christensen pulled aside a canvas flap and found himself inside a rectangular area about 90 feet long and 30 feet wide, open to the sky, with a home plate set in the ground just in front of him, and down at the far end a pitcher’s mound, with a small group of Met front-office personnel standing behind it, facing home plate.
Christensen recognized Nelson Doubleday, the owner of the Mets, and Frank Cashen, wearing a long-billed fishing cap. He had never seen Doubleday at the training facility before.
Christensen bats right-handed. As he stepped around the plate he nodded to Ronn Reynolds, the stocky reserve catcher who had been with the Mets organization since 1980. Reynolds whispered up to him from his crouch, “Kid, you won’t believe what you’re about to see.”
A second flap down by the pitcher’s end was drawn open, and a tall, gawky player walked in and stepped up onto the pitcher’s mound. He was wearing a small, black fielder’s glove on his left hand and was holding a baseball in his right. Christensen had never seen him before. He had blue eyes, Christensen remembers, and a pale, youthful face, with facial muscles that were motionless, like a mask. “You notice it,” Christensen explained later, “when a pitcher’s jaw isn’t working on a chaw or a piece of gum.” Then to Christensen’s astonishment he saw that the pitcher, pawing at the dirt of the mound to get it smoothed out properly and to his liking, was wearing a heavy hiking boot on his right foot.
Christensen had since been persuaded to describe that first confrontation:
“I’m standing in there to give this guy a target, just waving the bat once or twice out over the plate. He starts his windup. He sways way back, like Juan Marichal, this hiking boot comes clomping over-I thought maybe he was wearing it for balance or something-and he suddenly rears upright like a catapult. The ball is launched from an arm completely straight up and stiff. Before you can blink, the ball is in the catcher’s mitt. You hear it crack, and then there’s this little bleat from Reynolds.”
Christensen said the motion reminded him of the extraordinary contortions that he remembered of Goofy’s pitching in one of Walt Disney’s cartoon classics.
“I never dreamed a baseball could be thrown that fast. The wrist must have a lot to do with it, and all that leverage. You can hardly see the blur of it as it goes by. As for hitting the thing, frankly, I just don’t think it’s humanly possible. You could send a blind man up there, and maybe he’d do better hitting at the sound of the thing.”
Read the rest of the article here, and a Happy April Fools Day to all of you…