In 1986, the New York Mets won the World Series behind the starting pitching of Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, and the bullpen work of Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco. The pitchers combined for an impressive 3.11 ERA that season.
It’s hard to imagine but the staff could have been significantly better if 1985 spring training pitching sensation Sidd Finch had stuck around that season. Unfortunately for Mets fans, it never happened and it was a case of what might have been. What happened to Sidd Finch and where is he today?
Who was Sidd Finch?
The April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated shocked the sports world with a story about an unknown pitcher who could throw the ball at speeds harder than anyone had seen, much less imagined. Writer George Plimpton introduced Sidd Finch and his unbelievable story to the world.
Finch was an orphan after his father had been tragically killed in an airplane accident. He spent a lot of time in Tibet and was raised by Buddhist monks. During the course of his training growing up, Finch had mastered the union of mind and body and learned how to throw a baseball at speeds reaching an incredible 168 miles per hour.
In addition to pitching, he was talented as a musician and played the French horn. He could have potentially pursued a career in music. Instead, the one-time Harvard student opted to explore a career in baseball.
Sidd Finch appears at Mets spring training
There was a buzz around the Mets spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1985 about the new pitcher in town. However, it was also very mysterious. The Mets constructed a special black canvas enclosure for Sidd Finch to pitch in, with limited access to certain staff.
Mets catcher Ronn Reynolds had a chance to step behind the curtain and caught Finch. “It’s like trying to catch something you can’t hardly see,” Reynolds said to reporters.
Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said he actually felt bad for Reynolds.
“It’s Ronn Reynolds I feel sorry for. Every time that ball comes in, first you hear this smack sound of the ball driving into the pocket of the mitt, and then you hear this little gasp, this ai yee!—the catcher, poor guy, his whole body shakin’ like an angina’s hit it.”
While Sidd Finch could reportedly throw a ball faster than anyone had ever witnessed—Nolan Ryan once threw a pitch at an estimated speed of 108.5 mph—the pitcher was ambivalent about playing for the Mets. That’s because fame and fortune were the complete opposite of the Buddhist teachings he had studied.
Where is he today?
It turns out Sidd Finch didn’t have to decide whether or not to pitch for the Mets. That’s because Finch was a complete hoax. None of it was true. Interestingly, Sports Illustrated dropped a big hint in the subhead describing the story. “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.”
When you take the first letter of each word, it spelled out Happy April Fool’s Day, ah fib. The whole story on Sidd Finch was a hoax dreamed up at Sports Illustrated and the Mets organization agreed to play along. George Plimpton wrote the article and photographer Lane Stewart took the pictures in Florida of Finch, aka his friend, Joe Berton, who was a middle school art teacher in real life.
Certain members of the Mets organization were in on it, including the team’s media relations director who sold it to the press. And it worked.
Readers believed it was true because Sports Illustrated was a reputable magazine that no one imagined would go to that length and devote that many pages to some fictitious story. It was reported that a couple MLB general managers called commissioner Peter Ueberroth, asking about the unknown commodity.
Plimpton died in 2003. As for Sidd Finch/Joe Berton, he’s always been a Cubs fan and still lives in Illinois. And every April 1, he gets to relive the day he became known as the hardest-throwing pitcher in MLB history.