In 1985, Sports Illustrated published an astonishing story about a young man named Sidd Finch, a prospect in the Mets organization, whose fastball had been clocked during Spring training that year at 168 miles per hour. I was an SI subscriber at the time, and can still remember reading the article in utter disbelief. The vividly detailed piece was written by the great George Plimpton, and contained quotes from manager Davey Johnson, pitching coach Mel Stottelmyre, and a young center field prospect named Lenny Dykstra [who would himself live an amazing story as a post-baseball “financial genius” as profiled on HBO’s Real Sports, who later turned out to be a reportedly bankrupt shady business dealer].
I didn’t quite know what to make of the story as I read it through for the first time, but I knew that something wasn’t right. 168 miles per hour? I mean, c’mon. Nolan Ryan can only throw at 103, but some English kid has gone to Tibet and meditated and figured out a way to throw almost twice as hard as the Ryan Express? Then I looked at the cover of the magazine and it hit me: April 01st, April fools.
It was a great joke, an instant classic. I belly laughed good and long, and tipped my cold barley pop to ‘ol George. And perhaps even more funny than the article itself were all the letters and stories spawned in subsequent weeks by readers who didn’t get that the whole thing was a prank. Another amazing coup in a career filled with them for Plimpton. Of course that was back when SI mattered for anything other than the annual swimsuit issue.
The reason I bring up the whole Sidd Finch saga is because sometimes when I’m reading stories these days about potential free agents who may be coveted by Dayton Moore, I’m hoping they are really just fake yarns intended to get my goat, especially after watching Jeff Francoeur’s at bats in the Rangers post season games to date. Maybe Dayton will acknowledge his critics this time and take a flyer on Frenchy. But then again, this is the same GM who couldn’t wait to sign Jason Kendall to a two-year deal last winter. But perhaps he has learned something since then. I certainly hope so, at least. And that’s no joke.