George Plimpton and “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch”

By John Sullivan | April 1st, 2024

A legendary April Fools’ Day sports hoax

Baseball on fire, by W.scott McGill. Article on Sidd Finch April Fools' Day hoax

All hoaxes are intended to deceive. But on very rare occasions a hoax is intended to do nothing more than entertain through its deception. Such a hoax was “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch,” the greatest hoax in sports history.

The creator of the Sidd Finch hoax was George Plimpton. Born into the Manhattan aristocracy, Mr. Plimpton wrote more than 30 books. He was even better known for his “participatory journalism” – his efforts trying out at quarterback for the Detroit Lions; pitching against major league hitters; goaltending for hockey’s Boston Bruins; and golfing against Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Plamer.

The hoax began at the New York offices of Sports Illustrated in early 1985. The managing editor noticed that a cover date for the magazine would fall on April 1. The editor asked Plimpton to write an article on April Foolsjokes in sports. He could not come up with enough funny jokes for an article; Plimpton said most of the jokes were of the “you had to be there” variety. Instead, he invented his own April Fools’ joke, the story of baseball pitcher Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch. “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” appeared in the April 1,1985 issue of Sports Illustrated. To be convincing a hoax needs details and this 14-page story had plenty. Sidd Finch was described as an out-of-nowhere 28-year-old Harvard dropout who spoke multiple languages, including Sanskrit. Sidd pitched with one foot bare and the other in a hiking boot. His only possessions were wool shirts, a knapsack, a prayer rug, food bowl, and a French horn, which he played in the bath. And Sidd Finch could throw a baseball at speeds faster than anyone had ever seen.

According to the article, Sidd was orphaned after his father was killed in a plane crash in Nepal. Sidd grew up in an English orphanage. He moved to Tibet, where he was trained by Buddhist monks.  During the course of his Buddhist training, Sidd Finch mastered the Tantric union of mind and body. As a result, he learned how to throw a baseball clocked at an unheard of 168 miles per hour, and to do so with inhumanly pinpoint accuracy.

Supposedly Sidd appeared at spring training for the New York Mets in St. Petersburg, Florida before the 1985 season. Sidd was described as blue eyed, tall and gawky. He had “facial muscles that were motionless, like a mask.” His pitching style looked a bit like “Goofy pitching in a Walt Disney cartoon.”

Because Sidd had not yet decided on whether he wanted to play baseball, he insisted on pitching in private. The Mets constructed a canvas-covered enclosure to ensure privacy. The unfortunate Mets batters sent up to hit against the Finch fastball emerged “startled and awestruck.” Hit the pitch? “I just don’t think that it’s possible,” one hitter concluded.

The Sports Illustrated article promised that Sidd Finch “may well change the course of baseball history.” But, of course, it was not to be. There was no Sidd Finch. One week later George Plimpton ended the tale with a short “The End of the Affair – Sidd Finch,” also appearing in Sports Illustrated: “The curious case of Sidd Finch, as revealed by George Plimpton in last week’s issue, came to resolution Monday in St. Petersburg. The eccentric flame-thrower, whose pitches reportedly had been clocked at 168 mph, kept his promise to tell the baseball world on April 1 whether he’d join the New York Mets or concentrate on the French horn.” Sidd Finch chose the French horn. George Plimpton ends the story with, “He then gave a gallant wave and walked away, very much alone.”

The New York Mets were in on the hoax, and they provided photos of Mets players and coaches for believability. There was even a picture allegedly of Sidd Finch. In reality, the 6’4’ man in the picture was a middle school art teacher from Illinois.

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Perhaps the greatest sign of Plimpton’s genius for the hoax was that he hinted at the joke for all of us to see – The first letter of each word (in bold below) in the article’s subhead spells out Happy April Fools’ Day:

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.

In the tradition of some people just not being able to take a joke, many Sports Illustrated subscribers cancelled their subscription when the hoax was revealed. At least two baseball general managers contacted the Mets about their non-existent pitcher.

Clearly George Plimpton enjoyed his hoax – one of the definitions of “Finch” in the Oxford English Dictionary is a “small lie.”

John Sullivan is a Baltimore writer and a fan of baseball and hoaxes. His novel about a scam, Mr. Fox, is looking for a publisher.


“The legend of Sidd Finch,”

“Chicago Tribune article about the day the mythical pitcher, Sidd Finch, came to Bash,”

“An old baseball April Fools hoax,” Alan Schwarz, New York Times, April 1, 2005.

“What happened to Mets pitching sensation Sidd Finch,” Kyle Dalton, Sportscasting, April 1, 2021.

“Baseball extras: The curious case of Sidd Finch, George Plimpton, Sports Illustrated, April 1, 1985. “Day 21 without sports: The day George Plimpton fooled the entire world with Sidd Finch, USA Today, April 1, 2020.

“George Plimpton, urbane and witty writer, dies at 76,” Richard Severo, New York Times obituary, September 26, 2003.

“Sidd Finch: A baseball and April Fools Joke,” Bleacher Report, Jeff Summers, April 1, 2010.

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