With Minor League Baseball’s annual Moniker Madness competition just a few weeks away, what better time to investigate and recount the stories of two of the most curious names in baseball history? Not only are the names unusual, but the stories more so, because neither of them ever actually existed.
Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch (Born and Died, April 1, 1985) is to baseball what Piltdown Man is to anthropology–the most famous hoax ever recorded. Concocted by iconic sports author George Plimpton as an April Fools day prank for the April, 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, Finch was touted as a super rookie pitcher with the New York Mets. According to the incredible story–a bit too incredible to get many people to believe it–Finch grew up in an orphanage in Tibet where he learned meditation, yoga and to play the French horn. Supposedly he had never played baseball before his tryout in Mets spring camp that year but could pitch the ball an astounding 168mph without warming up and while wearing only one shoe with the other foot bare. It was reported that he was still undecided between a career as a professional baseball player or professional French horn player.
I remember this story vividly, because one of my best friends called me and urged me to get a copy of Sports Illustrated and read the story. The company I worked for at the time had front row season box seats at Shea Stadium for the Mets; my friend thought I would fall for the story and get really psyched to get a good close up look at this guy. It didn’t work; I was not buying it. From the beginning, something didn’t seem right. The pictures didn’t feel genuine; they appeared staged. Then I got to the 168 mph fastball. I’m an ex-sportscaster and major baseball aficionado–I stopped right there. The fastest
pitch ever officially recorded at that time was 103mph (since surpassed by current Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman at 105 mph). I don’t care if the guy had a Howitzer for a right arm, there is no way any human being was going to pitch near that fast. I turned to the front cover, looked at the issue date, and said “April Fools.” Ironically, that 1985 Mets team had no need of a Sidd Finch. Their real super rookie pitcher, Dwight Gooden, had won NL Rookie of the Year award the previous season. He proceeded to win the NL Cy Young award in 1985 and helped lead the Mets to their best season in history in 1986: 108 wins and a World Series championship. The only sad thing about this story? The current Mets probably couldn’t win with five Sidd Finches.
Joe Shlabotnik (b.??-d??) was the favorite player of the most famous fictional baseball fan in the history of the universe: Charlie Brown. Joe Shlabotnik, in the “Peanuts” world, was to baseball, as that infamous failed place kick was to football. It was Lucy’s ultimate diss of Charlie. Though Joe was a marginal player who spent most of his time in the minors, Charlie pined for his baseball card but could never get it. On one occasion in the early 1960’s he squandered $5.00 on 500 penny packs of cards, and did not get one single Joe Shlabotnik. Lucy then bought one pack, got a Shlabotnik but refused to trade it to Charlie Brown, even for the offer of all those hundreds of penny packs. Charlie walked away in disgust, and Lucy proceeded to throw Joe in the trash. “He’s not as cute as I thought,” she opined. With names like Zealous Wheeler, Jose Jose, and 2013 winner Sicnarf Loopstok, we’ve often commented that Minor League Baseball’s Moniker Madness has names that you couldn’t possibly make up. Well, maybe, but George Plimpton and Charles Schulz might have had something to say about that.
You can see more of my madness at the Millennium Conjectures.