Joe Berton was the greatest pitcher to ever climb a mound. And today, Joe Berton, a retired school teacher who lives in Oak Park and is 57 and Ichabod-Crane spindly and does not swivel heads anymore, is a footnote to sports history. No, that's not quite it: Joe Berton is a footnote to a footnote to sports history.
Wait, scratch that: Joe Berton is a footnote to a footnote to a bit of sports history that never happened.
Yes, that's it: Joe Berton was Sidd Finch. Or rather, he was the model for Finch, who was born in the spring of 1985. Finch was the baseball player featured in the April 1, 1985, issue of Sports Illustrated
; the story, titled "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch," was by George Plimpton, a 14-page profile of a New York Mets
pitching phenom who had never played the game but whose fastball was a leather-wrapped sonic boom of 168 miles per hour.
So with the Cubs
and Sox opening their seasons on Friday, the first of April, April Fool's Day
, we thought to check in on Berton. This is, after all, the anniversary of the greatest hoax in the history of baseball.He was 32 in 1985.He landed in the story because he was close friends with SI staff photographer Lane Stewart, who read Plimpton's piece before publication. Plimpton had written that Sidd was awkward and shy, his loping pitching style a dead ringer for Goofy
in old Disney cartoons. Stewart was astonished at how much of Plimpton's description sounded like his 6-foot-4 buddy in Oak Park.