A George Plimpton Book Binge for April Fools’ Day

George Plimpton, Photo: ©PATRICKMCMULLAN
George Plimpton, Photo: ©PATRICKMCMULLAN

The world met Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch in the April Fools’ Day issue of Sports Illustrated in 1985, courtesy of East Ender George Plimpton’s article and the ever-present hope of baseball fans even in the face of the improbable. A pitching prospect for the New York Mets, Finch was like no other player the game had ever seen—he’d studied yoga in Tibet, attended Harvard, played the French horn, could throw 168 miles an hour and had never played organized baseball.

Of course, he had never existed before Plimpton conjured him and put him on paper.

The subhead to the article read: “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.” Take the first letter of those first 18 words…Happy April Fools’ Day.

It remains one of the sports world’s most beloved hoaxes, one that could only have been imagined and perpetrated by Plimpton—renowned author and actor, first editor in chief of The Paris Review and New York Fireworks Commissioner, raconteur extraordinaire and unmatched master of “participatory journalism,” stepping into utterly foreign circumstances and allowing readers to vicariously immerse themselves through his experience and storytelling.

His wit and sense of wonder, love of a good laugh and dedication to writing that is enthusiastic, elegant and entertaining all at once remain as inimitable today as ever. In honor of Plimpton, with a nod to Sidd Finch, we invite you to start turning the pages in this book binge of hilarious exploits and intellectual meanderings, timeless insights into the human condition and discovery of the extraordinary that awaits within the seemingly ordinary.

Out of My League (1961)
Despite his many forays at the annual Artists & Writers Softball Game, Plimpton’s acumen on the diamond takes a hit when he takes the mound to pitch against two Major League all-star lineups, a National League squad managed by Willie Mays and an American League team helmed by Mickey Mantle, at Yankee Stadium.

Paper Lion (1966)
No version of Madden every got you this close to real NFL action. The Detroit Lions allowed Plimpton to put on a helmet and enter training camp as a potential quarterback. No easy task for a man who’d never played football, made even tougher by the fact that the actual pros on the team didn’t know at the start that Plimpton wasn’t a real player. Check out Sag Harbor’s Alan Alda portraying Plimpton in the 1968 movie adaptation.

The Bogey Man (1967)
Have you ever gone to one of the East End’s mini-golf courses and found it impossible to even make par, the lineup of people waiting to take their turn growing unnervingly behind you as you struggle? Now imagine the life Plimpton lived during a month on the PGA Tour and on the course at the Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, the Lucky International and the Bob Hope Desert Classic.

Shadow Box (1977)
Go toe-to-toe with boxing legends like Archie Moore and Muhammad Ali, as well as pugilistic literary lions like Norman Mailer and Ernest Hemingway, all of whom Plimpton meets inside and outside the ring in this tome. The account of his covering the Rumble in the Jungle will stay with you well after you turn the last page.

Fireworks: A History and Celebration (1984)
Plimpton’s passion for pyrotechnics were legend—among his many endeavors, the author teamed up with the famous Grucci family to win the International Fireworks Festival, and he earned the honorary title of Fireworks Commissioner of New York. His knowledge and anecdotes come to life in this collection that tells not only of the long tradition of bombs bursting in air, but will make you feel that every moment you are reading it may as well be the Fourth of July.

Open Net (1985)
Among the countless teams and organizations that allowed Plimpton to try his hand as a professional amateur, we know of only one—the NHL’s Boston Bruins—that asked him to sign a waiver that would not hold responsible for his injury or death. Happily, he survived to tell the tale of his hilarious stint at the hockey team’s goalie.

The Curious Case of Sidd Finch (1987)
That iconic Sports Illustrated feature took on a life of its own and became a full-blown novel, following Finch as he contemplates love, legacy and a baseball career that still, decades later, New York Mets fans lament as only the stuff of fantasy.

The X Factor: A Quest for Excellence (1990)
What gives some people that “special something” that makes them a winner, while others simply lack it and can never grasp it? Plimpton plays horseshoes with George H.W. Bush, explores the inner workings of world-class athletes and top CEOs, and ponders as only he can the mysterious factor that make some people masters.

Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (1997)
An incredible oral history of Capote, his genius and his foibles, from those who knew him from every walk of life. This is not a must-read just for the story-telling and the amazing insights, but so you can be part of the Herculean task Plimpton undertook in editing so many voices into such a compelling work.

The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair: And Other Excursions and Observations edited by Sarah Dudley Plimpton (2004)
Who but Plimpton could live a life that one day had him meeting a man who tied weather balloons to a lawn chair to take flight, another helping Jackie Kennedy plan a birthday party for the kids, yet another joining Hunter S. Thompson on the streets of Manhattan…This posthumously published collection of mostly later works is true George Plimpton to the very end.

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