Is Stephen Strasburg an Imaginary Man?

Greg SheehanCorrespondent IApril 1, 2009

On April Fool’s Day of 1985, George Plimpton gave us the fictional tale of Mets super prospect Sidd Finch. The article was published in Sports Illustrated under the guise of reality and, as legend has it, many readers believed the story to be true.

Including myself. 

When I go back and read the prose again, it's easy to believe every word because Plimpton’s pen is that well-crafted, although some of the facts seemed too gaudy to believe.

Finch could throw a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy, and he said his name Sidd came from “Siddartha,” which means “Aim Attained,” or “The Perfect Pitch.”

In Plimpton’s next article the following week, Sidd Finch held a press conference to withdraw from baseball and retreat into a new life. As mysteriously as he appeared, he was gone.

For years, it was difficult to find anything comparable in sports, and I always found it intoxicating to be able to dive into something so incredulous—even if, after all, it would be a mirage.

Then, recently, I came across newspaper clippings at my local library, boasting incredible statistics about a player halfway across the world (San Diego) who featured a blazing fastball and had mastered the art of the strikeout.

I’ve been known to glance through the minors and the college system from time to time, hoping that maybe I could discover the next Sidd Finch. So when I came across this player, all I could do was protect my emotions by casting doubt on the reports.

It's easy to doubt these stats:

He struck out 23 players in one game. This year, he's struck out 88 batters in 42-and-one-third innings pitched.

This must be Sidd Finch. Is this April Fool’s Day?

In those 42-and-one-third innings, he walked eight batters and gave up only as many runs. With an 11:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (and strikeout-to-earned run ratio), his WHIP is apparently 0.756.

For every metric I came across, Strasburg exceeded the normal human limitations.

His high school GPA? 4.37.

His sinker? 97 mph. His slider? 94 mph. His curveball? 86 mph. His fastball? 103 mph.

The record for strikeouts in nine innings in a major league game is 20, and Strasburg's average strikeout total per nine innings pitched is 18.7.  

OK, so maybe that stat was taken from a college sample. What about the best baseball players in the world?

He was the only college player on the last U.S. Olympic team, and when he faced off against the Venezuelan national team, he struck out five of the first six batters he faced.

When he faced the Netherlands, he started out by taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning.

The problem here is that I’ve been burned before. I believed that Sidd Finch was real, and there are not many stats I can keep down without passing along my disbelief.

So, with a shielded heart, I’ll sit back and watch the story continue to unfold. I’ll watch and see Sidd Finch finally personified, and I’ll trust that there’s no April Fool’s Day prank to shut my hopes down.

And I’ll wake up tomorrow, and Stephen Strasburg will still be the most unbelievable pitcher in baseball.


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