The Short and Incredible Career of Sidd Finch - Zen and Now Baseball in Literature and Culture Middle Tennessee State University April 1, 2011
James Phil Oliver Department of Philosophy Middle Tennessee State University P.O. Box 73 Murfreesboro, Tennessee 37132 == 307B James Union Building 615-898-2050 [email_address] " Delight Springs " - http://delightsprings.blogspot.com/ " [email_address] " – http://osopher.wordpress.com/
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Have you heard about the Mets' pitching sensation Sidd Finch? An ascetic and aspiring Buddhist monk, Finch lived years in the Tibetan mountains, mastering Tantric secrets, the French horn and, improbably, the ability to hurl a baseball. H e's a p itcher, p art y ogi a nd p art r ecluse. I mpressively l iberated f rom o ur o pulent l ife- s tyle, S idd's d eciding a bout y oga ... Sports Illustrated What an amazing story . What a phenom. Unbelievable. - [email_address] , April 1 2011
Hayden Siddhartha* Sidd Finch … grew up in an English orphanage and was adopted by an archaeologist who later died in a plane crash in Nepal . After briefly attending Harvard University , he went to Tibet to learn "yogic mastery of mind-body," which was the source of his pitching prowess… * He said his Sidd came from 'Siddhartha,' which means 'Aim Attained' or 'The Perfect Pitch.' That's what he had learned, how to throw the perfect pitch.
Born on April 1, 1985 by the hand (and mind) of legendary sports amateur, bon vivant, and Paris Review editor George Plimpton… ( backstory )
It was my privilege to meet and briefly speak with Sidd’s agent and amanuensis George Plimpton at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, in the summer of 2001, where he keynoted the annual symposium on baseball and American culture.
He signed his book , we talked about the illusory and insubstantial dimensions of the game, and he filled me in on Finch. [email_address] [ Mr. NYC ]
From George Plimpton’s keynote address in Cooperstown, 2001: “ The batter stands swinging his bat and grimly waiting at the plate, crouched, tense, the catcher, crouched, the umpire, bent, hands clasped behind his back, and peering forward. All of them are set now in the cold blue of that slanting shadow, except the pitcher … who stands out there all alone, calm, desperate, and forsaken in his isolation, with the gold-red swiftly fading light upon him, his figure legible with all the resolution, despair and lonely dignity which that slanting, somehow fatal light can give him.” Thomas Wolfe
Mr. Plimpton, a lanky, urbane man possessed of boundless energy and perpetual bonhomie, became, in 1953, the first (and principal) editor of The Paris Review. A cultural force and ubiquitous presence at book parties and other gala social events, he was tireless in his commitment to the serious contemporary fiction the magazine publishes… Obit nyt George’s description of retiring Willie Mays in the 1960 All-Star game: “certainly the fine moment of my afternoon.”
… George made Finch a Buddhist because he himself was perhaps a fledgling Buddhist, which may come as a surprise to the people who saw George presiding over Paris Review parties in his blue blazer, since one doesn't usually associate blue blazers with Buddhism. But I think this might be the case since George certainly was living proof of one of the Buddhist mantras in this wonderful novel. It is a mantra which is meant to help with writer's block and goes like this: Om Ara Ba Tsa Na Dhi. It means: living ripens verbal intelligence. —From the preface by Jonathan Ames
April 01, 1985 The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch 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 Read more … SI
"Pretty heady stuff! [The editor] was giving me license to try to hoodwink six million readers of the magazine. I remember leaving the conference bareheaded, without a coat, and walking out of the Time-Life building into a rainstorm. Though a somewhat exalted comparison, the thought crossed my mind that Orson Welles must have felt the same kind of exhilaration when a network agreed to do his famous broadcast adaptation of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds ."
"The reaction to the article was extraordinary. Over a thousand letters were received. Many readers described how badly they had been duped. Others were furious that a magazine so devoted to accuracy should stoop to such a trick. My favorite complaint was from a subscriber who not only canceled his subscription to Sports Illustrated but also to Fortune, Time, Life, Money, People, all the Time-Life publications he had been receiving—just swept the table clear of them. 'How you like them berries?' he had taunted at the end of his letter."
The secret cannot be kept much longer. Questions are being asked, and sooner rather than later the New York Mets management will have to produce a statement. It may have started unraveling in St. Petersburg, Fla. two weeks ago, on March 14, 1985 to be exact… Lenny Dykstra, a swift centerfielder who may be the Mets' lead-off man of the future, estimated Finch’s fastball in excess of 150 MPH. He heard the pop of the ball in Reynolds's mitt and the little squeak of pain from the catcher. Then the astonishing figure 168 appeared…
"I never dreamed a baseball could be thrown that fast. The wrist must have a lot to do with it, and all that leverage. You can hardly see the blur of it as it goes by. As for hitting the thing, frankly, I just don't think it's humanly possible. You could send a blind man up there, and maybe he'd do better hitting at the sound of the thing."
He wears a hiking boot on his right foot. Always, he wears his baseball cap back to front—the conjecture among the Met officials is that this sartorial behavior is an indication of his ambivalence about baseball.
I have heard many great horn players in my career and I would say Finch was on a par with them. He was playing Benjamin Britten's Serenade , for tenor horn and strings—a haunting, tender piece that provides great space for the player—when suddenly he produced a big, evocative bwong sound that seemed to shiver the leaves of the trees. Then he shifted to the rondo theme from the trio for violin, piano and horn by Brahms—just sensational. It may have had something to do with the Florida evening and a mild wind coming in over Big Bayou and tree frogs, but it was remarkable .
"The biggest problem Finch has with baseball“ is that nirvana , which is the state all Buddhists wish to reach, means literally 'the blowing out'—specifically the purifying of oneself of greed, hatred and delusion. Baseball is symbolized to a remarkable degree by those very three aspects: greed (huge money contracts, stealing second base, robbing a guy of a base hit, charging for a seat behind an iron pillar, etc.), hatred (players despising management, pitchers hating hitters, the Cubs detesting the Mets, etc.) and delusion (the slider, the pitchout, the hidden-ball trick and so forth). So you can see why it is not easy for Finch to give himself up to a way of life so opposite to what he has been led to cherish."
'When your mind is empty like a canyon you will know the power of the Way.'
“ At the heart of Zen is the conviction that the center of human existence lies not in the rational intellect or personal ego, but in the unconscious. According to Zen the highest state of human awareness is a state of complete egolessness …” Gregory Bassham, “The Zen of Hitting” “ How can you hit and think at the same time?”
He left a curious note on the floor. It turned out to be a Zen koan, which is one of those puzzles which cannot be solved by the intellect. It's the famous one about the live goose in the bottle. How do you get the goose out of the bottle without hurting it or breaking the glass? The answer is, There, it's out!’ I heard from him once, from Egypt. He sent pictures. He was on his way to Tibet to study."
Finch was almost surely a disciple of Tibet’s great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa, who was born in the 11th century and died in the shadow of Mount Everest. Milaraspa was a great yogi who could allegedly manifest an astonishing phenomenon: He could produce “internal heat,” which allowed him to survive snowstorms and intense cold, wearing only a thin robe of white cotton. Finch does something similar: an apparent deflection of the huge forces of the universe into throwing a baseball with bewildering accuracy and speed through the process of siddhi, namely the yogic mastery of mind-body… “ Whatever happened to Sidd Finch ?”
Albert Einstein, who disavowed the idea of a personal God but believed devoutly in Spinoza’s , and who said Buddhism is the “ religion of the future ,” also believed devoutly in life’s perennial renewal. “ And yet, as always, the springtime sun brings forth new life , and we may rejoice because of this new life and contribute to its unfolding…”
Inquiries among American lamaseries (there are more than 100 Buddhist societies in the U.S.) have been quietly initiated in the hope of finding monks or priests who are serious baseball fans and who might persuade Finch that the two religions (Buddhism and baseball) are compatible. Sidd had at at least one outstanding precedent: the Japanese Babe Ruth/Hank Aaron - Sadaharu Oh. “ The opinions of someone who has spent his life chasing a little white ball around a field really ought not be offered as oracles from the Buddha… But I found in the world of baseball a form of spirit-discipline, a way to make myself a better person… It became my Way, as the tea ceremony or flower arranging or the making of poems were the Ways of others.”
One plan is to get him into a movie theater to see The Natural , the mystical film about baseball, starring Robert Redford. Another film suggested is the baseball classic It Happens Every Spring , starring Ray Milland as a chemist who, by chance, discovers a compound that avoids wood; when applied to a baseball in the film, it makes Milland as effective a pitcher as Finch is in real life.
"I'll have to see it to believe it!“ -Commissioner Peter Ueberroth
"I continued to be interested in what would happen if somehow an athlete like Sidd Finch got into the major leagues equipped with that incredible arm. So I expanded the story into a full-length book with the same title as the Sports Illustrated article — The Curious Case of Sidd Finch. People continue to think of Finch as a real person. "Hey, how's Sidd?" they call out. 'The Mets could use him.' I grin, and if they stick around to talk about him I say that he's got a telephone number in London that I sometimes call. It never answers. But the other day I called and it was busy."
The batter, Vince Coleman, had no idea how to react. His jaw dropped slightly. He looked down at the plate… have The Cardinals, one by one, came up for the time it took Sidd to throw three pitches… I began feeling sorry for the Cardinals. They had always been a favorite… But in the 7 th Coleman finally becomes the Cards’ first base-runner, thanks to a dropped 3d strike… and is caught stealing.
Terry Pendleton comes to the plate in the 9th, the 27 th batter. Sidd quits . No perfect game. “ Perfection meant trying to match the gods, and it was important not to do that. Arrogance.” “ Sometimes one achieves tharpa (supreme liberation) by not reaching the goal. Sometimes there are more important goals than the one that is visible. Not to give oneself the 27 th K is a possibility.” “ Maybe he was telling you something… how easy it is to be in control– either to start or stop something.”
“ Baseball is so open to infinity. No clocks. No one pressing the buttons on stopwatches. The foul lines stretch to infinity. In theory, the game of baseball can go on indefinitely.” It might never end. But the important thing is that after it ends it always begins again. In the Spring. On Opening Day. As the Commissioner so famously wrote: “I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field , in the sun.”
Catching up with the “real” Sidd in 2005… "I was at one of the Cubs' playoff games in 2003, I'm lining up for a beer, and this guy goes: 'You're Sidd Finch! I can't believe it!‘ He asked me to sign his program. I find that almost everybody loves to recount their moment with the story - where they were when they read it and what it meant to them. It's like they really wanted Sidd to be real." But of course, he’s not the real “real” Sidd, who lives vividly in the imagination of all who dream every spring of a nature-defying phenom who’ll arrive from nowhere to go the distance for our team. Sidd lives.
Orlando Cepeda , first Buddhist in Cooperstown ? “ I opened my eyes … Buddhism saved me.'‘ Cepeda got his first taste of Buddhism in 1968 while in Japan on an exhibition tour. He remembers picking up a book of Buddhist precepts, and feeling an attraction. In 1970, during spring training, Dodgers outfielder Willie Davis, a Buddhist, invited Cepeda to a meeting. But Cepeda, ``Cha Cha'' from his early days because he was a dancer and club hopper, told him, ``No, I've got things to do tonight. I'm hitting the clubs.'‘ ``Through Buddhism I realize how much potential I have as a human being, how much I can give back to humanity with my life. It surprises me that people can change the way I've changed. I'm surprised every day.''
There’s one notable difficulty to being a Buddhist baseball fan: attachment to the outcome of the game. What if you groan with apparent agony or shout with delight, depending on whether or not “your” batter beats out a grounder or a diving outfielder makes a catch What if you wake up happy in the morning because your team won the night before, or miserable because they lost and the pitching is falling apart, the clean-up batter’s in a slump and they are falling behind in the standings? In other words, what if you are a hard-core fan — a word that derives from “fanatic”– and also a sincere Buddhist practitioner seeking an end to suffering for all beings — even the Red Sox? Andrew Rock …
People who do not play baseball may find it hard to understand the relationship between Zen and Baseball. However, when you play baseball in Japan, it is easy to realize the strong connection, and in fact, several books have been written on this very subject… I would like to specifically report about what I learned from the Bushitsuken Giants who happen to be 80% Buddhist. Ellen Sekreta, “ Zen of Baseball ”…
The Buddha on nature “ He specifically said it was a sin against right living for anyone to claim to have supernatural powers, ” Jennifer Hecht reminds us. But, Once Buddhism was out of the Buddha’s hands, the ideas of prayer and worship, a universal mind, magic, gods, and, of course, karma began to creep into many of the Buddhist sects that arose across the centuries…
Including Finch’s, evidently. Even “The Natural” couldn’t hurl a ball faster than a speeding bullet. What Sidd did in 1985 (in George Plimpton ‘s fervid imagination) literally defied nature, not to mention credulity. But there’s a larger point here: The Buddha invited us to use our human consciousness to realize that we are not a part of nature, we are all of nature .
It was a transcendent secularism, an empirical guide out of the limitations of the human mind… Buddhism is a nontheistic graceful-life philosophy and a nontheistic transcendent program. JMH “ We are all of nature” means we already possess the tools (as big league scouts like to say) to free ourselves from self-centered worries and fears. This situation of ours is bliss… you are a collection of thoughts amid the universe, with nothing to do but be delighted with that surprising truth, and with the whole range of experience, without preference, without hurry, without dread. Every moment is a marvel of being.