In honor of April Fool’s Day yesterday, Jordan Davis published a short piece about Kenneth Koch in a rather unlikely venue — Vice Sports. Davis uncovers some intriguing similarities between a famous April Fool’s prank perpetrated by George Plimpton in 1985 — his celebrated Sports Illustrated story called “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch,” which purported to report on an eccentric, reclusive pitcher with a superhuman arm and a taste for mysticism– and Kenneth Koch’s long comic poem Ko, or A Season on Earth.
This is true: on April 1, 1985, Sports Illustrated published an article by Paris Review editor George Plimpton called “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch.” It was an account of a Buddhist pitcher with a 168 mph fastball and his spring training tryout with the New York Mets. The story was not true, but the April Fool’s joke was an instant sensation and remains one of Plimpton’s best-known works. SI reprinted the piece on its website last October as one of 60 of the best stories ever to appear in the magazine. It is widely regarded as a great piece of sportswriting.
What is less well-known is that it borrows, without acknowledgment, much of its premise from Ko, or a Season On Earth, a long avant-garde poem by Kenneth Koch, a poet Plimpton published in The Paris Review and a classmate of Plimpton’s at Harvard.
Davis presents some of the parallels between Koch’s 1959 poem — which tells the story of a young Japanese pitcher with a blazing fastball who ends up playing for the Dodgers –and Plimpton’s 1985 article. Although Davis doesn’t quite claim that Plimpton deliberately lifted his tale from the mock-epic Koch wrote decades earlier, he does suggest that the echoes seem to be more than a mere coincidence:
There are only so many ways to talk about a pitcher’s delivery, and stories about out-of-nowhere rookies are archetypal. But the specific gifts of Finch and Ko are similar—both throw menacing fastballs, both wrestle with spiritual difficulties around pursuing their gifts, both called into creation by members of the Harvard Class of 1948—that at the very least one has to ask whether the tie should go to the runner.