april fools

When I got the assignment to photograph the “real” Sidd Finch, I had no idea who he was or that he lived in Oak Park.

I remembered the image (above) from the famous Sports Illustrated April Fool’s hoax, about a Mets’ prospect who showed up at spring training throwing 168 mph. As it turns out, Joe Berton (a friend of SI photographer Lane Stewart) was the model for the fictional Mets’ pitcher in pictures the magazine published in the 1985 joke.

I called Berton and we made plans to meet at his house for some photographs. When he isn’t standing in as the model for a 168-mph pitcher, Berton is a retired middle-school teacher and Lawrence of Arabia expert. He showed me some of the miniature war figures he carves in his other life before we went about recreating Sidd Finch.

Berton was a great sport about playing into the myth that he still gets recognized for 26 years later. We gathered his original Mets jersey and blue shirt, a Tibetan prayer rug, a ball and a glove and headed over to Oak Park High School to shoot the photo on the baseball field. Berton even took off his left shoe and sock (although he didn’t have the original, borrowed boots) on a chilly day and tried to balance himself in the original throwing motion as best he could.

After a few variations and comparisons to the original photo on my phone screen, we felt like we had something that could at least recall the original famous shot. His toes even still have the same distinct shape that you can pick out from the original photo.

(Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

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