Baseball and April Fools

The sport of baseball has always been tightly coupled with pranks and practical jokes. Perhaps it is spending 162 games together living in close quarters for nearly half a year or maybe it is just the fact that the flow of the game allows for the shenanigans of the clown.

Regardless of why it happens, baseball lends itself very well to the offbeat characters and tomfoolery of jokesters. Rookies are always subjected to pranks. The veterans describe it as earning your way to the big leagues.

Each year no matter what team you follow, there will undoubtedly be a story of a rookie returning to their locker after the game to find all of their clothes stolen replaced normally with a dress that the rookie must wear during a road trip between cities.

This blog could be filled with a collection of pranks and practical jokes that have been conducted in or around a baseball diamond. But perhaps the most incredible baseball prank of all time did not come from a team or a player but rather was the brainchild of the over-active imagination of a sports writer.

Twenty-five years ago today, the April 1st issue of Sports Illustrated hit the stands. Within the covers of that magazine was an article written by the illustrious George Plimpton. The article described his experiences with the New York Mets and their new top-secret baseball discovery.

The article was titled, “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch” with a sub-title of “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”

For the astute reader, the sub-title was the key to unraveling the mystery. The first letter of each word spelled out “H-A-P-P-Y A-P-R-I-L F-O-O-L-S D-A-Y”. Of course very few got this, which made the subsequent article even more intriguing.

In the story, which can be seen in its entirety here, Plimpton described a young pitching phenom whom the New York Mets had discovered. The player was capable of throwing a baseball over 160-miles per hour.

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.

– John Christensen
New York Mets

His workouts and whereabouts were cloaked in secrecy and the story built quite a fabric due in part to the references Plimpton used. He quoted people from Harvard where Finch supposedly went to school

He described an extensive background of how Finch evolved as a human being including discussions with doctors, and New York Mets personnel. The Mets fueled the validity of the story playing along.

Then pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre described his interactions with the fictional Finch and even the Mets ownership group went along. The story was strange enough that you knew it had to be fake but there was just enough reality thrown it that you just had to wonder in the back of your mind whether this was true.

Sports Illustrated received over 2,000 inquiries about Sidd Finch and kept the story going for a week then announcing Finch disappearing from the Mets Spring Training Facility and finally leaving the country. It would be another two weeks before they finally confessed that the story was an elaborate April Fool’s joke.

Plimpton who had authored the story would expand upon the tale writing a book that would be released two years later. The Curious Case of Sidd Finch has now lasted the test of time. A quarter of a century since it first appeared in print it remains a classic prank for baseball fans everywhere.

So next time you pick up a news item where your team is touting the most amazing pitching prospect ever to set foot on a diamond, it would be best to check the calendar and wonder aloud whether this is the reincarnation of Sidd Finch.



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