What a week it has been for sports. The upcoming March Madness tournament was postponed indefinitely due to inclement weather, Derek Jeter announced that he will return to baseball with the Red Sox, Marshawn Lynch spoke in full sentences to the press for the first time in months and the National Hockey League confirmed reports that it plans to migrate to Canada.
Also, April Fools.
As anyone who just choked on their coffee can tell you, sports are no joking matter.
There has been much debate about the greatest pranks in sports over the years. Some say that the 2008 Phillies deserve the pranking crown for conspiring to make pitcher Kyle Kendrick believe that he had been traded to Japan. Others argue that the best prank in sports might have been Yale’s prank on Harvard at the Game in 2004, when Harvard fans were tricked into holding signs that spelled “We Suck.”
There have been plenty of creative tricks played and fools made in professional and college sports over the years. But perhaps none is as genius and as far-reaching as the Curious Case of Sidd Finch.
Sports Illustrated first announced Sidd Finch to the baseball world on April 1, 1985. SI writer George Plimpton reported that Finch was part pitcher, part orphan and part yogi who had taken to practicing yoga and Buddhism in Tibet. He could reportedly throw a baseball over 160 miles per hour wearing a heavy hiking boot on one foot. According to Plimpton, he was in training with the New York Mets for spring training in the 1985 season and poised to rock the baseball world.
While the fictional Sidd never rocked the baseball world, the alleged news of his arrival certainly did. Mets fans reportedly flooded the Sports Illustrated mailbox with requests for further information about the new pitcher. Two separate Major League managers put in calls to then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth wondering how their batters could possibly face Finch safely given his 168-mile per hour heater. The Mets even played along with Plimpton’s hoax, going so far as to give Finch a locker in their clubhouse.
The prank dragged on until the magazine admitted that the article had been an April Fool’s Day joke two weeks later on April 15, 1985. In those two weeks, the baseball world was abuzz with news of the Mets’ star rookie. It can only be speculated how many other prospective pitchers checked out “Buddhism for Dummies” in those two weeks and how many scouts retested their own radar guns to make sure they were calibrated correctly.
What is known for certain is the George Plimpton pulled off one of the greatest stunts in sports history. And he did it without elaborate props or particular dramatics. Instead, he relied on the simple fact that baseball fans will drool over the newest, shiniest thing out there. They will dream big, willing to accept that the impossibility of a 168-mile per hour fast ball might actually be possible. They are ready to buy into any story, no matter how absurd.
And perhaps this is for good reason. Sports give us the improbable and unbelievable almost every day — ask anyone who has bet on March Madness. Sports fans are primed by their relentless optimism and willingness to believe the impossible is probable.
The moral? If you want to pull off one April Fool’s joke today, go find yourself another sports fan.