Sidd Finch near the top of sports’ April Fools’ Day superstars


Be honest. Have you ever fallen for something that sounded too good to be true? If so, you’re probably in the majority.

Does the name Sidd Finch mean anything to you? I’ll have more on that shortly.

Most of us have been victimized by a bogus offer or a practical joke. I’ll bet even those with a relatively high IQ have been humbled on occasion. But why are we so susceptible to being fooled around April Fools’ Day?

Twenty-four years ago on April 1, Sports Illustrated pulled off one of the great April Fools jokes of all time. Then-managing editor Mark Mulvoy noticed the cover date of the magazine would fall on April 1. He asked George Plimpton to write an article on April Fools jokes in sports.

Plimpton’s creation became the most famous fictional ballplayer since Mighty Casey. And what a whopper was constructed.

Most of what follows is a synopsis compiled from nytimes.com.

According to the article, Sidd Finch was an aspiring monk who learned to pitch in the mountains of Tibet, flinging rocks and meditating. Finch was supposedly discovered by a Mets minor league manager who watched in awe as the gawky string bean threw pitches at an unfathomable 168 mph, about 65 mph faster than the previous record.

When the Sports Illustrated issue hit the newsstands, two major league general managers called the new commissioner to ask how Finch’s opponents could even stand at the plate safely against a fastball like that.

The sports editor of one New York newspaper berated the Mets’ public relations man for giving Sports Illustrated the scoop.

Plimpton loved how the seventh definition of “finch” in his Oxford English Dictionary was “small lie.” The first letters of the article’s secondary headline read “Happy April Fools’,” and the jig was up.

After the hoax was revealed, the Mets even staged a Sidd Finch Retirement Day.

Several readers were so angry at the April Fools’ joke that they canceled their subscriptions to Sports Illustrated.

In reality, the role of Finch was played by Joe Berton, a mild-mannered junior high school art teacher.

The gig may have been a big joke, but Berton became somewhat of a star. It still happens in the Wrigley Field concession lines. It happens as he walks down Michigan Avenue.

“Sidd Finch! You’re Sidd Finch! Hey Sidd, can I get your autograph?”

The Sidd Finch joke is ranked No. 2 on the Top 100 April Fools’ Day Hoaxes of All Time, according to one Web site. The only one ranking higher is the Swiss spaghetti harvest.

In 1957, a respected BBC news show announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. Huge numbers of viewers were fooled as the TV program included footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees.

Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. The response was that they should “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

I took a small stab at an April Fools’ joke in 2002, writing a column about a family with a very talented son and daughter who were moving to Marion County from the West Coast. These kids allegedly had Division I talent and would transform the local sports scene.

As I recall, Free Press editor Don Ratzlaff only had one requirement—I had to be clear by the end of the column that it was clearly a joke.

Several locals confirmed that they had been fooled. As they were reading the column, they were getting all excited about the prospects only to discover the whole thing was a hoax. Of course, they were disappointed and more than a little irritated at me.

At least the Free Press didn’t lose any subscribers over it.


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