Avid SI readers will remember the strange case of Sidd (two d's to honor Siddhartha) Finch, the young English-born mystic, schooled in a monastery in Tibet, who appeared at the Mets training camp in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the spring of 1985 and asked to try out as a pitcher (SI, April 1, 1985). He astonished the sporting world with his ability to "throw a strawberry through a locomotive," as one witness described it; his fastball (his only pitch) was clocked at 168 mph. As Mets fans know to their despair, Finch left the training camp within a week of his arrival due to his inability to accept such non-Tantric principles as stealing a base.
Finch resurfaced two years ago (SI, July 31, 2000), preparing to throw a javelin on behalf of England in the Sydney Olympics. Once again, after throwing the javelin an astonishing distance in practice (reportedly a quarter mile), he failed to put his skills to the test. Perhaps worried about injuring someone should the javelin fly out of the Olympic stadium, he never turned up at the Games.
On both occasions SI was accused of fabricating Finch as a kind of prank—unacceptable for a magazine that has always prided itself on reporting the truth. Thus, on the 17th anniversary of the first Sidd Finch story, it seems appropriate to underline how sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction with a collection of true pranks, some of which strain credulity, but which are in fact authenticated beyond question.
?On July 2, 1957, Moses Johnson, a utility infielder called up by the Yankees from the Denver Bears, hit a ball during batting practice that cleared the facade in rightfield, the first player to hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium. Unbeknownst to him the ball was doctored, made up of the material that goes into a golf ball, very likely by Billy Martin, a known prankster. Johnson was so excited by what he had done that he asked the management for an immediate raise. Sent back to Denver he hit only one home run that summer. After batting a meager .206 for his career, he subsequently retired to Plymouth, Mass., still convinced that he had somehow done the extraordinary.
?A Canadian light heavyweight boxer named Fernando Epps, known for his zany behavior in the ring, inserted a toad into his mouth just before the second round of a bout (on Aug. 10,1973, in Toledo) against Yazmo Phipp. He popped the toad out halfway through the round, thoroughly startling Phipp, who went on to lose a decision. Complained Phipp, "I had no idea what else was going to come out."
?Last year, as a prank, the TV crew at Fox prepared a seven-legged roast pig and tried to substitute it for John Madden's famous six-legged Thanksgiving turkey. Madden was not amused. It is the main reason he moved to ABC.
?In the spring of 1958, Cliff Roberts, who with Bobby Jones founded the Masters golf classic, decided to poke some fun at his own imperious and grim control of the tournament. He had the water level in the pond by the 16th hole lowered by eight inches, a boardwalk built across, and the water level raised back to normal. His idea was to show the highly select membership, gathered for the annual jamboree two weeks before the tournament, that their chairman could indeed walk on water. His disgruntled workmen, however, dismantled the boardwalk the night before the event. Roberts, a smile on his face, dressed in his usual three-piece suit, took a step off the bank and, in front of the astonished tycoons in their green coats, plunged in up to his neck. Such is the secrecy of the membership at Augusta, news of tins backfired prank has never been published until now.