The curious case of Sidd Finch is perhaps one of the best hoaxes of all time. Sidd Finch was the subject of an article by George Plimpton in the April 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated about a yoga-devoted pitcher with an enormous fastball that the New York Mets were keeping hidden in their spring training camp. The tale (with supporting photographs) was conceived well enough that a large number of people were actually caught up in it, believing the Mets had somehow discovered the best pitcher of all time.
Sidd Finch (Sidd being short for Siddhartha, the Indian mystic in Hermann Hesse's book of the same name), according to the story, could pitch a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy. The fastest previous recorded speed for a pitch was 103 mph. Finch had actually never played baseball before. He had been raised in an English orphanage before he was adopted by the archaeologist Francis Whyte-Finch, who was later killed in an airplane crash in the Dhaulaglri mountain region of Nepal. Finch briefly attended Harvard before he headed to Tibet where he learned the teachings of the "great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa" and mastered "siddhi, namely the yogic mastery of mind-body." Through his Tibetan mind-body mastery, Finch had "learned the art of the pitch."
Finch was discovered after attending a Toledo Mud Hens game in 1984; after the game, he bumped into the manager and showed off his unbelievable fastball. With the encouragement of the manager, Sidd arrived at the New York Mets training camp in Florida in February 1985 and so impressed Davey Johnson (the manager of the Mets at the time) that he was invited to attend training camp. When pitching he looked, in the words of the catcher, "like a pretzel gone loony." Finch frequently wore a hiking boot on his right foot while pitching, his other foot being bare. His speed and power were so great that the catcher would only hear a small sound before the ball would land in his glove, knocking him two or three feet back. Lenny Dykstra, outfielder for the Mets at the time, declared that it was not "humanly possible" to hit Finch's pitches.
In condensed form, this story sounds utterly bogus, but in fact spread out over several pages with many supporting pictures, it was quite believable. The magazine received thousands of letters in response to this article, reaching the point where they were forced to either try to perpetuate the hoax or admit it. The next issue of SI, published on April 8, announced that Finch had held a press conference stating that due to the sudden media pressure put on him, he had lost his pinpoint control and was leaving the game of baseball. In the following issue, cover dated April 15, the magazine announced that Sidd Finch was a hoax.
Even more fun was the fact that Plimpton left a huge hint in the article that the entire thing was a hoax. The subheading of the article was as follows, with some extra bolding added so that you can pick up the message.
He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent lifestyle, Sidd's deciding about yoga —and his future in baseball.
The first letter of each of the words before the dash, taken together, spell "H-a-p-p-y A-p-r-i-l F-o-o-l-s D-a-y." The first letter of the last three words, taken together, spells "f-i-b," which also means a falsehood.
The article itself is available online at http://www.cnnsi.com/features/cover/news/2000/07/24/finch_flash/ - it is well worth reading if you want to see an example of a truly great media hoax, perhaps the best one ever perpetrated on the world of professional sports.