The origin of April Fools’ Day is murky and there are several theories about when and why it all began. The most commonly accepted theory dates back to 1582 when France and other European countries switched from the Julian Calendar — which celebrated the new year around the beginning of April — to the Gregorian Calendar — which sets New Year’s Day as January 1.
Many disagreed with shifting the date of the new year, and Protestants were leery of adopting the Gregorian Calendar, which was decreed by Pope Gregory XIII, because they thought it was a devious plot by the Catholic Church. Still others, particularly those in rural communities, did not receive the news of the change. Those who continued to celebrate the new year according to the Julian Calendar were ridiculed as April Fools and became the butt of numerous pranks.
Today the pranks range from the simple “Kick me” sign slapped on the back of an unsuspecting sap to elaborate schemes by large corporations that fool tens of thousands of people.
One of the more notable hoaxes was performed by Sports Ilustrated in 1985. The April 1 issue reported that the New York Mets had allowed a pitcher named Sidd Finch to participate in spring training drills despite the fact the fact that Finch had never played baseball. According to the sports weekly Finch had a 168-mph fastball, some 65-mph more that the fastest pitch ever recorded. What’s more he could throw it with pinpoint precision.
Sports Illustrated reported that Finch was raised in an English orphanage; adopted by the archaeologist, who was later killed in an airplane crash in Nepal; and attended Harvard only to drop out to study the teachings of the “great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa” in Tibet. His freakish pitching ability came from his mastery of siddhi, an intense form of yoga that produces the ultimate mind-body control.
If all that wasn’t bizarre enough, Finch pitched wearing a hiking boot on his right foot while his left foot remained bare.
To the Mets dismay, Finch wasn’t sure he wanted a career in baseball, despite his aberrant skills. His other career option was to play the French Horn professionally. Finch was to make his decision on April 1.
The story was a hoax, but Sports Illustrated kept up the ruse for nearly two weeks. The story was later turned into a full-length novel by the article’s writer, George Plimpton. A talented writer, Plimpton made a name for himself in the 1960s and 1970s competing in professional sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and pro boxing) and then writing about his experience.
The Museum of Hoaxes ranked the Sidd Finch incident 2nd among its Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time.