A former Harvard student and Buddhist monk, with a 168 m.p.h. fastball exploded onto baseball's spring training scene last week as the New York Mets' hottest rookie phenom, according to George A Plimpton '48 in his April 1 Sports Illustrated magazine article.
Well, not quite
The multi talented Hayden "Sidd" (as in Siddhartha) Finch, who purportedly left Harvard during his 1976 freshman year, has indeed caused a national tutor, but not because of his blazing fastball.
Plimpton's pitching ace, pictured in Sports Illustrator's April Fool's article, is nothing of the sort Instead, he is a Chicago area junior high teacher, says Sports Illustrated photographer I ane Stewart, whose snapshots of the spurious hurler adorn the pages of this week's issues.
While Plimpton's 14-page spread all complete fiction--was intended as a spool, it has unexpectedly prompted people across the nation to call both Sports Illustrated and the Mets asking for more information on the "pitching ace."
Plimpton--a former Lainpoon editor--and Stewart, both contacted in New York yesterday, said that they were surprised that so many people fell for the hoax.
"I really didn't intend for people to believe it, but for them to be entertained." Stewart said, "I thought, 'Who's going to believe this?' But from what I hear, the whole nation is believing it," he added.
Plimpton said that much of the national media, including one New York television news program, originally believed that the ascetic pitcher, whose main worldly possession at Harvard was his yak hair rug, was actually burning up the Mets' camp.
When the TV broadcaster found out that Finch was a fake, Plimpton added, he called the article a "cruel hoax."
Stewart said he selected the teacher, Joe Berton--an old friend of his--to pose as the French horn virtuoso fireballer, because "he has a comic look."
He added that Berton, in exchange for posing as the pitcher who harnessed his spiritual powers and blazing fastball in the remote mountains of Po. Tibet asked only for tickets to the Mets Cubs home opener in Chicago and two Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendars.
Playing along with the gag, the Mets are planning a news conference today where Berton is expected to announce whether his religious beliefs will prevent him from pursuing a major league career, said Mets spokesman Jay A. Horwitz.
But Sports Illustrated Managing Editor Mark Mulvoy said that by now people realize that the article is just an April Fool's joke.
Plimpton compared his piece to Orsen Welles' War of the Worlds, a 1930's radio broadcast of alien invaders, which many New Yorkers believed, and added that it had been inspired by similar "wish fulfillment" articles he wrote last summer for the Olympics.
The first letter of the words of the article's introduction comprises an anagram, which reads. "Happy April Fool's Day.