8 Sports-Related April Fools' Day Hoaxes

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Last February, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Brett Myers devised a plan to fool teammate Kyle Kendrick into thinking that he had been traded to Japan for a player named Kobayashi. Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel, Kendrick's agent, and even the team's beat reporters were in on the prank, which was executed flawlessly. Had Myers attempted the same stunt on April Fools' Day, it's less likely that Kendrick would have taken the bait. But as some of the following stories illustrate, one can never underestimate others' gullibility, no matter the date.

1. The Curious Case of Sidd Finch

As sports-related April Fools' Day hoaxes go, George Plimpton's 1985 Sports Illustrated essay about New York Mets pitching prodigy Sidd Finch is the (fools') gold standard. As Plimpton told it, Finch, who wore a single hiking boot, had mastered the art of pitching in a Tibetan monastery and could throw a baseball 168 miles per hour. Many readers initially believed the story, while Mets fans willed it to be true. In addition to the fantastical details Plimpton included in the piece, the first letter in each of the first 19 words of the article's sub-headline provided another hint that Finch wasn't real: "He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga "“ and his future in baseball." You can read the article in its entirety here.

2. Orchestra Steroid Scandal

NPR poked fun at baseball's steroid scandal with an April Fools' Day report on the proliferation of performance-enhancing drugs among musicians in 2005. During the segment, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman deadpans, "I'm not a music reporter, but I've heard from others that this is a very serious issue and it brings up a whole host of issues related to performance-enhancing drugs." Carter Bray, the principal cellist for the New York Philharmonic, offers some explanation for why his peers might resort to steroids. "I think the public doesn't understand the kind of pressure that orchestra musicians are under to play faster and louder," Bray says. Ever dedicated to providing a variety of viewpoints, even for fictitious stories, NPR quotes a physician about the warning signs that a musician may be on the juice (overdeveloped triceps in the bow arm and descending neck veins, if you're curious). One solution to the problem, according to Goldman, will sound familiar: mandatory drug testing.

3. The 26-Day Marathon

Before there was Forrest Gump, there was Kimo Nakajimi. In 1981, the Daily Mail ran a story about the Japanese runner, who entered the London Marathon, but, on account of a translation error, thought he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles. According to the fictional story, which included photos, Nakajimi ignored the locals who urged him to stop and was determined to finish the race he thought he had signed up to run.

4. Olympic Genes

The cycling magazine VeloNews has an April Fools' Day tradition of posting farcical stories on its Web site. Last year, an article about the launch of a sperm and egg bank company, PC Olympic Genes, by former U.S. Olympians Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter drew the ire of readers who didn't understand it was a joke. According to the hoax, prospective parents could purchase Phinney's sperm or Carpenter's eggs for $250,000; for one million dollars, the company would combine Phinney's sperm and Carpenter's eggs. "It's literally a no-brainer for couples who want champion children," fictitious company spokesman Felix Magowan says in the article. "This is absolutely disgusting," one reader later wrote. "I feel for these children who will likely be pressured to fulfill the athletic dreams of their parents. My admiration for these two exceptional athletes is now tarnished." Previous April Fools' Day articles published by VeloNews include a story that USA Cycling was outsourcing its membership services to a contractor in India, and a conspiracy theory that the sunflowers that line the route of the Tour de France are the result of a secret program of genetic manipulation.

5. Soviet Newspaper Plays Soviet-Style Prank

Picture 12.pngIn 1988, the Soviet newspaper Izvestia reported that Spartak, a Moscow soccer team, was in negotiations with Argentine star Diego Maradona, who was playing for the Italian Napoli club at the time. According to the article, Spartak would pay Maradona $6 million to come play for them within the year. An editor later admitted that the story was an April Fools' hoax, the first such hoax ever published by the paper.

6. Hockey Prank Causes Headache for Ombudsman

In 2003, an Ottawa sports radio station announced that CBC television was canceling its scheduled coverage of the Ottawa Senators' first round playoff series due to budget cuts, and would air rival Toronto's games instead. CBC ombudsman David Bazay received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from angry Senators fans who didn't realize that the announcement was a joke. Bazay didn't find it particularly funny, either. "Frankly, it's silly when there are a lot of other serious complaints that I could have been dealing with," he told reporters. "We have a war going on in Iraq, there's the SARS outbreak. It's just not very productive to spend my time dealing with this type of thing."

7. Mark Cuban's Fake Fight

MarkCuban.jpgIn 2003, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban got into a shoving match with a phony NBA official during a timeout. Cuban, never one to shy away from controversy, was poking fun at himself for being fined repeatedly for his complaints about NBA officiating. A Mavericks equipment manager restrained Cuban during the fake fight, drawing cheers from the crowd and even a few laughs from the real officials at the game. The Mavericks' players weren't in on the April Fools' Day prank, so Dallas reserve center Evan Eschmeyer rushed to help restrain the man who signs his checks. "It was a good laugh," Eschmeyer said afterward. "I think it's a good thing I didn't go out and punch the guy or we'd probably all be looking at this in a different light."

8. Soccer Star Yardis Alpolfo

In 2003, the Glasgow Rangers published a story on their Web site announcing that manager Alex McLeish had signed a Turkish striker for 10 million pounds. The player, who the report compared to legendary Turkish striker Hakan Sukur, was named Yardis Alpolfo. Perhaps you've already figured out that the name is an anagram for April Fools' Day, but if not, don't feel too bad. Reuters ran with the story before an official from the Rangers informed the news agency that it was a joke.

For more April Fools' Day hoaxes, be sure to visit The Museum of Hoaxes.

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April 1, 2009 - 7:53am
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