Today in Sports History: April 1st

Sidd_finch_medium

(Joe Berton, a school art teacher, posed as Finch for SI. Photo courtesy of SI)

4/01/1930 - Gabby Hartnett catches blimp ball

In an April Fool's treat to the fans, Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett catches a ball thrown to him from a Goodyear blimp, anywhere from 550 to 800 feet in the air (the reports varied). Had it been the latter, it would have stood as the world record for highest ball ever caught. Officially, the record is held by Hank Helf and Frankie Pytlak, who both caught baseballs from the Terminal Tower, 708 feet from the ground.

As a player, Hartnett was regarded as one of the best catchers of the 20th century. He spent all but one of his 20 seasons with the Cubs, was a six-time All-Star, and even won the MVP award in 1935. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.

4/01/1962 - DeBusschere signs with White Sox

Months before joining the Detroit Pistons as an NBA rookie (thanks to the now-defunct territorial draft), Dave DeBusschere signs with the Chicago White Sox of Major League Baseball. No, this was not an April Fool's prank. DeBusschere was a multi-sport star in college and showed why he was worthy of the big leagues. He pitched in only 36 games over the course of two seasons, but he finished his short-lived career with an impressive 2.90 ERA.

He later renegged his baseball ambitions and focused full-time on the NBA, where became one of the 50 greatest players of all time. He averaged 16.1 per game, made six All-Star teams, and was the starting power forward on the only two Knick teams to win the championship in the 20th century (the 1970 and 1973 squads).

4/01/1985 - The Curious Case of Sidd Finch

Sports Illustrated publishes what is likely the biggest sports stunt ever pulled off on April Fool's Day. The big article from that week's SI was written by George Plimpton, who wrote in detail about one of the greatest pitching prospects of all time. His name was Sidd Finch, and he was trying out for the New York Mets. He wore only one shoe, was adopted by an archaeologist when his father died in a plane crash, and was able to throw a ball at 168 miles per hour.

"He's a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse," read the article's subtitle. "Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd's deciding about yoga -- and his future in baseball."

Finch was the most sensational talent anyone had ever seen. But he was conflicted as to which of his dreams he should follow: becoming a professional baseball player, or playing the french horn for a living. In a follow-up article the next week, Sports Illustrated announced that the Tibetan prospect had chosen the french horn -- leaving the game of baseball forever.

It was completely made up, with the first part of the subtitle revealed to be an anagram stating, "Happy April Fools Day." But many publications picked up on the story, as Sports Illustrated was considered the preeminent outlet of sports journalism, one that had never played a practical joke before. Plus the article featured a "picture" of Finch and quotes from several Mets players and coaches who took the time to play along. Plimpton's article was so successful that he later stretched it out into a full-length book.

4/01/1996 - Umpire dies on field

Major league umpire John McSherry dies after suffering a heart attack on the opening day of the season. Reds owner Marge Schott appeared more upset that the game was canceled than that a man had died, leading to an outcry so strong that it eventually led to her ousting.

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