EIGHINGER: Gullible? Rarely have I met a hoax I didn't believe

Posted: Apr. 12, 2014 11:20 pm Updated: Jul. 6, 2014 1:15 am

I can remember 29 years ago this month like it was yesterday, opening up that magazine and saying aloud, to one in particular, "You've got to be kidding me."

Famed sports author George Plimpton had penned an article for Sports Illustrated about a would-be pitcher for the New York Mets named Sidd Finch, who could throw a baseball 168 mph -- more than 60 mph faster than anyone had ever thrown one before.

This incredible "story" told how Sidd had learned to throw a baseball with such force and accuracy while at a Tibetan monastery. Unfortunately for the Mets, Finch had not decided whether to commit himself to a career as a baseball player or to pursue a career as a French horn player.

Of course, the story was a complete hoax, but Sports Illustrated received almost 2,000 letters in response to the article and it became one of its most famous pieces. Not until two weeks after the story hit the newsstands did the magazine admit it was a hoax, preferring instead to indulge in a collective snicker for that 14-day period.

Plimpton actually left an obscure hint that the story was a hoax in the article itself. The subhead of the article read: "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."

The first letter of each of these words, taken together, spells "Happy April Fools Day." The SI issue came out April 1, 1985.

What is it about these kind of things that pull us in, like moths to a flame, like Chicago Cubs fans to hope in general?

I have no idea why we -- and by "we" I mean "me" -- fall for such convoluted concoctions time after time. From aliens to crop circles, I have always been a sucker. Every time I get near a woods-type area, I'm on the lookout for Bigfoot. Every strange light in the sky is a flying saucer. I once feared I may have been abducted and without my knowledge probed.

Along with Sidd Finch, there are three other hoaxes I have thoroughly enjoyed. In no particular order, they were:

º In 1969, Rolling Stone magazine reviewed the first album by the "Masked Marauders" -- a supergroup made up of Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney.

The Rolling Stone writer contended, "It can truly be said that this album is more than a way of life; it is life." "For anyone paying attention, the absurd details added up to a clear hoax," writes Adam K. Raymond at "The man behind the gag, editor Greil Marcus, was fed up with the supergroup trend and figured that if he peppered his piece with enough fabrication, readers would pick up on the joke.

"They didn't."

Raymond said that after reading the review, fans were desperate to get their hands on the Masked Marauders album.

"Rather than fess up, Marcus ... took his prank to the next level," Raymond writes. "He recruited an obscure San Francisco band to record a spoof album, then scored a distribution deal with Warner Bros. After a little radio promotion, the Masked Marauders' self-titled debut sold 100,000 copies.

"For its part, Warner Bros. decided to let fans in on the joke after they bought the album. Each sleeve included the Rolling Stone review along with liner notes that read, ‘In a world of sham, the Masked Marauders, bless their hearts, are the genuine article.' "

º Possibly no hoax in history caused more widespread panic than the 1938 radio program narrated by the legendary Orson Welles. Although it wasn't intended to scare people into believing the world was really under attack by Martians, "War of the Worlds" most certainly did. I wasn't around for the 1938 hoax, but I was young and even more gullible when I saw the original movie version and at first believed it was an account of an actual event.

º In April 1998, Burger King published a full-page ad in USA Today "introducing" the left-handed Whopper, specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. The ingredients were the same, but the condiments rotated 180 degrees to aid lefties. Thousands of burger eaters asked for the new sandwich.

For the record, I did not, but only because I'm right-handed.


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