No Joy in Mudville: St. Pete Reporter Recalls Falling for a Famous Hoax

By: Graham Webster Twenty years ago this week, Dave Scheiber's editor at the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Bob Silver, hurriedly handed him a grainy photocopy of a Sports Illustrated cover story on a hot New York Mets prospect at spring training -- then held in St. Pete -- named Sidd Finch.

"There's a kid who throws unbelievably fast!" Scheiber remembers Silver saying.

"So I go running up to the Mets complex," Scheiber told E&P today, almost 20 years to the day that legendary SI story appeared, "and [outfielder] Mookie Wilson was there, and he says, 'Yeah, this guy's unbelievable. You gotta find him!'"

Maybe it was the grainy photocopy, or maybe Scheiber wasn't used to second-guessing his assignments, but for some reason he didn't notice the date on the magazine (April 1) or the byline on the story (the impish George Plimpton). Or, if he had truly digested the story, maybe he would have doubted that a Buddhist monk who pitched wearing a combat boot on one foot, and nothing on the other, could throw a 168-mph fastball -- about 70 mph faster than Nolan Ryan.

But Scheiber didn't notice any of these things. And he was busy trying to report the story. But Wilson and Mets pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre couldn't keep a straight face.

"They were both kind of laughing, and I was like, 'What's so funny?'" Scheiber recalled.

Just then, Jay Horwitz, the Mets' longtime publicity director, put his arm around the duped reporter, and broke the news: Sidd was a figment of Plimpton's fertile imagination.

At least Scheiber wasn't alone. Thousands, maybe millions, around the country took the article more or less at face value, at least for a while. It has since gone down in the annals as one of the greatest April Fools' pranks of all-time.

"At the time it wasn't so funny," said Scheiber, who's now been at the St. Pete Times for 26 years. "I always tell people it wasn't my fault. It was an assignment."

But Scheiber said the incident might have worked in his favor. Later when he was looking for work with Sports Illustrated, he decided to reveal in a letter that he'd been sent to cover their fake story -- and it turned into a six-year freelance gig for the magazine.

"I think they took pity on me, or thought, 'Hey, this guy's got a lot of guts,'" he said.

In the end, Scheiber decided to embrace it as a great tale, one that most people in the St. Pete newsroom these days don't know, he said.


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