SIDD FINCH LIVES!
Four new tales of the sports world that are stranger than fiction
Avid SI readers will remember the strange case of Sidd (two d's
to honor Siddhartha) Finch, the young English-born mystic,
schooled in a monastery in Tibet, who appeared at the Mets
training camp in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the spring of 1985 and
asked to try out as a pitcher (SI, April 1, 1985). He astonished
the sporting world with his ability to "throw a strawberry
through a locomotive," as one witness described it; his fastball
(his only pitch) was clocked at 168 mph. As Mets fans know to
their despair, Finch left the training camp within a week of his
arrival due to his inability to accept such non-Tantric
principles as stealing a base.
Finch resurfaced two years ago (SI, July 31, 2000), preparing to
throw a javelin on behalf of England in the Sydney Olympics. Once
again, after throwing the javelin an astonishing distance in
practice (reportedly a quarter mile), he failed to put his skills
to the test. Perhaps worried about injuring someone should the
javelin fly out of the Olympic stadium, he never turned up at the
On both occasions SI was accused of fabricating Finch as a kind
of prank--unacceptable for a magazine that has always prided
itself on reporting the truth. Thus, on the 17th anniversary of
the first Sidd Finch story, it seems appropriate to underline how
sometimes truth is indeed stranger than fiction with a collection
of true pranks, some of which strain credulity, but which are in
fact authenticated beyond question.
April 1, 2002
--On July 2, 1957, Moses Johnson, a utility infielder called up by
the Yankees from the Denver Bears, hit a ball during batting
practice that cleared the facade in rightfield, the first player
to hit a ball out of Yankee Stadium. Unbeknownst to him the ball
was doctored, made up of the material that goes into a golf ball,
very likely by Billy Martin, a known prankster. Johnson was so
excited by what he had done that he asked the management for an
immediate raise. Sent back to Denver he hit only one home run
that summer. After batting a meager .206 for his career, he
subsequently retired to Plymouth, Mass., still convinced that he
had somehow done the extraordinary.
--A Canadian light heavyweight boxer named Fernando Epps, known
for his zany behavior in the ring, inserted a toad into his mouth
just before the second round of a bout (on Aug. 10, 1973, in
Toledo) against Yazmo Phipp. He popped the toad out halfway
through the round, thoroughly startling Phipp, who went on to
lose a decision. Complained Phipp, "I had no idea what else was
going to come out."
--Last year, as a prank, the TV crew at Fox prepared a
seven-legged roast pig and tried to substitute it for John
Madden's famous six-legged Thanksgiving turkey. Madden was not
amused. It is the main reason he moved to ABC.
--In the spring of 1958, Cliff Roberts, who with Bobby Jones
founded the Masters golf classic, decided to poke some fun at his
own imperious and grim control of the tournament. He had the
water level in the pond by the 16th hole lowered by eight inches,
a boardwalk built across, and the water level raised back to
normal. His idea was to show the highly select membership,
gathered for the annual jamboree two weeks before the tournament,
that their chairman could indeed walk on water. His disgruntled
workmen, however, dismantled the boardwalk the night before the
event. Roberts, a smile on his face, dressed in his usual
three-piece suit, took a step off the bank and, in front of the
astonished tycoons in their green coats, plunged in up to his
neck. Such is the secrecy of the membership at Augusta, news of
this backfired prank has never been published until now.
A TANGLED WEBBER
MICHIGAN BOOSTER SCANDAL
When the U.S. Attorney's office in Detroit indicted former
Michigan booster Ed Martin last week, claiming he laundered
$616,000 from an illegal gambling operation by loaning it to
Chris Webber and other Wolverines basketball players, it
confirmed what some Michigan supporters had suspected. "We had
one of the dirtiest programs ever," says Don Canham, the school's
athletic director from 1968 to '88. "It's a disgrace."
Martin, a 68-year-old retired autoworker, began befriending
Detroit-area hoops stars in the mid-'80s, and his ties to Webber,
now with the Kings, and the Bulls' Jalen Rose were well known
when those two were on Michigan's Fab Five teams in the early
'90s. But three investigations by the school, including a 1997
probe that banned Martin from associating with Michigan athletic
programs, uncovered little wrongdoing because players denied
taking money or wouldn't talk. According to last week's
indictment, Martin, who could spend 25 years in jail, gave loans
of $280,000 to Webber, $160,000 to Robert Traylor, $105,000 to
Maurice Taylor and $71,000 to Louis Bullock, all former
Wolverines. (Martin pleaded not guilty.)
Taylor and Bullock admitted to the grand jury that they took
money from Martin, recanting earlier denials, according to their
lawyer, Steve Fishman. "Lying to the NCAA is one thing," says
Fishman. "Lying to a grand jury is another. That's perjury."
Traylor declined to comment, as did Webber, who often complained
during his college days that he didn't have enough money to buy
dinner while Michigan made millions off him. According to a
source close to the case, Webber was the most combative and least
forthcoming of the former players to appear before the grand
The NCAA will reexamine Martin's involvement with Michigan and
could penalize the school with probation and a loss of
scholarships. The Wolverines' Final Four trips in '92 and '93
could also be purged from the books. "This is just the
beginning," says Canham. "There were more players involved than
those in the indictment, and there were more schools involved
with Martin than Michigan." --George Dohrmann
Baseball postseason games won, of the last 224 played, by a team
that maintained a payroll below the major league mean.
Days after finishing last in a nine-horse race at The Meadows in
Pittsburgh that 4-year-old thoroughbred Hostile Raider gave
birth; neither the horse's owner nor her trainer knew she was
Amount the Astros have contributed to the Enron Employee
Transition Fund, which aids the 4,500 Houston-area workers
who've been fired since the energy company filed for bankruptcy
on Dec. 2.
Losses by 16 points or more for the Los Angeles Lakers in their
first 65 games this year.
Losses by 16 points or more for the Lakers in consecutive games,
against the Mavericks and the Spurs, last week.
Recently published sports-themed children's books, and the
lessons of life they offer.
Foursome the Spider, by Larry Nestor and Michael Glenn Monroe
PLOT A spider with argylelike markings on his body hits seeds
with a twig and earns the notice of the local press, which dubs
him "the golf bug." People--and insects--from all over come to
MORAL Always respect the power of the media.
Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy, by Phil Bildner and C.F. Payne
PLOT Shoeless Joe Jackson's career is launched after a batsmith
carves him Black Betsy, a hickory bat that the legendary hitter
rubs with oil, wraps in cotton and sleeps with nightly.
MORAL Great players are weird.
First-Base Hero, by Keith Hernandez and John Manders
PLOT Sammy is stuck playing rightfield for his Little League team
when what he really wants to do is play first base. He gets his
chance when the team's first baseman goes down with an injury.
MORAL The DL can be your friend.
Salt in His Shoes, by Deloris and Roslyn Jordan, and Kadir Nelson
PLOT A young Michael Jordan is sad because he can't keep up with
the bigger kids on the basketball court, but he cheers up when
his mother promises that sprinkling salt into his sneakers will
induce a growth spurt.
MORAL The parents of great players are weird.
The new CBS sitcom Baby Bob, about a talking infant, was spawned
by a series of commercials for an Internet access provider
starring Shaquille O'Neal. Bob is only the latest sports-related
commercial to go on to an intriguing afterlife.
SPOT In 1975 Miller Lite unveils Bob Uecker as Mr. Baseball in a
series of ads poking fun at Uecker's mediocrity as a big leaguer
in the 1960s. FOLLOW-UP Uecker reprises his affable persona in
three Major League films and on the ABC sitcom Mr. Belvedere.
SPOT In a 1979 Coke commercial Steelers defensive tackle Mean Joe
Greene tosses his jersey to a kid who'd handed him a Coke.
FOLLOW-UP The hugely popular spot inspires a 1981 NBC movie, The
Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid, with kid actor Henry Thomas
(E.T.) playing opposite Greene. Critics pan the film.
SPOT In Nike's 1992 Hare Jordan ad Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny
play hoops. FOLLOW-UP The ad's feature-film offspring, Space Jam,
debuts in '95. Jam gets mixed reviews but earns $230 million in
SPOT Nike's 1999 Freestyle spot features NBA stars like Jason
Williams dribbling to a pulsing hip-hop beat. FOLLOW-UP The ad's
copywriter, Jimmy Smith, is writing a Freestyle-themed musical
that's being choreographed by tap dancer Savion Glover. --Pete
King of the Hill
A year to the day after a horrific crash left him in a coma for
three weeks, Bill Johnson returned last Friday to ski the same
slope at Montana's Big Mountain resort on which he had his
near-fatal accident. Johnson, 42, still suffers from slurred
speech and right side weakness, but he displayed the sleek form
that won him a downhill gold in 1984. While Johnson doesn't
remember the accident, Big Mountain's terrain struck him as
familiar. The highlight of Johnson's weekend was his reunion with
the ski patrol workers and doctors who treated him. "They were
all very supportive," says Johnson. "I'd never known before how
much I impressed people, but I really impressed people here."
--By former major league outfielder Tom Paciorek, that he was
molested by the Rev. George Shirilla while attending Catholic
school in Detroit in the 1960s. Paciorek and three of his
brothers came forward late last month after discovering that
Shirilla, who had been banned from the ministry by the Detroit
Archdiocese in 1993 due to sexual abuse charges, had been
rehired. The Archdiocese has again dismissed Shirilla, who
according to his lawyer "adamantly denies" the molestation
--Pending Major League consent, the Independent Northern League's
Elmira (N.Y.) Pioneers by a Japanese consortium led by Dodgers
pitcher Hideo Nomo and Rangers pitcher Hideki Irabu.
--By satellite services provider DirectTV, New York sports radio
host Sid Rosenberg, for alleged piracy. The suit, which could
cost Rosenberg up to $10,000 for copyright violations, was set in
motion after he bragged on the nationally syndicated Imus in the
Morning show that he used an illegally modified access card to
steal sports and movie programming. "You don't have to pay for
DirecTV if you get the card zapped," he told Imus. "I get the
--By more than 5,000 Irish soccer fans, a petition urging their
government to synchronize Ireland's clocks and work schedules
with those in Japan and South Korea so that the fans can more
easily watch the World Cup finals to be held there this June.
--To what had been foul territory around the infield at Fenway
Park, 160 spectator seats. The seats, which are closer to fair
territory than Fenway's dugouts, sell for $200 each and could
generate more than $2.5 million this season.
A landmark court case focuses attention on a deadly problem
Last week's convictions of Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel,
owners of the dog that killed St. Mary's College lacrosse coach
Diane Whipple, 33, outside her San Francisco apartment last
January, were powerful statements on owners' responsibilities for
their pets. Knoller became the first person convicted of
second-degree murder in California as a result of the actions of
Initially, the case also focused attention on the dogfighting
industry (SI, Feb. 12, 2001), a criminal subculture involving as
many as 40,000 Americans. Even though investigators subsequently
discovered that Knoller and Noel's two dogs, Bane (who attacked
Whipple) and Hera, were never trained for dogfighting, the case
did "sensitize the public to the issue of dogs raised for illicit
purposes," says Eric Sakach of the Humane Society. The news of
the Whipple verdict stood in stark contrast to recent reports
that dogfighting is on the rise in Afghanistan, where the sport,
banned under the Taliban regime, is now making a comeback.
However, at least in the U.S. the numbers are encouraging:
Dogfighting arrests have increased over the past year, and
hearings concerning dangerous dogs in the Bay Area have more than
Yet heightened awareness of these dogs may be offset by a
disturbing upswing in interest in the Presa Canario (Bane and
Hera were Presa-mastiff hybrids). A Presa can weigh 140 pounds
and be antisocial in temperament if improperly trained. "There
are unscrupulous breeders producing Presas that are too
aggressive," says Tracy Hennings, president of the Dogo Canario
Club of America. Hennings estimates that in the U.S. there are
fewer than 1,000 purebred Presas, but she predicts that number
will triple within the next two years. What's more, Presas may
fall into irresponsible hands. "I know of one breeder with 20
females and a two-year waiting list," says Hennings. "No way
there are that many qualified owners." Adds Sakach, "Someone who
responds to a tragedy like this by saying, 'That's the dog for
me,' needs counseling. There's no difference between a dog that's
unchecked and a loaded gun." --Daniel G. Habib
As the wife of a former major leaguer prone to getting into
trouble, Charisse Strawberry has spent a lot of time in front of
TV cameras. It was on the talk-show circuit last year discussing
Darryl Strawberry's four-day drug binge that Charisse (below
left, with Darryl) began thinking about putting her experience to
use, and on March 19 she made her debut as a TV reporter, on
Tampa cable channel Bay News 9. Charisse's segment, called
"Today's Woman," was taped before Darryl was tossed from an
Ocala, Fla., rehab center on March 12 for having sex with a
fellow patient. Although Charisse refuses to discuss the
incident, Darryl has said his marriage has been "destroyed."
Charisse's bosses say her appeal goes beyond her name. "I hired
Charisse, I didn't hire her husband," says Bay News 9 general
manager Elliott Wiser. "She brings a lot of experience to the
segment, which is about balancing career and family."...Davis
Cup captain Patrick McEnroe makes his acting debut in the
upcoming Life or Something Like It. In the comedy, TV news
reporter Angelina Jolie interviews a homeless man who predicts an
angel will fall from the sky, a vision that comes true when a
sportscaster played by McEnroe reports that an Angels player has
died in a plane crash. McEnroe landed the cameo through his wife,
Melissa Errico, who plays a newscaster in the film. "Her one
piece of advice was, Don't ham it up too much," says McEnroe....
Victoria Beckham, the Spice Girl formerly known as Posh and the
pregnant wife of Manchester United midfielder David Beckham, says
that contrary to press speculation, her baby was not conceived on
Man U's home pitch, Old Trafford. "I think it's illegal to
perform an act like that at Old Trafford," says Victoria. "That's
not where he was made." She quickly adds, "He or she, I don't
know the sex of the baby. And if it's a boy, it will not be
called Trafford." British bookies have been taking bets that the
child would be named Trafford if a boy and Paris if a girl. The
Beckhams' first child, Brooklyn, 3, supposedly was so named
because he was conceived in that New York City borough.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
English vicar Stephen Girling plans to show the June 2
England-Sweden World Cup soccer match at his Stubbington church
to lure parishioners to that day's service.
"Lying to the NCAA is one thing. Lying to a grand jury is another."
They Said It
ALEX VAN PELT
Bills quarterback, on actor Will Smith's gaining 30 pounds to
play the title role in Ali: "Big deal. I do that every