Hoaxes - Sports

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff
The Hoax Files: The Truth Isn't Out There
The False, False World of Sports

by Gerry Brown and Shmuel Ross

The Curious Case of Sidd Finch

With their issue of April 1, 1985, Sports Illustrated caused quite a stir in the baseball world. A feature story, written by George Plimpton, appeared on Hayden "Sidd" Finch, a mysterious former Harvard student and Buddhist monk-in-training whom the Mets had in their spring camp at St. Petersburg, Fla.

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Finch could play the French horn beautifully but it was his ability to throw a baseball that truly left the Mets scouts awestruck. Finch, having learned the "Art of the Pitch" while traveling in Tibet, could reportedly throw a baseball an unhittable 168 miles per hour. For Met fans and their pennant hopes it was literally too good to be true. Plimpton and SI fooled a large part of the country's fans and it was the talk of the baseball world for a few weeks until it was officially announced two weeks later that it was indeed a hoax. The date of the magazine's release should have given more readers a clue that all was not on the up and up.

Rosie Ruiz wins Boston Marathon

When Rosie Ruiz became the first woman to cross the finish line in the 1980 Boston Marathon, setting the race record in the female division, she looked good. Too good for someone who had just run 26 miles at an incredible clip. She wasn't sweating and she wasn't really breathing heavy. Not only that but her legs looked considerably softer than those of most elite runners. Ruiz's only answer to those who questioned her performance, "I don't know how to explain what I did," she said. "I just got up this morning with a lot of energy."

No checkpoint officials or runners could remember seeing her on the course. Some college students also claimed they saw her jumping into the race a half-mile from the finish line. Ruiz was also unable to describe any specific landmarks along the course offering only "beautiful countryside and lots of houses and churches."

Ruiz was eventually disqualified despite her steadfast denials. Apparent second-place finisher Jackie Gareau was elevated to champion.

More Marathon Madness

Rosie Riuz was far from the first to take some liberties with a marathon. In the 1904 Olympic Games, Fred Lorz was suffering from cramps. He ran nine miles before giving up and hopping into an official's car, in which he rode the next eleven. He then ran the rest of the way, going into the stadium and breaking the winner's tape, as a joke. The crowd went wild. The president's daughter put a laurel wreath on his head. And then he admitted the truth. Annoyed, Olympic officials briefly suspended him from all amateur competitions. (He was soon reinstated, and he won the Boston Marathon of 1905 on his own two feet.)

Stella the Fella

Stella Walsh was born in Poland but moved with her family to Cleveland when she was two years old. She would go on to win 41 U.S. championships in track and field but competed for her native Poland, winning medals in the 1932 and 1936 Summer Olympics. In 1936, American Helen Stephens bested defending Olympic gold medallist Walsh in the 100-meter dash, prompting members of the Polish press to question Stephens' gender. German officials (the Games were held in Berlin) made Stephens undergo a physical examination to prove herself a female. Once it was determined that Stephens was indeed a woman, thoughts that top female athletes were really masquerading male athletes were put aside. Ironically, after Walsh was killed by a robber's stray bullet in the parking lot of a Cleveland store in 1980, an autopsy showed that she was indeed a man.

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