Fields of dreams and delusions.

Topeka Metro News
March 25, 2005

Devere Nelson, known to his millions of fans worldwide as Dev, used to sit in a little closet-sized control room, or studio, or whatever they called it, at WIBW and recreate baseball games that Topeka’s professional team was playing on the road.

All his information came in on a Western Union ticker, and all it amounted to was the call on each pitch, like ball two, or strike one, and so on, plus the base hits and the runs scored. The rest, which was 99 percent of what he had to say, he had to make up.

Dev was perfect for the job. He had a vivid imagination and no hang ups, such as letting facts stand in the way of a good line of gab. He could ramble on and on, talking about the crowd, the weather, the flag in centerfield, the fences, the infield grass – none of which he could see.

He would tell you about the fierce wind in Amarillo, and one night he had tumbleweeds rolling across the diamond. He would tell you about fans leaning out of the stands to try to catch a foul ball, and occasionally one of them would tumble out onto the field.

“But he’s getting up,” Dev would assure you. “He’s not hurt.” Dev didn’t like the sight of blood, even when he couldn’t see it.

The Western Union ticker would say strike two, or ball, and Dev would question the call, saying the ball looked a little inside to him. Then he would talk for the next 10 minutes between pitches, about what a tough job the umpires had, and how well they did it.

I was his color commentator for a while, just as I was on countless football and basketball games we did together, but I didn’t last long on phony baseball. The games were boring, and every time I started to say something, I would remember that it was all a hoax, and a case of pure flimflammery and I would start laughing.

I think it was the night the tumbleweeds were rolling across the field in Amarillo that I ended my career as a baseball announcer. Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola probably heaved a sigh of relief.

The days with Dev came to mind recently when I read about some printed chicanery on one hand, and the possibility of a massive hoax on the other.

First, columnist Jack Smith of the Los Angeles Times wrote about some newspaper tricks, one of which was his own. One of his early jobs on the paper was taking rainfall reports from stringers all over Southern California.

One boring day, He wondered if places like Buzzard Flats, Lizard Rock, and Cauliflower Corner really existed. On an impulse, he added a town of his own – Smith Flats. From then on, it appeared on the rainfall list regularly.

On the paper with him was a desk man named Ted Sell, who created a human fraud. Tired of having unidentified men in photos, he started. Identifying them as socialite Phlange Welder, a name adapted from the “help wanted” columns.

Soon, Phlange Welder turned up regularly in photos of the biggest social events, from the racetrack to the opera. Smith also was reminded of a classic hoax played on newspapers using the undefeated phantom football team from nonexistent Plainfield, NJ Teachers. These hornswogglers ran wild across the pages of Eastern papers before they were tackled by the truth. More on them later.

Morris Newberger, a Wall Street broker, said “Trust me” in the fall of 1941, when he created Plainfield Teachers. He’d read the scores of small college football games in The New York Times, and wondered if schools like Baker, McPherson and Bethel really existed.

The following Saturday, he called each of the New York City’s dailies and said he wanted to report a football score. It was Plainfield Teachers, 12, Scott, Zero. The score appeared in all the papers the next day.

After that, Newberger reported Plainfield victories over Chesterton, Winona, St Joseph, and so on. Then one Saturday, he said it was Plainfield, 35, Randolph Tech, 0, but that was on a day it rained so hard all over the East that army and Notre Dame had struggled to a scoreless tie. Somebody tried to check on the score, and soon the fakery was found out.

United Press issued this message to client newspapers: “De-emphasize note: Plainfield, (N.J.) Teachers has abandoned football. The flying figments not only are unbeaten and untied, they are unreal.”

It inspired Caswell Adams, an editor of The New York Herald Tribune, to write this verse:

“Far above New Jersey swamplands, Plainfield Teachers spires.
“Mark a phantom, phony college that got on all the wires
“Perfect record made on paper imaginary team!
“Hail to thee, our ghostly college, product of a dream!”

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