The year was 1974. Inflation was out of control. Richard Nixon was poised to become the first president to resign from office. And Punch Imlach, general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, had had enough of the slow, telephone-based drafting process.
Gather ’round, children, and let me tell you the tale of Taro Tsujimoto, the only fake player every drafted in a professional sport (except for Tim Tebow…kidding).
Imlach decided to rile the NHL and clown league president Clarence Campbell in the process. He had his PR Director, Paul Wieland manufacture a prospect.
That’s right, they conjured Taro Tsujimoto out of the thin Buffalo air.
Wieland came up with the name Taro Tsujimoto based on the name of a grocery store he regularly passed by in college.
And of course, Imlach drafted Tsujimoto from the Japanese Hockey League’s Tokyo Katanas.
Katanas…Sabres… get it?
The Sabres submitted the fictional Japanese center as their pick and the media dutifully reported it. The team didn’t admit the Tsujimoto was fugazi until the beginning of training camp. Reportedly, the NHL wasn’t amused.
How the hell did this happen? Well, as incredible as it sounds in today’s world of digital communication and mock drafts, prior to 1980 the NHL draft was an entirely closed process. Only the general managers and league officials were present, either physically, such as at a hotel, as was the case in ‘74, on a conference call.
As the slow march of the draft moved forward, Imlach conjured his scheme in the 11th round. With so few moving parts and so much information inaccessible, all the Sabres had to do was submit the fake name to the parties involved. With a poverty of scouting info available on Japanese hockey, who were any of the other teams to say Taro Tsujimoto didn’t play for the Kitanas?
Tsujimoto is still listed among Sabres’ draft picks in the team’s media guide.