Cody Decker (left) gives a teammate a high five during spring training. (Photo courtesy San Diego Padres)
Cody Decker (left) gives a teammate a high five during spring training. (Photo courtesy San Diego Padres)

TUCSON, Ariz. — With the help of a Twitter account followed by thousands and a YouTube video, Santa Monica native and San Diego Padres prospect Cody Decker showed the world how longtime MLB outfielder Jeff Francoeur became the victim of one the greatest pranks in baseball.

The nine-year veteran tried to rebound from a terrible 2013 season with the Cleveland Indians in spring training but was released because the team simply had no room for him in that crowded outfield. He signed a minor league deal with the Padres and was assigned to Triple-A El Paso. Him being the last guy on the bus made him an easy target.

“He was the last man to join the team,” Decker said. “He signed with us at the end of spring training and [Chihuahuas manager Pat Murphy] set it up perfectly.”

The prank was to get the ever-so-loveable Francoeur to believe that reliever Jorge Reyes was deaf. Decker gets the credit because he’s the guy behind the Antihero/Daylight Films YouTube channel. The number of views on this prank video is approaching the million milestone, but it wasn’t his idea.

“It was Jorge’s idea,” Decker said. “He brought it up in spring training and said ‘if we’re going to do this prank I think I can do that for you,’ and Murphy just goes ‘OK.’

“Without Jorge this would not have happened the way it did because he was magnificent. It’s not like he put on a show or in anyway a parody, he was just a quite guy who went about his business. He just didn’t break the illusion. He didn’t talk to anybody.”

The prank was spawned by a routine pop up in which everyone on the team yelled “heads up!” and everyone moved out of the way except Reyes. Francoeur asked Murphy why he didn’t move and the manager naturally responded by simply saying “he’s deaf.”

The Chihuahuas is a minor league team filled with big leaguers, including infielder Brooks Conrad and pitcher Blaine Boyer who played with Francoeur for the Atlanta Braves. Having his teammates buy into the prank was crucial to having familiarity betray Francoeur.

The idea of a professional baseball player being deaf is supposed to be a big story and would’ve attracted a media horde. Decker knew this and had to create the illusion of media intrigue to maintain the realism of the prank.

“I put on a fake voice and I called Jeff as a writer telling him I’m doing a story on his deaf teammate and I’d like very much to get a quote from him,” he said. “He said he’d call me back.

“He never did.”

He eventually got his quote from Francoeur when he approached him about creating a documentary about his “deaf” teammate. Without his disguise, Francoeur gave the mischievous Decker what he wanted.

“It’s been a lot of fun to play with Jorge,” said Francoeur. “He’s overcome obviously a lot. Being a deaf baseball player is very tough in this game and to see the way he’s done it and handle himself has been awesome.”

There were a lot of clues for Francoeur to figure out that this was just a bunch of jive. Clues like the catcher and infielders talking to Reyes in a mound visit with their gloves covering their mouths. But with the support of the entire team and Jorge Reyes running the prank, as Decker said in the film, “the spider web of deceit continued.”

“When Jeff sat down at dinner with Jorge, I thought the jig was up,” Decker said. “Jorge texted me and told me to go talk to the waitress and so I went to the waitress and tipped her and I went over to the table and watched Jeff just eat up everything Jorge and his wife were saying. It was beautiful.”

Francoeur has the reputation of being one of the nicest players in baseball. There’s plenty of evidence to support this theory including the time he joined the Oakland Athletics fans outside of the stadium for Bacon Tuesday even as a member of the visiting Kansas City Royals. It’s almost a shame that his big heart was used by his new teammates to trick him in an epic prank like this one.

But it’s not his fault.

“The truth is anyone would’ve fallen for this,” Decker said. “People have fallen for this before and if everyone buys in then the person has no reason not to believe them. It just happens that Frenchy is very high profile and he is one of the best teammates ever and we love him to death.

“He thought it was funnier than we did.”

Decker said that there may not be a prank like this one anytime soon, especially with revenge now lurking just around the corner.

“After we pulled this off, everyone has their head on a swivel for a little bit,” Decker said. “Everyone thinks no one is safe.”

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