THE OLD HEAVE-HO FANS' TOSSING THINGS, BE THEY CONFECTIONS OR CRITTERS, HAS LOST WHATEVER CHARM IT ONCE HAD

May 26, 1996

News of the 1990s: Montreal Expos fans have invented a
"tradition" of tossing Oh Henry! bars on the field whenever
slugger Henry Rodriguez does something of note, which,
considering that Rodriguez has been arm-wrestling Barry Bonds
this season for the National League home run and RBI leads, has
made the rag arms in the bleachers busier than those in the
Colorado Rockies bullpen. Expos fans, not noted for hardball
savvy, probably assume Hershey named its confection in
anticipation of the emergence of their new hero. Perfectly
understandable. The origin of candy bars is often misunderstood
in sports. For example, the Baby Ruth was not named after Babe
Ruth, and the Mars bar was not named after Dennis Rodman.

Of course there is the danger that the Montreal tribute will
boomerang; if Rodriguez, who never previously hit more than nine
homers in a season, goes into a slump, he becomes 0-Henry.
Already there has been a spot of trouble. When Rodriguez doubled
in two runs against the Houston Astros on May 12, he touched off
a shower of chocolaty goodness at Olympic Stadium. Umpire Harry
Wendelstedt then ordered the Astros off the field to floss and
brush. No, actually he ordered them off because he feared for
their safety, 66.5 grams of flying candy bar representing a
foreign object on either side of the border. When Expos manager
Felipe Alou sauntered onto the field to ask if the game was
going to be resumed anytime soon, Wendelstedt did what any
self-respecting ump would do. He tossed Alou.

Some commentators in Canada's Candy Land assailed the umpire
for his Miss Grundy-like response. Like some of the
cavity-seeking missiles from the box seats, the criticism was
misguided. Wendelstedt was saying what someone should have said
a long time ago: To toss is dross. Fans used to hurl only the
occasional insult, but in our interactive era the paying
customers are itching to become part of the spectacle. So they
make spectacles of themselves, running onto the field or
reenacting the dining-hall scene from Animal House. Let's not
sugarcoat this. The first time Expos fans threw Oh Henry! bars,
it was spontaneous and cute. The second time, it was mildly
clever. The third time, it was a trend. The fourth time,
everyone should have been arrested for littering.

The most egregious example of tossing occurs in Detroit, where
rooters throw octopuses onto the ice when the Red Wings score a
playoff goal. This cliche masquerading as a tradition began in
1952 when a local fishmonger counted the tentacles on an octopus
and the number of playoff victories then needed to win the
Stanley Cup, realized they were identical, and heaved. The
octopus, that is. The custom lost whatever dim allure it once
might have had when octopuses began outselling Chryslers in
Detroit. Now local fish retailers offer octopus procedures--make
sure they are boiled before thrown, etc.--to fans who smuggle the
cephalopods past the compliant security guards at Joe Louis
Arena. Is that a tentacle in your pocket or are you just glad to
see Paul Coffey?

Last year Wings captain Steve Yzerman appealed to fans to tone
down the tossing because it was delaying games and robbing the
Wings of momentum, but the admonition was offered with a nudge
and a wink. This season the Red Wings employed the slogan "A
Call to Arms," and this spring they have lowered an oversized
styrofoam octopus from the rafters. Want to know why Detroit
hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1955? Neptune is ticked.

Or consider the Florida Panthers. One night last October, right
wing Scott Mellanby saw a rat in the Panthers' locker room and
whacked it with his stick, then went out and scored two goals,
prompting goalie John Vanbiesbrouck to label the feat a Rat
Trick. Voila, a gimmick was born. The Panthers adopted the rat
as an unofficial emblem--the profit from those Year of the Rat
caps sold at Miami Arena must be going to the Save the Rat
Foundation--and the front office now looks the other way when
fans bombard the ice with plastic rodents after every Florida
goal. If Panthers fans started throwing real dead rats as a
public-health service and Red Wings fans began chucking toy
octopuses instead of wasting food, maybe you would have something.

So to review, here is a list of tossing dos and don'ts.

Acceptable objects: Coins before the kickoff; the ceremonial
first pitch; the towel from a hopelessly beaten fighter's
corner; hats after the Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux scores
three goals; overshoes to protest a hockey referee's
particularly bad call, provided that a) the anger is genuine,
and b) people still wear overshoes.

Unacceptable objects: Basketball games (e.g., Tulane, 1985,
point-shaving scandal); food; anything that has management's
tacit approval.

And if you want the bozo in the next seat to stop throwing Oh
Henry! bars each time Rodriguez hits a cutoff man, challenge
him: He tosses his candy. You toss your cookies.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: EVANGELOS VIGLIS [Drawing of sports fans throwing candy bars and animals at bull's eye]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)