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 O-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 cliché 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. Voilà, 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.