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Original Issue


You've got tosses, flips, flings, slings, lobs, heaves and Hail Marys. You can do it sidearm, underhand, overhand and behind the back. When you try a tough one and hit it, it can be one of the sweetest feelings in the world—or one of the worst.

Throwing. Next to running it is probably the most natural athletic impulse we know. In a checkered career of chucking everything from dirt bombs to long bombs, I've come to know three basic types of tosses.

I unloaded a Type III one hot summer day at Crane's Beach in Ipswich, Mass. My father was 100 feet away, beyond two softly swept sand dunes, and moving. I heaved an ice cube. Threw it as hard as I could. The ends of my fingers hurt. My shoulder yelped. I watched with growing disbelief as it twirled and glinted toward its target, catching bits of the afternoon sun in its sweeping arc. It landed dead center on my father's hair-free pate. I escaped personal injury only because he couldn't believe I'd thrown it.

Type III throws, understand, are the most dangerous: You try them because you figure you haven't a chance in hell of making them. Not even a presidential motorcade is off limits.

My friend Paul recalls a Type III he let fly in his employer's parking lot. The sun was setting on one of those rare balmy February days in New England. A coworker was pulling out of the lot, rolling open his sun roof as he went. Paul packed a snowball, subconsciously calculated trajectory and force, and cranked it from about 40 yards away. "All I remember," he recalls, "is seeing the snowball explode all over the inside of this poor guy's windshield. It must have snuck in through about a six-inch opening."

The distinguishing and unfortunate feature of Type III throws is that you have no defense to offer for your action. True, you did mean to drop one through that sun roof, but you never figured you could do it. This is the feature that separates a Type III toss from a Type II. Type II's are merely mistakes; you aimed at one thing and hit another. Although Type II's can make for unpleasant surprises, when confronted with the evidence you can—weakly—claim you were aiming at something else.

Once my father and a friend were tossing a balled-up jacket around the Greyhound bus station in Bridgeport, Conn. Between them was a flashing neon greyhound, its front and back paws churning for a finish line it would never reach. With one particularly hard throw, my father clipped the hound's back legs. In a spray of sparks and a wisp of smoke, the animal was crippled. My father and his friend sprinted past it and onto the bus. But they'd been spotted. A frantic porter leaped on after them, saw them hunkered down in their seats a few rows back and, pointing at my father, began yelling, "You killed the greyhound! You killed the greyhound!"

"I never was a natural athlete," my father says.

The outcome of Type II throws doesn't have to be bad. Another friend of mine was sitting at his desk one morning when a fellow employee threw him a cherry tomato, expecting him to catch it. The amazing thing wasn't that she was 30 feet away when she threw it but that my friend was on the other side of a five-foot-high partition, completely out of view. As if guided there by Mission Control in Houston, the little red orb landed neatly in the breast pocket of his shirt.

As dazzling as a good Type II can be, the most satisfying throws are Type I's. You want to make them, and you do. Hit your target with a Type I and you feel a surge of power and confidence that can turn your whole rotten week around.

A few years back, my friend Bill was teaching high school English in Madison, Va. Being the liberal sort, he allowed gum chewing in class, but no bubble blowing. One student in particular had been flouting the rule regularly—and loudly. "The kid was sitting in the center of the last row," Bill recalls. "I turned to write something on the blackboard and caught him out of the corner of my eye blowing another one—a big one. I picked up a piece of chalk, spun around and whipped it. Now, I can't throw. You know I can't throw. Well, the bubble just exploded all over this kid's face, and the class went bananas."

Although such Type I's may serve a valuable social purpose, the most uplifting ones are undoubtedly those you unload just for fun. A high school buddy of mine was on the second floor of the Smith College library peeling an orange in lieu of studying applied mathematics. The woman he was with leaned over, asked him for a piece of peel and said, "Watch this." With a neat sidearm flip, she sent the skin spinning the width of the library's central atrium toward a wastebasket one floor below. Bingo. She hit it. "And an orange peel isn't that aerodynamic an object, either," my pal points out.

A throw like that is positively therapeutic. It elevates you. For a second, you're Johnny Unitas, Cy Young and John Havlicek rolled into one.

In the summer of 1972, I was working at a boatyard on a lake in New Hampshire, and one day I was fantasizing about my Celtics. I had a three-quarter-inch bolt in my hand. There were two seconds left in Game 7 of the world championship. Overtime. The Celtics were trailing 102-101. I twisted past one Philadelphia defender and looked to the basket. I fired. The bolt rolled out of my hand with a neat backspin. It twirled away in a hypnotic arc. The buzzer sounded. With a sharp "clang" and an unequivocal "plop," the bolt ricocheted off the I-beam backboard and into the rusty blue Maxwell House coffee can 50 feet away. I did a five-second victory dance: hands held high, a little work-boot shuffle thrown in. As a fellow worker looked on bemused—and slightly amazed—I spun on my heel and headed out to the dock to pump a little gas.