Monday, January 28, 2013

Say Goodbye to the Bullpen Phone

Paul Lukas reports on the end of the bullpen phone, a baseball tradition that has been around since the 1930s.  Sad.

Here is a taste of his piece at the new New Republic:

The call to the bullpen is one of baseball's time-honored rituals, right up there with spitting tobacco juice and arguing with the ump. And for the past 80 years or so, that call has always been made on a traditional, hard-wired land line.

It's not clear when the first phone was installed in a baseball dugout, but baseball historian Peter Morris says direct lines from the dugout to the bullpen have been in use at least since 1930. But with the rest of the world moving to cell phones, Major League Baseball has decided to get with the program. In a classic example of "It wasn't broken, but we fixed it anyway," MLB has struck a deal with T-Mobile that will result in each team's dugout being outfitted with a kiosk containing four Samsung Galaxy S III phones, which managers and coaches will be able to use to call the bullpen.

The whole arrangement is supposedly very high-tech and secure, but you already know what's going to happen. For example:

• A manager will grab the cell phone and be unable to get a signal.
• A call will be dropped just as the manager is telling the bullpen coach who should start warming up.
• Some 13-year-old kid will figure out how to hack the system and will then call the bullpen every single inning with the instructions, "Tell Cy Young to start loosening up."
• The players will use the phones to watch internet porn in the dugout.

Such practical considerations notwithstanding, there's also something unseemly about a crusty old skipper or pitching coach using a cell phone. Does anyone really want to see Tigers manager Jim Leyland fumbling around with the latest high-tech phone designed for kids a quarter of his age? It'll be like watching your grandfather trying to navigate a video game while he gets a tattoo—undignified at best, cringe-inducing at worst.

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