I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about baseball from the 1960s through the 1980s. A lot of this is because of my new Twitter page, Vintage Scoreboards (shameless plug). I’ve remembered that there was a lot of kitsch in the stadiums back then. After all, as Ken Burns told us, baseball has always been a reflection of American life.
Tackiness abounded as teams did everything they could to draw people into the stands. Former Athletics owner Charlie Finley, when the team was still in Kansas City, held a pregame softball contest between local disc jockeys and Playboy bunnies. When the team moved to Oakland, he held Hotpants Day, with all women dressed in the short shorts admitted free. Apparently, the idea was that men would pay to gawk at the ladies — and maybe the baseball, too.
Long hair, mullets, afros and mustaches were popular among players, who, off the field, enjoyed wearing bell bottoms, big collars and wide neckties.
One element that just about every ballpark had in the ’70s was a bullpen cart, essentially a golf cart outfitted with an oversized baseball cap as the roof that would bring relief pitchers in from the bullpen.
It was a gimmick, something for fans to enjoy and maybe laugh at. Advertising soon followed, of course, with teams like the Yankees and Dodgers using Datsuns (it’s what we used to call Nissans; look it up) or Toyotas to bring their pitchers in instead of golf carts.
Team owners like Finley or Bill Veeck were showmen and loved the idea. No one is exactly sure when or why the carts died out. The Dodgers still have their old cart on display on the Club level. It may just have been that relief pitchers, especially those who might pitch to just one or two batters, wanted to show people they could actually run from the bullpen to the mound.
But now, it sounds like bullpen carts are coming back. The Arizona Diamondbacks are blazing old ground with their announcement that they will use bullpen carts this season. Soon after that, the Minnesota Twins, Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres said they would study the idea, although perhaps not for this upcoming season. The Tampa Bay Rays say they won’t, mostly because of space limitations at Tropicana Field.
The Diamondbacks said the last team to motor their pitchers in from the bullpen were the Milwaukee Brewers in 1995, who used a motorcycle with a sidecar at County Stadium. That was three years before the Diamondbacks even came into existence.
What will the reaction be of the relievers to this rather outrageous throwback idea? Will they love it? Hate it? Use it? Abuse it? Some of each, I’m sure, but I’m betting many will like it a lot. There are some who use their walk or run from the pen to psych themselves up; some have even made it into a trademark, much like hitters and walk-up music.
Some pitchers may also see using the bullpen cart as a show of weakness, something that might be best avoided in a ninth-inning, base-loaded save situation. But some may come to see it as a good-luck charm if using the cart turns out well for them.
Neither the D-Backs nor anyone else are forcing pitchers to use the carts; if they choose not to be chauffeured in, the cart will still appear to deliver the pitcher’s jacket to the dugout — and also to display the advertiser’s logo, of course.
Some are even suggesting bullpen carts could speed up the pace of play. But by what? A few seconds? Don’t count on that making much of a dent in game time. The cart must be offered to both teams and does not give a pitcher any extra warmup time.
But nostalgia has always been big in baseball and could use more of it, not less. Nearly anything that dampens things like analytics, high-priced tickets and higher-priced free agents and enhances the family ballpark experience is a good thing.
Monday Night Football is getting a complete overhaul in the ESPN broadcast booth. Not only is Jon Gruden leaving as analyst to become coach of the Oakland Raiders, Sean McDonough is being reassigned, moving back to college football play-by-play.
“Sources” are saying Joe Tessitore will be tabbed to do MNF play-by-play, but that ESPN has not yet made an announcement about either that or about an analyst.
MNF is not the franchise it used to be and hasn’t been since ABC deemed to let it slip to cable TV.
Meanwhile, there are rumors about Peyton Manning’s interest in broadcasting. The New York Post reported Manning has passed on Monday Night Football, but the NFL says it would love to have Mike Tirico and Manning on its new Thursday night package. The only problem with that is that Tirico is under contract to NBC and Manning isn’t under contract to anybody.
Tirico used to be ESPN’s MNF voice, but Al Michaels is NBC’s No. 1 (and usually only) NFL voice. Tirico has been involved on Sunday Night Football pregame and halftime coverage and was sensational as prime-time host for the recent Winter Olympics. It would be rather ludicrous for NBC to allow Fox to use him for the NFL. It makes very little sense.
Of course, things that make little sense happen with eyebrow-raising regularity in both network TV and in the NFL, so stay tuned.