As Major League Baseball searches for ways to shorten games and attract fan attention, there has been talk of bullpen carts making a return to the game. Bullpen carts were a fixture in baseball during the 1970’s, but where did they originate? Will the return of the carts to escort relievers into the game actually speed anything up?

The Origins of the Bullpen Cart

According to Paul Lukas of ESPN, the first use of a “bullpen cart” came in 1950. The Indians were the first team to implement this, using something known as “the little red wagon.” Teams slowly added some sort of cart to bring relief pitchers from the bullpen to the mound. There was no immediate craze where everyone jumped on board with it, they just slowly trickled their way into the game. In fact, the Braves didn’t become the first National League team to use one until mid-season in 1959.

“A motor scooter with sidecar was used for the first time in the National league by the Braves. Here pitcher Hal Jeffcoat arrived at the mound, chauffeured by John (Freckles) Bonneau. It took less than 30 seconds to make the trip. 6/24/1959. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Teams slowly started using golf carts during the 1960’s to make the trip rather than little wagons and scooters. Oddly, no one is really sure of the evolution that took place into the well-known baseball shaped golf carts of the 1970’s. The Mets had a baseball shaped golf cart in 1967, but it is not known for a fact this was the first of them.

The Height of the Bullpen Cart Era

The seventies is the decade that first comes to mind when talking about bullpen carts. The use of the carts was widespread throughout baseball. Also in this decade, teams implemented the design that is well known.

Houston Astros cart circa 1970’s

The combination of these throwback Astros uniform with their bullpen cart is awesome. Teams used these throughout the seventies and up through the eighties as well. Most of these carts were the same from team to team; just the baseball cap atop the cart changed to match the hometown team. The Seattle Mariners went a step further with their cart, trying to make it match the theme of their nickname.

The Mariners tugboat cart was introduced in 1982.

However, the bullpen carts started dying out as the eighties drew to a close and the nineties ushered in a new era. Some pitchers did not like to use them and chose to run alongside them even when they were in use. As the mid-nineties came, the cart completely died out. The Brewers were the last team to employ one in 1995.

Nicknamed “Papa Cheese”, the Brewers bullpen cart was the last one still being used by 1995.

Are Bullpen Carts Worth It?

How much would reintroducing the bullpen cart to the game really change things? Except for the relievers who slowly lumber out to the mound, I don’t see bullpen carts actually speeding things up much. Most relievers tend to jog in from the pen, which would probably only take a few seconds longer than a cart trip. Are some baseball fans just nostalgic for the goofy baseball designed carts from the past? Maybe with all the pitching changes that take place in today’s game these carts could help a little. However, how much time can they really carve off of a game?

The reason for bringing these back would seem to be more of an entertainment factor. If each team had some neat design that complemented what their team is about it could be a fun time. The Mariners tugboat may have been a little over the top, but looking back on it, it looks pretty awesome. I hope if they are brought back some of the goofy design from a few decades ago is kept. Some improvements will need to be made and MLB can modernize the look of the carts, but they should remain baseball themed.

Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee arrives in the bullpen cart to relieve Ferguson Jenkins in the fifth inning as the Red Sox played the White Sox on July 24, 1977. (Boston Globe)

Featured picture from SonsofSamHorn.net


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