Why Do Baseball Teams Still Use Landlines?

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 25 2011 5:47 PM

Why Do Baseball Teams Still Use Landlines?

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Pitchers for the Toronto Blue Jays watch the last game of the season from the bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Andrew Keh’s Oct. 22 New York Times story on dugout phones was alarmingly prescient. “Every now and then, over the course of a long season, problems can arise,” Keh wrote, two days before Tony La Russa’s allegedly crowd-noise-abetted call-for-the-wrong-pitcher foul-up in Game 5 of the World Series.

Keh’s excellent story leads one to believe that the Times is in possession of a bullpen-car-shaped time machine that grants its journalists access to baseball minutiae in defiance of the usual bounds of space and time. If the front of tomorrow’s sports section features a 2,000-word essay on the secrets of the rosin bag, my eyes will be fixed on the back of the pitcher’s mound for the entirety of Game 6.

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Keh’s piece also points up the bullpen’s strange existence as one of the few places in contemporary life untouched by 21st-century technology. A major-league bullpen is, befitting the word’s origins, the sports world’s closest equivalent to a maximum-security prison. Deep in the outfield or in foul territory, long men and situational lefties sit for hours in isolation, marking time until a tinny phone rings. As the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham wrote last week, bullpen denizens resort to bartering with fans for food, trading autographed balls for pizza and hot dogs. They also, Abraham explains, spend ample energy scouring the stands for candidates for post-game conjugal visits.

Relievers, who take the mound for at most a handful of innings each night, are not granted the same rights as full-time players. “I go out there, the phone rings and we get going when we’re told,” Cardinals closer Jason Motte said on Monday night, explaining why nobody in the bullpen questioned La Russa’s nonsensical Game 5 strategies. If La Russa screws up again on Wednesday, I’m hoping a faction of aggrieved, emboldened Cardinals pitchers launch a late-inning prison riot—benches overturned, baseballs flung, Lance Lynn and Marc Rzepczynski taking the bullpen catcher hostage.* Their list of demands should include more comfortable seating, an in-game buffet, and, most important, unlimited wireless data plans.

Correction, Oct. 26, 2011: This post originally misstated the day of the next World Series game. It is Wednesday, not Tuesday.

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.