Major league bullpens are controversial today because fans and commentators who incline toward one or another kind of baseball “purism” think enough teams today depend too much upon their occupants. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals would like to make them even more controversial, at least until their name, too, is changed.
What’s wrong with “bullpen,” you ask? You might want to withdraw that question. PETA thinks that call to the bullpen should be turned into a call to the “arm barn” post haste. The organisation fearing that the very name of baseball’s bullpens makes fun of male cattle bound for the slaughterhouse thinks nothing of asking their renaming for . . .
Well, I’ll let Urban Dictionary say it for me: “shoving one’s fist up one’s [derriere]. Similar to fisting only a funnier word. Hey sailor… wanna go home and arm barn me?” I’ll also let PETA’s executive vice president Tracy Reiman say it for them: “Words matter, and baseball bullpens devalue talented players and mock the misery of sensitive animals.”
Apparently, we didn’t have enough to trouble us away from the World Series this week. We lamented the Braves’ continuing allowance of the insulting Tomahawk Chop and commissioner Rob Manfred’s abject ignorance of its insult. We wondered whether the Series moving to Atlanta meant yet more rounds of the Chop’s chant and hand gesture or the Braves’ administrators ordering its demise.
We also might have wondered which was actually more degrading to the play of the game itself—Braves fans persisting with the Chop, which is obnoxious racism; or, those Astro fans who still think their heroes were singled out and “scapegoated” over the most extreme illegal electronic cheating the game has known so far, which is plain decadent.
(Instruct me, please, how other teams using for sign stealing what MLB itself provided—replay rooms available to all teams, all parks, tempting the kids to imbibe when Mom and Dad left the liquor cabinet keys behind, so to say—equals the Astros’ elaborate 2017-18 hybrid of front office-generated cheating algorithms, plus an illegal real-time camera sending opposing signs to clubhouse monitors, for deciphering and transmission to batters at the plate.)
But no. PETA had to weigh in charging baseball with what the group calls “speciesism” over the designation of that semi-isolated space in which relief pitchers reside and prepare for entry into the middle of a game, often as not into the middle of excruciating jams into which the mound incumbents or the defenses or both have bumped their teams.
Reiman is either unaware or disinclined to believe that baseball’s relief pitchers have been more than their origins—pitchers who couldn’t cut the mustard as starters—for several decades. She’s also either unaware or disinclined to believe the bullpen was named not for the hold of bulls slaughterhouse bound but for . . . a brand of tobacco, sort of.
“The enclosure we now call a bullpen began much later [in baseball’s evolution,” wrote Peter Morris in A Game of Inches: The Story Behind the Innovations that Shaped Baseball, “because relief pitchers were highly uncommon in early baseball . . . ”
It was a couple of more decades [into the 20th Century] before relief pitchers became common enough to make permanent bullpens necessary. Their name primarily reflects that the area was an enclosure, but it may also have been influenced by the Bull Durham signs that were prominent [on outfield walls] in ballparks from 1911-1913.”
Morris wrote further, “Supporters of this theory note that the earliest known reference dates to 1913,” when a Washington Post writer said of Philadelphia Athletics pitching coach Ira Thomas that he “corrects the faults of the youthful trajectory hurlers and takes them to the bullpen in the afternoon and keeps them warmed up.”
Maybe I shouldn’t have cited that. Some other activist group with just as small a ratio of sense to passion is liable to demand the baseball bullpen be re-named that the game may quit glorifying that which is hazardous to our health. But ignorance is at least as hazardous to the nation’s and the game’s health as any pouch of Bull Durham before the brand’s 1988 demise.
“Devalue talented players?” Relief pitchers may not yet earn quite the dollars that starting pitchers still earn, but before Reiman decides they’re devalued—by a section name or otherwise—she might wish she’d been there for sights and sounds discussed previously in other contexts on these pages.
Maybe she doesn’t remember, never saw, or never heard of the earlier relief masters such as Firpo Marberry, Hugh Casey, Joe Page, Jim Konstanty (the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1950), Lindy McDaniel, Elroy Face, Don Mossi, Don McMahon, Larry Sherry (the 1959 World Series MVP), Stu Miller, Ron Perranoski, Dick (The Monster) Radatz, or Phil (The Vulture) Regan. (She certainly doesn’t look old enough to have seen Radatz as just about the only reason to watch the 1962-65 Red Sox.)
Maybe she doesn’t remember or didn’t see and hear the standing ovations for Hall of Fame relievers Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Dennis (the Menace) Eckersley, Trevor Hoffman, and The Mariano when they strode in from the pens to pin opposing lineups back when their game predecessors faltered or the lead in the last inning or two was too close for comfort.
Maybe she wonders how she could have slept while nine relief pitchers—Sutter, Fingers, Eckersley, Mike Marshall, Sparky Lyle, Willie Hernandez, Steve Bedrosian, Mark Davis, Eric Gagne—won Cy Young Awards between 1974 and 2003.
Perhaps Reiman didn’t watch spindly Kent Tekulve (a pitcher so slender he could hide behind a telephone pole) factor in the “Fam-I-Lee” Pirates’ 1979 World Series triumph; or, Al (The Mad Hungarian) Hrabosky sending himself nuclear before toeing the rubber to throw a pitch.
Maybe she missed the Reds’ Nasty Boys relief team (Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble, Randy Myers) or the Royals’ H-D-H relief team (Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvim Herrera) factoring large in their respective 1990 and 2015 pennants and World Series triumphs.
Nor could she have seen AJ Minter and Tyler Matzek pin the Dodgers to the wall en route their Braves winning the pennant, or keep the Astros in line in Game One of the current Series. Such devaluations have tremendous value to championship-aspirant baseball teams. They also bring fans in the stands to a boil of joy.
But Reiman cares greatly that baseball’s bullpen, which wasn’t named explicitly for the pen holding bulls en route the slaughterhouse, should be re-named for a particularly grotesque act of, shall we say, sexual extremism.
PETA is known as much for allowing the slaughter of 90 percent plus of abandoned dogs and cats under its care as they’re known now for defending “sensitive” bulls against insensitively-designated baseball bullpens. Their designated hitter doesn’t seem to think suggesting name changes such as, say, “relief pool,” or “the firehouse,” was refreshing or racy enough to fit their narrative.
One hears the immortal Bugs Bunny snickering, “What a gulli-bull . . . what a nin-cow-poop.”