Monday, May 3, 2010

No Bull

OK, there's no game today and no reason to pile on the Pirates; they've had a tough enough time. So we'll look at one aspect of baseball, the bullpen. No, not the Pirate relief corps. We're going deeper than one team; we're going to expose how that hill of dirt and bench in the outfield became known throughout the land as a bullpen. The leading speculation:

-- Bull Durham tobacco signs were in virtually every baseball park during the early 1900s. Their unmistakable billboards were usually located out in left field, near the pitchers' warm-up area, where managers would send their relievers before the game. It was basically a prototype ad placement.

-- The Ol' Perfessor Casey Stengel explained that "The extra pitchers would just sit around shooting the bull, and no manager wanted all that gabbing on the bench. So he put them in the outfield to warm up." Many baseball people believe the "shooting the bull" theory.

-- SRO fans in the late 19th century watched the game from roped-off areas in foul territory. Because the fans were herded like cattle, this area became known as the "bullpen", a designation which was later transferred over to the relief pitchers who warmed up there.

-- Before a bull fight or rodeo, the bull is corralled in a small area called the bullpen. Then, when it's game time, the gate is opened and the bull comes charging out, much like a relief pitcher (remember "The Mad Hungarian" Al Hrabosky pawing and stomping around the mound?).

-- Jon Miller of ESPN said the term comes from the late 19th century. The New York Giants played at the Polo Grounds then. The relief pitchers warmed up outside the left-field fence, an area also used as a stockyard (a bull's pen is where cattle cooled their hooves before being sent off to slaughter).

-- Along those lines, in the bush leagues, the game was played in the fenced in fields where the cows and bulls pastured. The ranges had a smaller fenced-in area where the bulls were kept when the farmers didn't want them romping with the cows. That's where pitchers warmed-up ... out of the field of play, in the bull pen.

-- A bullpen has been used to describe a prison, a POW camp (Andersonville, in particular), or a holding area, often bordered by barbed wire. Eventually, the term came to mean any waiting area. The era and concept fit; regular pitchers were exiled or sentenced to the bullpen when they weren't good enough to start.

Word specialists and baseball historians agree on one thing: nobody really knows how the term became popularized, although it dates back to a 1912 sports page. So rolls the dice and take your chances; they're all good. And that's no bull.

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