SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bullpen buggies are rolling back, and Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona is positively bug-eyed about the prospect.
“I love it. I love it. I love it,” he said Tuesday.
Nearly a quarter-century since relievers stopped catching rides to the mound, the bullpen cart will become the latest retro feature to make a return to the big leagues.
The Arizona Diamondbacks announced Tuesday they will use a cart — topped by the requisite oversized team cap — to transport pitchers from both bullpens at Chase Field.
“I don’t know how it will be getting driven in, but I think it’s a cool idea and we’ll have some fun with it,” Diamondbacks closer candidate Archie Bradley said.
With Major League Baseball looking for ways to speed up things, it’s hard to tell whether this will save any time. But it’s certain to be a hit with fans, especially the kids the game is trying to attract.
“It brings a little personality. We’re probably the only sport that can do something like that,” Francona said.
An Indians bullpen cart even went Hollywood. In the 1989 movie “Major League,” the veteran catcher portrayed by Tom Berenger uses it to drive out of the ballpark and pursue his would-be girlfriend played by Rene Russo.
The last known time a team in the majors used a motorized vehicle — some clubs had actual cars — to relay relievers was 1995, when the Milwaukee Brewers shuttled them in a motorcycle with a sidecar.
Mike Fetters was the Brewers’ closer then. He’s currently Arizona’s bullpen coach.
“A couple guys used it, as I recall,” Fetters said. “They both got beat up in the game and no one ever used it again.”
Baseball historians have tracked the use of bullpen carts to 1950, when the Cleveland Indians first used a “little red wagon.” The first official use came in 1951 with the Chicago White Sox.
The Kansas City Athletics added one in 1955, and by the 1960s, the carts could be found across the majors and minors.
“We have been working on this idea for several years and there’s no more appropriate time to bring back the bullpen cart than this season, as we celebrate our 20th anniversary,” Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall said.
“Fans of baseball in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and even the ’90s enjoyed watching their favorite players emerge from the bullpen in various vehicles and we’re excited for this special delivery to come to Chase Field.”
Many closers now have their own intro music and grand entrance. That’s part of the scene as they trek to the mound on foot, whether they walk in slowly or sprint to the mound.
Can the bullpen cart fit into today’s game with the modern relievers?
“I really love running in and feeling the crowd get up and get going. It’s going to be an adjustment,” Bradley said.
Still, he’s open to the change. So is veteran Neftali Feliz.
“Yeah, if I have a chance I would use it,” he said through a translator. “It sounds like something fun to do.”
Fetters loves the idea.
“As a kid I used to watch games on TV and it was kind of cool to watch the carts with the team hats on top,” he said.
“I think it’s really cool. We’ll see how it’s received. The guys in the bullpen, I’ve talked to some of the guys. This generation’s different, they want to be different, so I think they’ll be more receptive to it.”
At least until they have a bad outing.
“Guys are still superstitious, as long things don’t go badly I think they’ll be fine,” Fetters said.