Ryan Sullivan: Hitching a ride on a fun idea

Somewhat lost amid this difficult road trip for the Nationals, the team announced via press release Thursday that they will debut the WGL Energy bullpen cart during Friday’s game against Miami. This bullpen cart will be at all remaining 2018 home games, with both home and visiting pitchers able to use the cart to drive them from the bullpen to their dugout.

Originally introduced in 1950 by the Indians, bullpen carts were popular attractions at baseball games throughout the 1960s and 1970s. They gained their most mainstream notoriety from the famous scene in the 1989 baseball classic “Major League,” when Jake Taylor awkwardly drives the cart in pursuit of his love interest in the film. They slowly disappeared from the game during the 1980s, with the Brewers the last holdout, retiring theirs in 1995. Interestingly, they are still actively used today in Japanese baseball.

This season, in an effort to speed up pace of play or increase the sheer joy of their fans, the Diamondbacks reintroduced a bullpen cart. Many in NatsTown will remember Nationals relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson both using Arizona’s bullpen cart back in May, with Doolittle particularly complimentary of the experience. Doolittle noted that the cart took more actual time than jogging directly to the mound, yet he was not “out of breath and was in a better spot energy-wise.” Besides the obvious benefit of not running 300 feet, perhaps hitching a ride allows certain relievers to completely channel their energy toward producing outs.

On the other hand, I have spoken directly to relievers that are not in favor of bullpen carts, preferring the jog to the mound rather than riding. No, they are not against fun, but rather use the time from the bullpen to the mound to turn the switch, get their adrenaline going and focus on the task at hand. Relief pitchers preferring to jog, coupled with an increased usage of relievers in the 1980s, are the reasons bullpen carts originally disappeared.

For fans like myself, I cannot see any negative to a bullpen cart. Obviously, they serve a practical purpose, shuttling relief pitchers from the bullpen to save them from exerting themselves physically. If this allows certain pitchers to improve, organizations could theoretically employ this as a strategy to optimize reliever performance. Could the next frontier in maximizing players’ performance be bullpen carts?

Yet simultaneously, bullpen carts are fun and often silly, bringing levity to the game often missing today. They appeal to both adults and kids and provide a marketing opportunity for the organization. The bullpen cart would immediately be the top attraction at Nationals fan events. I can only imagine the incredible demand and lengthy lines for “Bullpen Cart Rides with Jayson Werth” or “Race Trea Turner in a Bullpen Cart Challenge.” In a season filled with difficult moments, the WGL Energy bullpen cart should provide some humor and serves as a nice reminder that baseball is fun.

Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

blog comments powered by Disqus