The Bullpen's Backstory

This article is more than 11 years old.


Most people who pay even a little attention to baseball know that the place where relief pitchers wait for the opportunity to enter the game is the bullpen.

Sometimes these pitchers warm up in the bullpen. Sometimes they flirt with the women who lean over the wall that separates the bullpen from the bleachers or the grandstand. Mostly, according to former Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee, they spit and laugh at stupid jokes.

But if everybody knows that the place where these pitchers languish and long for inclusion in the game is called the bullpen, how many know why this is so?

I have been reading The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad, by Robert Elias, and Mr. Elias has offered an explanation for the designation. Mr. Elias has turned up the fact that according to Michael Bryson, who apparently knows about such things and wrote The Twenty-Four-Inch Home Run, “the term ‘bullpen’ likely arose during America’s Indian-fighting days. A bullpen was a square log military enclosure, used to contain captured Indians. The word carried over into colloquial speech as a place of confinement and was applied to pitchers, who were restricted to their warm-up space until needed.”

This is at least as credible as the explanation I once made up, which is that the bullpen was so designated because it has always been a place where those who were “confined” slung around a lot of bull to amuse each other and avoid falling asleep.

Saturday on "Only A Game" I will take up this matter with Robert Elias. I’m sure we’ll also have an opportunity to discuss some of the more significant theories in The Empire Strikes Out, such as the one that links baseball to such activities as “spreading…the American atmosphere to Australia, Asia, Africa, and Europe,” and convincing Canada and Cuba that they ought to accept statehood.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.