Major League Baseball is a game that clings to its history like no other.
“Tradition,” it shouts in a way that would make the Fiddler on the Roof proud.
There is a reason things have always been done this way,
even if that point seems long forgotten.
Change, it seems, has a place only as the name for an off-speed pitch.
Alas, Tevye and baseball purists will be dismayed. One of baseball’s great traditions has yielded to progress.
Hang it up.
The bullpen phone — that corded wall phone in each dugout that connects manager and pitching coach — has dialed its last reliever.
Holy technology, baseball is going wireless.
That’s right. Cellphones will make their rookie debut this season.
In a partnership with T-Mobile, MLB will install specialized wireless calling systems in “select major-league dugouts.” It hasn’t announced yet which stadiums will get the technology.
The smartphones will sit in special docks in the dugouts, as well as the home and away bullpens. When a manager lifts the smartphone from the dock, it will automatically ring a bullpen phone.
Coaches also can walk around with the phones in their pockets, if they prefer. But MLB will be “geofencing” the technology, which means that the phones can only be used in the dugout or in the bullpen. Outside those areas, the cellphones automatically will go into a locked mode so no calls can be made. That means managers can’t make calls to the bullpen from the clubhouse if they’ve been thrown out of a game.
This might be progress, but it is sad to see the wall phone go. After all, the telephone was born the same year as the National League itself.
It won’t be the same watching a manager meander through the dugout with a bullpen cellphone at the ready. Let’s just hope we don’t see Dusty Baker sporting one of those Bluetooth earpieces.
T-Mobile already is planning to work around one of the biggest obstacles to wireless use at a major sporting event — a busy network. If you have been to a big game, you know how tough it is to even get a signal.
Imagine Jim Leyland trying to call the bullpen at a crucial point in the World Series and unable to get a connection. Can you hear me now?
The wireless provider will install a separate cell site just
to handle the bullpen communications.
Of course, that still won’t make up for those instances when even the most clear connection results in a misunderstanding.
Cards Manager Tony LuRussa took heat for his call to the bullpen in the 2011 World Series. While the skipper intended to call on closer Jason Motte at a particularly tense moment, it was Lance Lynn whose was name was heard. Motte was not ready when needed, and St. Louis lost the game.
“Hey, it’s my fault,” said LaRussa, whose team went on to take the title despite the mistake. “Maybe I slurred it.”
Whatever the reason, the venerable dugout wall phone is soon gone. The first sign of concern by a manager that his pitcher is losing his stuff now will go wireless.
Who says nothing changes in baseball?
Maybe it is fitting that no former player made it into the Hall of Fame this year. Sorry, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, you were not the most deserving candidates.
No, that honor goes to that corded relic of the wall, the bullpen phone.
Ring, ring. What’s that? It’s for you, Mr. Phone. Cooperstown calling.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.