6 Theories on the Origin of the Bullpen

Christian Petersen / Getty Images
Christian Petersen / Getty Images

No one really knows where the term bullpen comes from, and no one theory has enough compelling evidence to support or refute the origin. No more certain is the debate about when the word bullpen was first used. OED sites the earliest use dating back to a 1924 Chicago Tribune article, while other sources say the area referring to where pitchers warm up (especially relief pitchers), was first called the bullpen in a Baseball Magazine article published in 1915.

Regardless, the National League Championship series between the Dodgers and Phillies opens tonight, and the pen is certainly going to figure heavily in it. So we thought we'd take a look at six popular bullpen origin theories that have been going around for some time. If we left one of your favorites off the list, by all means tell us about it in the comments below.

1. The fans herded like cattle theory

One of the more likely theories goes like this: In the 1800s, a few innings after a game started, fans could get tickets at the box office for a big discount. But cheap tickets came with a, er, catch: you had to stand in a roped-off area off to the side of the field in foul territory. So the fans were treated a bit like cattle in a pen. When this area became the spot where pitchers warmed up, once relievers became part of the game, the name stuck.

2. The Bull Durham Tobacco theory

In the late 1800s, early 1900s, many stadiums featured giant Bull Durham Tobacco ads on the outfield fence. Because relievers warmed up behind the fence, the picture became associated with the pitchers.

3. The pitcher headed to slaughter theory

This theory suggests that relievers, like bulls, sit in a holding pen before being sent off to slaughter. Though a clear metaphor, certainly as much could be said for a pitcher like Jose Mesa heading out into game 7 of the '97 World Series, right?

4. The Casey Stengel theory

Outfielder and manager Casey (at the Bat) Stengel, used to say that the term came from the fact that relief pitchers sat in the pen shooting the bullsh*t.

5. The rodeo theory

Some argue that the name was taken from another popular sport: rodeo. Here, of course, bulls (and their cowboys) are held in a small pen before being released into the arena. Perhaps the bucking bull is a metaphor for the opposing team ready to knock the cowboy out of the game.

6. The Jon Miller theory

If you live in the Bay-area, you certainly are familiar with Jon Miller's voice calling the Giants' games. A favorite on ESPN's Sunday/Monday night baseball, as well, Miller has said that the term originates with the Giants—that is, the New York Giants, who used to play on the Polo Grounds in the late 1800s. According to Miller, there was a real bull pen out beyond the left-field fence, with real bulls in it! And the relief pitchers warmed up not too far from there.

Philadelphia Phillies File Lawsuit to Prevent Phanatic From Cheering for Other Teams

Hunter Martin/Stringer/Getty Images
Hunter Martin/Stringer/Getty Images

Even people who don't follow baseball would likely recognize the mascot of Philadelphia's baseball team. The Phillie Phanatic—a furry, green, bird-like creature who's been entertaining Phillies fans for decades—consistently ranks among the most popular mascots in the MLB. Now, NPR reports that the Philadelphia Phillies have filed a lawsuit against the character's creators to stop the Phanatic from becoming a free agent.

In the 1970s, the mascots for the Phillies were the fairly forgettable 18th-century siblings Philadelphia Phil and Philadelphia Phyllis. Looking for a change, the baseball team commissioned the New York design firm Harrison and Erickson—whose previous credits included Muppets and the Montreal Expos' Youppi!—to craft a new character to personify Phillies fans. The energetic, passionate, frequently misbehaved Phillie Phantic debuted at Veterans Stadium in April 1978.

More than 40 years later, creators Wayde Harrison and Bonnie Erickson (the puppet designer behind Miss Piggy and Statler and Waldorf) are threatening to make the Phanatic a free agent that cheers for teams other than the Phillies, according to a lawsuit filed by the Philadelphia baseball team. The team claims it paid the design firm $200,000 by the end of 1980, and that a separate licensing deal was struck in 1984 when terms were renegotiated for $215,000. That 1984 agreement, the lawsuit alleges, gave the Phillies the rights to the Phillie Phanatic in perpetuity.

Harrison and Erickson allegedly disagree. According to the lawsuit, the creators sent the Phillies a notice saying they would forbid the team from using the Phanatic's likeness past June 15, 2020 unless a new licensing deal was agreed upon. They also apparently threatened to shop the mascot around to other teams.

This isn't the first time the Phillie Phanatic has been involved in legal trouble. In 2010, the Phanatic was working a private gig when he decided to surprise a woman by tossing her into a pool. She sued, targeting several men known to wear the costume at the time because she didn't know who had been behind the mask.

[h/t NPR]

The Red Sox’s Historic 19-3 Win Over the Yankees Saw Boston's Highest Run Total in Their 117-Year Rivalry

Adam Glanzman / Getty Images
Adam Glanzman / Getty Images

Although the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox have faced each other in more than 2200 games over the course of their 117-year rivalry, the score from Thursday night's game proves that there’s still plenty of history yet to be made between the two iconic ball clubs in 2019.

Earlier this season, the teams took part in MLB’s first-ever series in London, with the Yankees winning both games. Though the June 29-30 series produced a staggering 50 combined runs between the teams—setting a two-game record for the rivalry in the process—a more lopsided bit of history happened last night when the Sox bludgeoned the Bronx Bombers 19-3 at Fenway Park.

If you’re into baseball trivia, that’s the most runs the Red Sox have ever scored against the Yankees in a single game, with seven coming in the first inning alone (which also tied a 1989 first-inning record against New York). That 16-run difference is also tied for the highest margin of victory over the Yankees in a game—the Sox previously beat the Yanks 17-1 two times in 2005.

New York made even more dubious history last night: The 12 earned runs given up by starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was the most against the Sox since the stat was officially recognized back in 1913. (Earned runs is a stat that counts runs given up by a pitcher without the help of an error by a fielder.)

Even all those runs still slightly trail behind the Yankees's high-water mark for the rivalry: Back in 2000, New York went into Fenway and beat the Sox 22-1. The two teams have 11 more games against each other before the start of the playoffs, so there is still plenty of time to break even more records. 

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