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6 Theories on the Origin of the Bullpen

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

85563124ES015_NEW_YORK_YANKOne 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

BullDurham1In 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

bullpenThis 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

caseyismOutfielder 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

rodeo-bull-riding-smSome 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

worst-outfit-everIf 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.

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History
Beyond Board Shorts: The Rich History of Hawaii's Surf Culture
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From Australia to the Arctic Circle, adrenaline junkies around the world love catching waves—but the very first people to develop surf culture were Hawaiians. Their version of the pastime shares both similarities and differences with the one that’s commonly practiced today, according to TED-Ed’s video below.

Surfing wasn’t just a sport in Hawaii—there were social and religious elements to it, too. Hawaiians made offerings to the gods while choosing trees for boards and prayed for waves. And like a high school cafeteria, the ocean was divided by social status, with certain surf breaks reserved solely for elite Hawaiians.

The surfboards themselves used by early Hawaiians largely resembled the ones we use today, although they were fin-less and required manual turns. Learn more about surfing’s roots and evolution (and how surf culture was nearly destroyed by foreign colonizers) by watching the video below.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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