Over the last decade or so, baseball – a game deeply rooted in American history with entrenched traditions – has openly embraced modern-day, 21st-century technology.
Instant replay is now used on disputed home run calls. TV broadcasts can track the speed and movement of every pitch thrown. Home run distances are measured using complex scientific formulas. Stadium scoreboards flash every known stat compiled about a player.
But for all of these advances, there is one glaring use of 20th-century technology that still works perfectly well in baseball: the landline dugout telephones used to call a team’s bullpen.
Although landlines are becoming increasingly obsolete in homes throughout the nation, they will always have a home in at least 30 places around the country – Major League Baseball stadiums.
The phones, which began to be used around the 1950s, as documented by this interesting New York Times piece last year, are easy to work and practical for their intended use. When a team’s pitcher is struggling, a manager can easily pick up the phone – which automatically makes an in-house call to the bullpen – and tell the bullpen coach which pitcher or pitchers to start warming up.
The process takes less than a minute and is nearly fool-proof (although last year’s champion St. Louis Cardinals had a mix-up using the system during the 2011 World Series). Sure, landlines may no longer be needed in homes where family members carry a cell phone glued to their hips, but for baseball, they are the most effective technology that can be used between dugout and bullpen.
Think about it, what would be more efficient? Wireless phones would require extensive dialing and the need for reliable cell service (which may only be found in the two stadiums named for phone companies, AT&T Park and U.S. Cellular Field). Wireless headsets – those worn by NFL coaches – are not going to be draped around a baseball manager’s ears the entire game when they’re only needed for a minute or two, at most.
Other long-dismissed communication systems – smoke signals, messenger pigeons, Pony Express and telegraph – are too inefficient, even for baseball. That leaves the landline dugout-to-bullpen phone as the best option. It works for a game that, while pressured to modernize and advance, is constantly tugged back by its roots to old-school Americana and sandlot baseball.
So while relievers sit in the bullpen and think, “Call Me, Maybe”, they are eagerly awaiting to hear that landline phone jangle off its hook, not humming the irresistibly catchy pop tune by Carly Rae Jepsen. (This song, of course, also has direct baseball ties, ever since Harvard’s brainiac baseball team went viral with its interpretative van dance of the song.)
And although this might seem crazy, landlines are still the best way for managers and bullpens to talk.