The bullpen cart is making a comeback, but only with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the moment. The Diamondbacks announced Tuesday that they’re going to debut a specially built bullpen cart as part of their 20th anniversary season this year. The cart has been built by Tampa-based SportsKartz, and it will be sponsored by delivery service OnTrac. It will be available to both teams in games at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field.
This brings back a tradition that’s been out of Major League Baseball since before the Diamondbacks entered the league in 1998, but for the moment at least, it looks like they’re the only team planning to go this route.
What’s the deal with bullpen carts? Well, as detailed in this February MLB.com feature by Michael Clair on the history of the carts, MLB teams used some form of bullpen-to-mound transportation as early as 1950. The practice really took off with all sorts of custom-built carts in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (including plenty of baseball-shaped ones, plus more unusual designs like the Seattle Mariners’ tugboat) but they fell out of favor in the 1990s, with the Milwaukee Brewers the last to send their relievers to the mound by motorized transportation (a motorcycle with a sidecar) in 1995.
Many of the old bullpen carts are preserved at teams’ stadiums, but we haven’t seen them in action in a long while.
The current plans to bring back the bullpen cart started in the minors. Alex Restrepo of Houston’s House of Sound built one for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in 2012, going off photos of the old designs, but told Clair it wound up costing much more than anticipated, so it wasn’t financially feasible for his company to keep doing that. That’s where Mark Sofia stepped in, though.
The idea of bringing back the carts came to Sofia, a former police officer, when he was working security for the Rochester Red Wings (the Minnesota Twins’ triple-A affiliate) and chatting throwback ideas with GM Dan Mason. They talked about the bullpen carts and the price of them (the Mets’ 1967 one sold for $112,500 on eBay in 2015), and Sofia was able to track down the original patent from now-defunct Baker Industries, team with a fiberglass fabricator in Tampa, and create SportsKartz, which offers these for around $10,000. He built carts for the Red Wings and the Vancouver Canadians (a Toronto Blue Jays’ A-ball affiliate), and then teamed up with the Diamondbacks to create this new one. And they’re excited about it:
“We have been working on this idea for several years, and there’s no more appropriate time to bring back the bullpen cart than this season, as we celebrate our 20th anniversary,” said D-backs team president/CEO Derrick Hall. “Fans of baseball in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and even the ’90s enjoyed watching their favorite players emerge from the bullpen in various vehicles, and we’re excited for this special delivery to come to Chase Field.”
But for now at least, it looks like the Diamondbacks are standing alone there. Their fellow expansion team in Tampa won’t be supporting SportsKartz despite the local connection, as the Rays are one of the three teams that currently have their bullpens in foul territory (the others are the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants) instead of beyond the outfield wall, lessening the distance between the bullpen and the mound. (It’s not like the outfield to the mound is a great distance anyway, but it’s a better excuse for a cart than the foul line to the mound.)
The other MLB teams with outfield bullpens could conceivably follow suit here, and the history of bullpen carts shows that the idea was initially limited to a few teams before being widely adopted, so it’s possible history could repeat itself there. However, for now, it looks like the bullpen cart’s return will only be at Chase Field. But it’s cool to see even this limited comeback, and maybe it will lead to more bullpen carts in the future.