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The possible return of the bullpen cart is the most important baseball story of 2018

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Except for the part where it’s empty calories and completely meaningless.

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Boston Globe / Contributor

1.
Bring back the bullpen carts.

This tweet came across the wire ...

... and that was the first thing that popped into my head. Bring back the bullpen carts. It was reflexive and immediate. That baseball thing from the decade when baseball might have been at its lowest point: Bring it back.

We’ll take everything from the abominable ‘70s because it’s not like people were paying attention back then. Why are the Padres wearing their boring current uniforms when they can wear their Oh, Geez, Cloth Diapers Sounded A Lot Better Before The Baby Was Born-colored uniforms from the ‘70s? Those are the best uniforms. Those are the best colors. There’s no nostalgia like kitschy baseball nostalgia, so give me those old colors. Pull up those socks. Bring back the bullpen carts.

This would happen with anything we came up with today. How about a talking pelican named “Flappy,” who would explain the infield fly rule in excruciating detail moments before the first pitch of every game? We’d hate it. There would be an uproar. It would be a waste of time, and it would be scrapped quickly.

In 40 years, young baseball fans would proudly wear Flappy shirts. I want one right now, even though this is a reality that exists only in my own mind.

The typical internet baseball fan has this impulse. Something wacky from back in the day? Gimme. Bring back the bullpen carts.

And maybe both of the teams in the World Series should release competing rap videos, too. Bring it all back.

2.
I thought this was the best bullpen cart of all time, even though it wasn’t a cart.

And then I saw this, which needs to come back:

But that is also not a cart, really. Which means this would be the default if we’re really going retro:

The bullpen buggy: a 1970s staple. #TBT

A post shared by Kansas City Royals (@kcroyals) on

Those are cool. And we’d get used to them within two games, at which point we would be completely indifferent. Once we’re completely indifferent, we’ll clamor for something else that tickles the nostalgia zone, especially if it’s ludicrous or unattainable. This is an itch that will never be scratched. It will just pop up somewhere else.

And, really, they’re just carts, even when they’re not carts.

Sweet, beautiful carts.

3.
If you want to learn everything there is to know about the bullpen cart, please read Michael Clair here and Paul Lukas here. They are incomplete histories, but that’s because nobody thought to pay that much attention to them at the time, so there isn’t a treasure trove of information. You will never read the “Oral History of the Aglet,” even though aglets are useful little things that keep the ends of our shoelaces from fraying. If someone wants to go back and do a deep dive on the aglet, it will be hard to go much deeper than a Wikipedia page or this random presentation.

This is how it had to be for the bullpen cart, which did not come pre-made with nostalgia. It was simply utilitarian, and it was either ignored or derided, but mostly the former. Something that’s so banal that it’s ignored as a reflex is the bane of historians everywhere. Who would have thought that people would care about this thing?

Today, Getty Images will allow subscribers to search for anything.

But back then, there weren’t enough photographers with the foresight to think that people might care about bullpen carts in the future. So we’re left with a paucity of bullpen cart images. We’re left with a shortage of great bullpen cart tales.

The ones we do have are magical and mysterious. It seems so absurd that the only possibility is that they improve our baseball experience. How could they not?

4.
How much would it really matter? How much time can we really save? Remember: This was presented as a time saver, not a make-ironic-baseball-hipsters-chuckle generator.

You’re never going to believe this, but there aren’t a lot of videos of pitchers walking in from the bullpen. If there’s something unique — Phil Coke sprinting, or Heath Bell sliding — it will have survived, but even in the limitless hellscape of user-provided videos, there aren’t people who thought a bullpen jog was interesting enough to share. That’s saying something.

But based on this not-safe-for-work clip, it looks like it’s about 50 seconds to a minute:

And this video, shot by someone who tied their phone to a dog, suggests the typical cart ride would be around 30 seconds.

There are an average of about six pitching changes per game between both teams, but that also includes relievers who start an inning. Let’s be generous and suggest there are an average of four mid-inning pitching changes in every game.

That’s about two minutes. It’s not nothing. Slap together 20 changes just like it, and you have some real progress. Not to mention that the real tire-fire games probably have more mid-inning pitching changes, which means the dullest blowouts could be trimmed by five minutes, perhaps.

The downside is that teams would have to pay for the acquisition and maintenance of these carts. The upside is that they would save at least a minute, on average. What’s the $/minute calculation, FanGraphs? Give us some figures. Until then, it’s hard to be that impressed.

5.
If bullpen carts come back, there’s a non-zero chance of something like this happening:

And I cannot pretend to be opposed to this.

6.
Are we really talking about bullpen carts right now, though? The labor side of the game is kind of on fire. There will be a work stoppage within the next three years, I’m guessing. The players have been toothless at a time where more money is flowing into baseball than ever before. That’s spectacularly bad timing for everyone involved, even the owners who are reaping more of this money now. It’ll even out for them during and after the stoppage, and nobody will win.

You, specifically, will lose. And you’ll be mad about it.

We can’t even be happy about bullpen carts right now. It comes as part of a longer pace-of-play discussion that’s sprouting out of baseball’s desire to draw more fans, which comes from the desire to make more money, which reminds players that they’re getting less and less of the money that’s streaming into baseball.

Pretty sure bullpen carts aren’t going to make more money for owners. Pretty sure they won’t make fans forgive everyone involved after the strike. It’s fun to play Remember That Silly Thing, and I’m sure there are ways to turn the bullpen cart into a fun, gif-able event. But, really, nobody cares.

Not even me. I’m sorry to have misled you.

7.
The bullpen carts are better as an idea and a source for yuks than as something baseball fans really need to worry about. The kitsch will fade quickly. They are baseball Cheetos, and while you will enjoy the first two, you won’t even remember eating the last 40. We’re all just killing time, here.

If baseball decides to bring back these glorious relics, I will pretend to care right along with you. But it doesn’t matter. Those two minutes don’t matter. The kitsch doesn’t matter. Baseball is careening toward the edge of a canyon, and bullpen carts were fun to think about for a second, but none of this matters.

We’ll have lots of time to revisit the idea during the strike this year or next year.

Maybe they could have a drone carry the player to the mound.

What about a sled with wheels that’s pulled by 16 trained Alaskan Malamutes, all of whom are very good dogs?

This discussion isn’t over.

Except it is. We will fall into indifference with the bullpen cart as quickly as we fell in love with the idea of bringing them back. Bring back the bullpen cart, sure. Just don’t expect those endorphins to last more than a week.

Everyone got tired of Fuller House pretty quickly, you know.