Start saying goodbye to old-time bullpen phones: MLB announces cell phone deal with T-Mobile

That old-fashioned dugout/bullpen phone you’ve seen baseball managers and coaches use a million times on TV could soon become as obsolete as the 1970’s-ish, yellow, wall-mounted phone in my laundry room.

Major League Baseball and T-Mobile USA announced a deal Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to make T-Mobile Official Wireless sponsor of MLB. T-Mobile will provide baseball managers and coaches with cell phones in dugouts and bullpens starting in 2013.

Image 1Baseball managers and coaches will be able to make wireless calls one of two ways. First, managers and coaches can carry around the cell phones. When a manager wants to call a bullpen coach, he swipes the call button on the handset. The bullpen coach picks up by swiping the answer button on his handset.

Or the manager can grab a cell phone from a new T-Mobile branded docking station in the dugout (see picture at left). When the manager picks up one of several mobile handsets, it automatically calls a mobile handset in the bullpen.

That’s not to say the antiquated, land-line phones at ballparks will go away. MLB will keep them in dugouts and bullpens for managers and coaches who still want to use them. But my prediction is they’ll become as dusty and unused as the fax machine at the office. Plus, the deal won’t apply to ballparks that have already have wireless deals, such as AT&T Park, home of the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

tmobileMike Sievert, chief marketing officer of T-Mobile USA, said in a statement the company’s looking forward to installing the new “in-game, communication system at ballparks across the country.” T-Mobile already sponsors the Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates.

MLB says this is its first wireless sponsorship deal in a decade. Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business, says in a statement that “wireless technology will be an outstanding addition to the baseball industry.”

I know, I know. Every time the Grand Old Game tries something new, baseball traditionalists get all up in arms. But this sounds like a deal whose time has come. I know it’s quaint to watch managers or pitching coaches picking up the old land-line phones in the dugouts and calling some grizzled bullpen coach. But everybody uses cell phones these days. So why not baseball?

Besides it may help avoid mishaps such as during the 2011 World Series when former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa mistakenly thought he ordered closer Jason Motte to warm up — only to learn later his bullpen coaches misheard him on the old landline. The blunder cost the Cards the game to the Texas Rangers although they won the Series.

As ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote at the time:

In the age of email, texting, iChat and Skype, baseball remains tied to the traditions established in the Civil War era of flannel uniforms. La Russa conveyed his decisions to the bullpen with a device born the same year as the National League: the telephone.

Managers are obsessive about their dugout phones, checking them before every game to make sure they’re operational. The problem in Rangers Ballpark is you can’t see the visiting bullpen from the third-base dugout. Cleveland and Toronto already have screens for the managers to monitor the pens.



Hands-down, Anheuser-Busch is the best Super Bowl advertiser of all time. I can’t tell you how many times they won the Ad Meter consumer poll when I was at USA TODAY.

Image 2That’s why I think it’s a smart move for A-B to support the launch of its new Black Crown beer with a spot on CBS’ telecast of Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.

I’ll be very interested to see what kind of advertising they have in store, however. We know Budweiser and and Bud Light’s brand position. But what about this brand new brew? Stay tuned.

1 comment

  1. I think it’s about time they started using newer technology. Bullpen is a thing of the past and may might as well be used as a part of someone’s vintage collection. Having said that it is great they are not completely eliminating its use or making it mandatory and people who want to use bullpens can still use them

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