The MLB playoffs start tonight in Arlington, Texas and Cleveland, Ohio, where the Blue Jays meet the Rangers and the Red Sox play the Indians. In the 1970s, we didn’t expect our major league baseball pitchers to run the 800 feet from the bullpen to the mound. Those guys were often too blasted to make the trip, so we drove them in baseball-shaped cars.
The practice of driving pitchers to the mound started in 1951 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. White Sox pitchers got a ride in a black Cadillac supplied by a local funeral home. The rides stopped by 1955 because “customers were firing all kinds of debris at the car,” according to Paul Lukas’s story on ESPNGo.com.
The Chicago White Sox tried again with a Chrysler LeBaron. Unofficial White Sox historian Josh Cohen noted that ‘”the beer shower that the LeBaron received had to be seen to be believed – full $3.50 cups came raining out of the upper deck.”
The New York Yankees used regular cars to shuttle pitchers to the mound. They started off with a Datsun, in pinstripes just like the Yankees players, then later used a Toyota Liftback, a Dodge Omni and a Chrysler New Yorker.
The Seattle Mariners had everyone beat. Capitalizing Seattle’s nautical history and distracting fans from the expansion team’s pathetic early 64-98 record, the team’s promoters cooked up the ‘MS Seattle Relief.’ According to MarinersBlog, “…no Mariners pitcher ever rode in the Tugboat when he entered a game at the Kingdome, and the Tugboat was quickly put in dry dock, likely because it, too, was pelted by all kinds of projectiles conveniently purchased from the concession stand.
A couple of years ago, Sotheby’s auctioned a Mets bullpen car. It’s an example of the prototype for the bulk of bullpen cars from the 1970s. Most teams sourced them from golf cart (and erstwhile Harley-Davidson) manufacturer AMF. They featured a baseball-shaped cabin topped by a cap with the team’s logo. The A-pillars are baseball bats, and generally, the headlight buckets were baseball gloves. The ones on the Mets car appear to have been replaced by Hella 550 driving lights.
The Mets car is pretty famous for a couple of reasons. First, when the (dreaded) Mets finally won Game 7 of the 1986 World Series after crushing the spirit of every Red Sox fan in Game 6, the cart rolled out onto the field and promptly died, to the pleasure of all in attendance.
There’s also a story about a second Mets cart from 1986: According to Jim O’Malley, writing on Mets360.com, “There is a reported incident at Shea Stadium that after the Mets won the division championship in 1986, Eric Bennett (a former stadium vendor) headed to the bullpen during the ensuing celebration on the field, hijacked the cart, and took it on a joyride around the outfield until the engine stalled.”
The Sotheby’s sold the Mets car on April 1, 2015 in an auction that featured more than 85 lots estimated from $300 to $800,000, including a lot of Lauren Bacall’s collection of Humphrey Bogart memorabilia. The auction house had set an estimated price of $20,000 for the car, but amazingly, the final bid was $112,000.