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What Is A Bullpen In Baseball?

If we were going to be boring…we’d tell you that “a bullpen is a place set aside at a ballpark where pitchers warm up before they enter a baseball game”. But our mission with this article is to not be boring. 

So here’s our over-the-top description of a baseball bullpen:

A bullpen is the cultural hotbed of the ball player scene. It’s the factory that produces the goofiness of the lefty pitcher who can never piece together the entire ensemble of a uniform. It’s the creative department of the club that possesses the power of determining the external portrait of the team. More than anything though, it’s the incubator that provides the men hurling from the highland access to mentorship and networking, all in an effort to develop a proficiency of aim when faced with an adversary that stands 90 feet away.

If you are interested in uncovering every detail of the bullpen from the origin story of its name to ideas for passing the time while stuck in it, then please keep reading!

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Why is it called the bull pen in baseball?

To get our answer, we need to look no further than commentary from Joe Garagiola, the professional catcher and legendary broadcaster, in his book from 1960, Baseball Is A Funny Game.

But like many aspects of our nation’s fine game, the origin of the moniker “bullpen” is veiled in some mystery. Garagiola’s research offers two possible inceptions of the name:

  1. The most generally held belief is that the name took hold because in the early twentieth century Bull Durham tobacco signs were placed in most ballparks right in the area where pitchers warmed up. It’s a little ironic that the signs came to signify an aspect of pitching. Garagiola’s book reports that a Sporting News article penned by Lee Allen in the 1950s mentions that the signs were actually used as an incentive for hitters. Allen reported that the Durham Tobacco Company would give batters $50 if they connected with a baseball that hit a Bull Durham sign.

  2. However, the book also states that in May of 1877, a Cincinnati Enquirer article made the first recorded use of referring to a section of a ballpark as a location for bulls. Garagiola’s book quotes the Cincy newspaper as saying that fans arriving late to the game could pay for a cheaper ticket, but were then “[herded] like bulls within a rope area in foul territory, adjoining the outfield.” The newspaper article further mentioned that the field's foul grounds had lost its use.

Garagiola’s final say on the matter is that his “guess” for the roots of our modern day use of the term “bullpen” comes from the presence of Bull Durham signs near the area where pitchers commonly warmed up.


How many pitchers are in a bullpen?

Currently, within the highest rank of professional baseball in America, teams can have 26 players on their active roster.

Let’s just say that 13 of those players will be position players.

That leaves space for 13 pitchers on the pro roster. Typically, 5 of those pitchers will be starters.

In a bullpen you’re usually only going to find relief pitchers. These are pitchers that come in to pitch once the starting pitcher has been pulled from the game by the team’s manager.

Generally speaking, a bullpen will have around 8 relief pitchers in its confines during a game.

However, be sure to know that even though starting pitchers won’t often spend time there during a game, they will employ the bullpen before taking the mound in the first inning. See a professional starting pitcher do his pregame routine in the bullpen video below:

What are the best bullpen pranks of all time?

Bullpen (and dugout) pranks have been around for many years and it is these pranks that have laid bare the silliness of some of the men that spend most of their seasons on its benches (especially the lefties). 

    • The Hot Foot

      Although it can occur in the dugout or the bullpen, we have to list the hotfoot prank as one of the best bullpen pranks of all time. Essentially, it involves the lighting of an unsuspecting teammate’s footwear. Sometimes it’s a shoelace that gets lit. Other times it’s a flammable apparatus adhesed to a cleat by bubble gum. The most famous advocate of the hot foot has to be Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven, whose nationality and affinity for lighting footwear on fire earned him the nickname, the Frying Dutchman. Watch below as the LA ball club honored Blyleven’s legacy by pulling off a hot foot prank on teammate Scott Van Slyke in 2014. Best of all, enjoy it being eloquently narrated by the late broadcasting legend, Vin Scully:
  • The Legendary Texas A&M Bullpen Prank Call

    To our knowledge, this prank has only been pulled off once. While it didn’t necessarily originate from the bullpen, it was directed toward a bullpen. And like many components of baseball history, the factual evidence surrounding the prank is murky.

    In the spring of 2017, a video was posted on a college baseball player’s X account that showed a group of college ballplayers at Eastern Oklahoma University watching a Texas A&M baseball game from two years earlier. What occurred next was pretty hilarious.

    One of the guys has a phone in front of him…and has called the Texas A&M (TAMU) bullpen. Even more crazy…the bullpen phone is picked up. The caller tells the TAMU coach or player on the other end to alert AJ Minter (then a TAMU pitcher and now a professional pitcher) to start warming up. It’s reported over the phone that Minter’s in the dugout and not the bullpen, but the caller tells the player or coach “Well, get him down there” and hangs up. On the TV screen, a TAMU player starts jogging down to the bullpen and the entire room of Eastern Oklahoma ballplayers erupts in celebration.

    It appeared that a group of rogue Eastern Oklahoma players had successfully hacked the inner workings of the TAMU bullpen in the spring of 2015. The video went viral on X. However, the McAlester News-Capital paper reported a couple days after the posting of the event that even though the phone call did occur in 2015, the footage of TAMU baseball that was on the TV screen in the video was doctored and didn’t actually show the event that took place in 2015. It appears that the call did take place, but was most likely ignored and no 'pen action took place because of it.


How to pass the time in a baseball bullpen?

If a starting pitcher pitches deep into a baseball game, your relievers might be stuck in the precincts of the ‘pen for multiple innings or hours (depending upon how you wish to count). And during that time, you can let your mind aimlessly wander -or- you can prepare for your moment to shine -or- if your bullpen is in an ideal spot you might literally capitalize on your geographical position in the ballpark and your popularity. How a bullpen pitching staff passes the time can definitely leave a lasting impression on how fans remember a team.

    • Make Some Money?

      We’re not briefed on how this idea works within the legal realm of collegiate athletics, but at the professional level there could be allowance for it. Be sure to brief this idea with management before implementing.

      If you have a bullpen that has close access to fans. Consider setting up three cups at increasing distances (i.e. first cup 5 feet away | second cup 10 feet away | third cup 15 feet away). Have fans come up and try tossing quarters into the three cups. If they make it in the first cup, give them a baseball signed by the bullpen pitching staff. If they make it in the second cup, give them a broken baseball bat. If they make it in the third cup, give them an extra baseball glove that the team may have lying around.

      Before you know it, you’ll have accrued a few extra dollars for the bullpen to spend on snacks at a gas station when going on your next road trip. And your entrepreneurial spirit will certainly intrigue the fan base surrounding you.

    • Prepare For A Rain Delay Performance

      You never know when the time will come for your 15 minutes of fame. But if you are an inhabitant of the bullpen, it may present itself in the form of a rain delay. If things work out in your favor…you might find yourself on a news network. As can be seen below, it doesn’t take much…a little orchestration of baseball players acting alongside each other in a silly way goes a long distance…


We hope that you’ve learned not only about the technical ins-and-outs of the baseball bullpen, but we also hope that you’ve learned even more about the cultural experience of a bullpen.

But if you’ve made it this far and are thinking “I just want to buy my next baseball glove”. Please chat with our team of Glove Experts right here!

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