Whatever happened to the bullpen vehicles that Major League clubs once used to transport relief pitchers from the home team’s bullpen to the pitching mound? Back in the seventies, Boston had a golf cart topped with a giant replica of a Red Sox baseball cap making this trip for quite a while. I remember thinking how unneighborly it was to force the opposing team’s relievers to walk from their pen to the mound while providing the homie’s with a comfortable ride to work. I also wondered what if any conversation between driver and pitcher took place? You’d think teams would have been smart enough to have their bullpen coaches drive these vehicles so they could spend those last precious few moments discussing the best pitching strategies for the passenger to use with the hitters he was about to face. In any event, after becoming popular targets for inebriated beer tossing fans in one stadium after another, bullpen vehicles went the way of the passenger pigeon and now no longer exist in big league ballparks.
Today’s Birthday celebrant causes me to ponder an even more important historical question about the use of bullpen vehicles. Bill Zuber made his big league debut as a relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in 1936. He got traded to the Senators in 1941 and then to the Yankees in 1943, just as the exodus of Major League players to wartime service was peaking. He pitched for New York until early on in the 1946 season until all of the Yankee war-time pitchers had returned from service. The Yanks then sold Zuber to Boston and Red Sox skipper Joe Cronin immediately made effective use of him as both a reliever and spot starter. He pitched a three-hit shutout in his first start for Boston and finished his first year on the team with a 5-1 record and a career-low 2.56 ERA, helping the team capture the AL Pennant
Zuber had avoided military service during the War because he was a member of a religious group known as The Amana Church Society. Members of this group were against all wars and were granted conscientious objector status by the US Government. This Society also believed that it was a sin to make use of modern machinery, including motorized vehicles of any kind. So what would have happened if back in 1946, Cronin summoned this big peace-loving right hander from the bullpen to pitch in a game and the Red Sox were making use of a bullpen vehicle? Would Zuber have put himself in the passenger seat or would he instead have refused the ride and proceeded to walk to the Fenway pitching mound, perhaps even pointing to the sky along the way, like many God-loving ballplayers do today whenever they get a base hit?
In any event, Zuber pitched must less effectively during his second season in Boston and after spending one more year on a Red Sox farm team, he hung up his glove for good. Zuber eventually got into the restaurant business after his baseball career ended. He found a way to meld both his ball-playing past and his religiosity into his new career by adorning the back page of his restaurant’s menu with his former skipper, Joe McCarthy’s “Ten Commandments of Baseball.”
This right-hander was born and grew up in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx and was disappointed when the Red Sox pursued him as an amateur instead of his hometown Yankees. It was “Bots” Nekola who scouted Nagy and convinced the Red Sox to select the 6’3″ pitcher in the sixth round of the 1966 amateur draft. Nekola was the guy who also signed Carl Yastrzemski.
After an OK first year in the low minors, Nagy developed arm trouble and barely pitched during his second. He then did just well enough in 1968 to get invited to Boston’s ’69 spring training camp. It was during that exhibition season that Nagy accomplished something that had eluded most of his Red Sox teammates. He actually developed a close relationship with the surly Boston skipper, Dick Williams. Even though he didn’t make that year’s Opening Day roster, he was brought up to the parent club in early April, when Williams quickly became disenchanted with two other young Red Sox pitchers who had.
Nagy then rewarded his manager’s confidence in him by putting together an outstanding 12-2 rookie season as a member of Boston’s starting rotation, while posting an ERA of 3.11. That was a good enough performance to help the then-21-year-old hurler finish second to the Royals’ Lou Piniella in the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year vote and give the Fenway faithful good reason to be optimistic about the youngster’s future.
There were however, two things that happened during Nagy’s first big league season that did not bode well for his future. The first was his high walk-rate. He issued 106 bases-on-balls or just about five passes for every nine innings he pitched. He also lost his guardian angel, when Williams was let go at the end of the ’69 season.
After serving a six month hitch in the reserves, Nagy’s second season got off to a late start. When he struggled as a starter, his new manager, Eddie Kasko demoted him to the bullpen for a time and Nagy hated pitching in a relief role, later admitting that he had let the move shake his self-confidence. He also hurt his arm that second season and ended up spending his final two year’s with the organization, bouncing back and forth between Boston and Louisville, trying to recapture the groove he was in during his rookie season. He never did.
Nagy ended up getting traded to St Louis in 1973 and then to Texas before landing back in the minors. When it became pretty clear he was not going to get a spot on any big league roster he made the decision to pitch in Mexico and became a star player south of the border for the next four years. When his playing days were over, he returned to his old Throggs Neck neighborhood and began a successful career in real estate.