For the past decade, the Major League Baseball dugout was one of the few places to provide safe harbor for one of technology's most endangered species: The corded wall phone.
But with apologies to aural technophobes, that protected habitat is coming to an end. Thanks to a new partnership with T-Mobile, Major League Baseball will introduce a cell phone-based communication system between dugout and bullpen in select ballparks this season. The deal was announced Tuesday night at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. No longer will a manager have to trod all the way to the stationary phone to put in a call for the lefty. Instead he can opt to carry around a specially-designed cell phone to tell a pitcher in the bullpen to get loose. What advantage this provides is anyone's guess right now, but at least the manager will have the freedom to roam where he wants while the audience at home entertains itself with a thousand "can you hear me now?" jokes.
Oh, and before you make the "good luck getting a reception" zinger, the system will be run with its own dedicated transponders, meaning that Kirk Gibson won't be competing for bandwidth against Diamondbacks fans trying to check their fantasy team scores. I'm told the wall phones will remain in the converted dugouts as a means of insurance should something go wrong with the new setup.
Also, the system will not be available in all 30 ballparks due to things like previous sponsorship deals with competing cell phone companies. It is expected to make its debut with Team USA manager Joe Torre when the World Baseball Classic hits Chase Field in Phoenix.
From the league's press release:
Under the agreement, T-Mobile will provide MLB with a new On-Field Communication System, powered by T-Mobile’s powerful nationwide network technology. The first use of this technology will be in a wireless voice system connecting managers in select Major League dugouts to coaches in bullpens. This dugout-to-bullpen system will start to roll out in 2013 and the new On-Field Communication System solution will offer greater mobility as well as options for future innovation within the game.
In addition to the new communications system, T-Mobile and MLB will work together to try and solve the reception problems that plague most big league stadiums.
As for the "future innovation" promised, we can only hope that means a move toward the one improvement that would make the biggest impact on the game: Expanded instant replay.
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Here's a league-provided diagram of how the new system will be set up:
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