Have you lived in a small home that is approximately 600 square feet? Did you ever invite over 25-30 people to hang out in that small space? Probably not. In an MLB dugout, that is exactly what you will find: 25–30 people, televisions, equipment, athletic trainers and their equipment, multiple telephones, and who knows how much gum, sunflower seeds, or other snacks. So, what is a dugout in baseball, and what is it for?
The truth is that the dugout has multiple purposes for both players and fans. Knowing that, we’ll dive deeper into the topic of the dugout, where strategy and mischief come together to make baseball one of the best sports to play and watch.
- A fifth infielder is an extra infield player used by the defense as a late-game strategy. It is typically used in certain situations to prevent runs from scoring and to fill any potential holes in the infield.
- It can be deployed when there is one out with the bases loaded or against a ground ball hitter.
- Pros and cons include eliminating ground balls while exposing the outfielders, but this tactic can be useful when the game is on the line.
- A fifth infielder can take different shapes, such as going to a hole in the infield or playing behind second base.
- Notable fifth infielders in baseball history include Rod Carew and Ozzie Smith.
History of the dugout
When baseball first became an organized sport, there were no dugouts. Stadiums were much simpler, and players would sit on chairs or benches that were open and exposed to the game, the elements, and the fans.
However, in 1908, baseball made serious progress for the players by installing roofs over the benches to protect them from the weather (and the fans). The benches were still at ground level with no protection in front, but it was only the beginning. To see a little slice of history, look at the photo below, taken during a Cubs-Giants game in 1908 at National League Park in Chicago. You can see the covered bench areas on the first and third base sides:
You can also see that several rows of seats were eliminated to accommodate these structures, which means that stadiums were losing 100+ seats near the field that they could have sold at premium prices. Remember, MLB is not a non-profit, so you know that wouldn’t last long.
Fast forward approximately ten years, and you begin to see dugouts being lowered with each new stadium built. For example, below is an in-game photo from 1925 taken at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. You will see that there are still missing rows of seats, but not as many:
As time went on and baseball stadiums were upgraded with more seats and better accommodations, owners and architects figured out a way to protect players while also being able to add high-value seats to their stadiums. Below is an image of the old Yankee Stadium. In this photo, you can see the development of the dugout and how it sunk lower into the ground to accommodate more fans:
Design and structure of the dugout
While no two dugouts are the same in MLB, they must be large enough to hold up to 30 adults and lots of equipment and are made of wood, metal, and other composite materials. Generally, professional dugouts are approximately 60 feet long (some are longer) and about 10 feet wide while being between 9-10 feet high.
Each stadium has its own unique dugout features, but all of them have the following: a bench for seating, a tunnel leading into the clubhouse, a protective screen or fence in front for safety, and room for medical equipment, bats, helmets, gloves, and other equipment.
The floor is also a key component. After a full game, the dugout floor is covered in saliva, sunflower seed shells, and chewed gum. Because of this, teams use rubber flooring that can be disinfected and washed daily.
Functions of the dugout
Other than just being a covered structure for players to sit in between innings, the dugout serves several purposes. For managers, they have access to a CCTV television that shows their bullpen as well as the visitors’ bullpen (the visitors get one too). This helps in making substitution decisions.
There is also a telecommunications hub in each dugout. While most have 2-3 phones, one fun fact is that the New York Mets employ four different phones. In fact, former Mets manager Terry Collins once admitted to not even knowing what all the phones were for. These phones connect the manager to the bullpen, the press box (to announce lineup changes), and some have an outside line. There are also backup phones available for redundancy purposes.
Role of the dugout in gameplay
During a game, players should not be heckled, bothered, or harassed while on the bench. They get enough of that on the field in visiting stadiums. Because of fans and the weather, dugouts have become a safe place for players, coaches, and staff to be protected from foul balls, rain, and yes, even fans.
The dugout also offers coaches and managers access to the clubhouse and a private stadium exit, which allows players to always remain separated from the fans. The dugout is also a communications hub, with video and audio feeds coming in to help coaches make decisions. As far as the other purposes of the dugout, we’ll let this video explain itself:
Why is it called a dugout in baseball?
It is called a “dugout” in baseball because the structure itself is sunken below field level and needs to have dirt “dug out” so that when finished, players can be safely seated with limited exposure.
Who is allowed in the dugout?
According to MLB rule 3.17, the only people allowed in the dugout are players, substitutes, coaches, athletic trainers, and batboys/batgirls. Players on the injured list can also be in the dugout but cannot enter the field of play. There are always exceptions made by the team for family members, fans with special needs, and others, but those are special considerations made by the organization.
Situational events can also dictate. In the video below, you will see players escorting fans into the dugout after gunshots were heard during a Padres-Nationals game in DC:
How many seats are in the dugout?
Because a regular-season MLB roster has 26 players, benches are built to seat up to 30 people if needed. The pitching staff and coaches are seated in the bullpen, while the starting pitcher, position players, the manager, remaining coaches, and support staff are the ones who spend their time in the dugout.
Do baseball players eat in the dugout?
Yes, baseball players absolutely eat in the dugout. It is not against the rules. Most often, it is something simple like sunflower seeds, gum, or candy, but not always. Watch below to see what we mean
What happens when the ball goes into the dugout?
When a live ball enters a dugout, it is immediately ruled a dead ball, just as if it had gone into the crowd. It doesn’t matter if it is because of an error or any other reason. The umpire then decides what happens to the hitter and what bases any base runners should be allowed.
The edge of the dugout is in play, so fielders can stand on the very edge and reach inwards to make a play but cannot step into the dugout. That would also constitute a dead ball.
However, sometimes a ball hit into the dugout is just plain dangerous. Watch this clip from a Rangers-Angels game in Anaheim in 1992. The player’s reaction is hilarious, but remember, the ball is coming off the bat at 80+ mph.
While many have said the use of the word “dugout” is a reference to World War I, the truth is that it is just a phrase that denotes how the structure was built. We know that the first usage of the term “dugout” in baseball didn’t happen until 1915, but what has evolved in the past 100+ years has been a marvel in architecture. Owners added more high-value seats, players were more protected, and stadiums got a brand-new dance floors. This is the beauty of the dugout:
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