With the plate right next to the right field foul line and the fans five feet away, it’s hard enough catching a slider in the dirt while trying to warm up a pitcher in Wrigley’s visitor’s bullpen. At any moment you can catch a line drive in the spine, or be the target of abuse by a drunken Cubs fan. Opposing teams’ bullpens had always put up with it … until now.

Numerous teams have begun complaining about the distraction of the new LED scoreboard in right field. Some complain about the bright lights that disguise the ball while warming up pitchers, but most complain about Theo Epstein’s insistence on showing re-runs of classic 80’s sitcoms during games. While the bullpen catchers are supposed to be concentrating on the 95-mph fastballs, they’ve instead been focused on old episodes of the Cosby Show, Cheers, Bosom Buddies, Diff’rent Strokes and Perfect Strangers.

“I was trying to warm up a lefty in case coach wanted to play the match-up,” said Randy Renfro, the bullpen catcher for the Atlanta Braves. “But I couldn’t concentrate once I saw that they were playing an old episode of Family Ties. I just love Michael J. Fox. And that guy who played Skippy? What a dork! I laughed so hard that I swallowed my Big League Chew, and that hasn’t happened since high school.”

It was all Epstein’s idea. Once Ricketts approved the plan to add the scoreboard, Epstein insisted on the programming in an effort to keep his team loose. His thought was that if he kept his team laughing throughout the game, it would keep them from thinking too much on the field. So far the plan hasn’t worked, with the Cubs having remained under .500 for the entire season, and now with MLB involving itself after numerous opponents have complained.

A few players are actually trying to contact Epstein before games to request certain sitcoms be played, making it quite difficult for managers to get their teams ready.

“I almost had to scratch Halladay from a start because he wouldn’t begin his warm-ups until after he finished watching an episode of Small Wonder, of all shows,” said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel before the start of Wednesday’s game. “That show sucked! Does anybody remember that rumor about Billy Corgan playing the son in that show?”

Although it’s been talked of as a distraction, its effects haven’t spilled over onto the field. And with all the troubles of the Cubs bullpen, Theo may actually consider moving the scoreboard across the field so classics such as Who’s the Boss and Golden Girls can finally help out his own team.

Michael Kloempken