A dodging game in which players of one team, stationed at the corners of a defined area, attempt to hit players of the other team within the area with a ball.
1839 Lexington Union (MS) 12 Oct /1, We said caucusing, but it looks more like a party of young school boys, than men, playing “bull pen” and after the party being in possession of the corners having nigh being beat commenced juggling to say who should have the ball. 1857 Porter’s Spirit of Times 3.241 GA (as of 1827), About twenty boys and girls were assembled, . . the boys at bull-pen, the girls at jumping the rope. 1859 Kanzas News (Emporia KS) 1 Jan /1, Many are the learned disquisitions we have listened to in regard to the merits and demerits of “base ball,” bull-pen, cat-ball, etc., with the proper mode of conducting the game. 1877 Radford Hist. Woodford Co. 38 IL, Croquet and base ball were unknown, but there were bull-pen, town-ball, cat, horse-shoe and marbles. 1881 Ogden Hist. Champaign Co. OH 247, But the principal game with the larger boys, was a ball game, called the “Bull Pen.” The run of the play was to divide equally, tossing for first choice of partners and for corners. The ground was then laid off into corners or bases, there being as many corners as there were players on one side. . . The ball was thrown rapidly from corner to corner, until one saw his opportunity to throw and strike one in the pen. If the thrower missed, he was counted out or sometimes entered the pen. If he struck his man, then all the players on the corners ran away, and the one struck in the pen endeavored to save himself by striking one of the fugitives. If he failed, he was counted out, but, if successful in his throw, both were counted in, and the game proceeded until all the “corners” were out, when places were exchanged. 1890 Pop. Sci. Mth. 37.653 seIA, In bull-pen the two bases are subdivided into half as many as there are players, and they are arranged into the circumference of a ring. One player stands on each base. These are the winners of the last preceding game—the “ins”. . . The outs are a disorganized rabble, roaming about inside the ring. 1897 (1952) McGill Narrative 32 ceSC (as of 1827), The game “Bull Pen” was very exciting, not only to see the bulls drop flat on the ground to dodge the ball, but to see the last one on the line run the lines and through the pen to get a near shot from any part of the lines of the pen. 1915 DN 4.181 swVA, Bull pen. . . A kind of ball game. 1916 Jackson Daily News (MS) 29 Aug 2/2, At recess and noon, we will play cat ball, ‘bull pen’ and ‘hot pepper.’ 1935 Davis Honey 92 OR, As long as nobody caught or crowded them, dodging people was a game, like bull-pen or wounded soldier. 1940 Kennedy–Harlow Schoolmaster 225 IN, In my boyhood we were still playing the games of my father’s and grandfather’s time—Anty-over, Bull Pen, Old Sow Out. 1947 Lomax Advent. Ballad Hunter 14 TX (as of c1880), We children never played games on Sunday, not even . . bull pen. c1960 Wilson Coll.csKY, Bull-pen. 1966–69 DARE (Qu. EE2, Games that have one extra player—when a signal is given, the players change places, and the extra one tries to get a place) Inf NC77, Bull-in-the-pen—one inside the ring and a ball you’d throw; (Qu. EE11, Bat-and-ball games for just a few players [When there aren’t enough for a regular game]) Inf KY41, Bullpen; (Qu. EE33, . . Outdoor games) Infs AR39, KY6 SC19, Bullpen; KY24, Bullpen—[In a] ring of people “it” threw a ball at one, if he hit one, he was “it”; TN12, Bullpen (with a ball)—[Four players stand at corners of a square] throw ball, try to hit [four] children in center. [6 of 7 Infs old] 1966 DARE Tape AL4, Bullpen [ˈbᴜlpɛn] . . it’s about the same thing—bullpen and dodgeball. You put everybody in the ring and take this soft ball and you’d throw it at ’em, and so if you hit somebody . . he got out you see. 1980 Foxfire 6 278 nGA, Bullpen. . . The object of the game is to get all the men out on one team by hitting each one of them with the ball. One team of four players mans the bases, and the other players get in the center or in the bullpen.