Four historically significant baseball bats showcased in the National Baseball Hall of Fame's traveling exhibit "Baseball As America". From left to right: bat used by Babe Ruth to hit his 60th home run during the 1927 season, bat used by Roger Maris to hit his 61st home run during the 1961 season, bat used by Mark McGwire to hit his 70th home run during the 1998 season, and the bat used by Sammy Sosa for his 66th home run during the same season.
Fungo bats have been around since the beginning of baseball and as most of us may know, baseball was said to be invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York during the summer of 1839. Since fungo bats were much easier to swing and gave off a ton of pop, they were almost seen as cheating back in the day. In a book from 1897 named "The Technical Terms of Baseball," the sportswriter Henry Chadwick stated,"The weakest batting is shown when the batsman indulges in fungo hitting." It wasn't until baseball bat regulations came around that fungo bats were only used by coaches and parents.
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Players can be very particular about their bats. Ted Williams cleaned his bats with alcohol every night and periodically took them to the post office to weigh them. "Bats pick up condensation and dirt lying around on the ground," he wrote, "They can gain an ounce or more in a surprisingly short time." Ichiro Suzuki also takes great care that his bats do not accumulate moisture and thus gain weight: he stores his bats in humidors, one in the club house and another, a portable one, for the road. Rod Carew fought moisture by storing his bats in a box full of sawdust in the warmest part of his house. "The sawdust acts as a buffer between the bats and the environment," he explained, "absorbing any moisture before it can seep into the wood."
A baseball bat is divided into several regions. The "barrel" is the thick part of the bat, where it is meant to hit the ball. The part of the barrel best for hitting the ball, according to construction and swinging style, is often called the "sweet spot". The end of the barrel is called the "top", "end" or "cap" of the bat. Opposite the cap, the barrel narrows until it meets the "handle". The handle is comparatively thin, so that batters can comfortably grip the bat in their hands. Sometimes, especially on metal bats, the handle is wrapped with a rubber or tape "grip". Finally, below the handle is the "knob" of the bat, a wider piece that keeps the bat from slipping from a batter's hands.
Next, the third base fungo hits to left, who come home, third baseman cuts (again, 60' from home, about the pitchers mound). First base fungo hits to right, who throw again to second (this is where we practised cutting off doubles on balls hit into the right field corner - it's really practiseing hitting your cutoff man quickly than anything else - also the reason it's safe to do while left field goes home).
Fungo bats typically weigh between 17 to 22 ounces and may be as long as 37 inches, making them longer than most bats used for hitting. According to Pro Bats, a typical professional baseball player uses a bat that is about 34 inches long and weighs about 32 ounces, although there is considerable variation. Fungo bats not only are longer than regular bats, they also are skinnier. Like regular bats, fungo bats can be made of metal or wood.
This sounds like a lot of information, but with a little practise on the coaches part, it runs quite smoothly. Two to three reps per player in the field per section is quite adequate, and with 14 men on the field, this whole routine should take about 7 minutes. It's quite snappy, and quite impressive. I had many a parent marvel to me after witnessing it - "you look like a professional team!" I wouldn't try the routine with anything less than a 14 yr old select team, but with the talent to do it right, it's fantastic.
The most obvious reasons to utilize a fungo bat is the fact that it’s lightweight. It’s handy to coaches when conducting fielding practice since he or she has to hit plenty of balls to warm up his or her players. What is for sure is that hitting countless balls during practice can be tiring. Consequently, having a bat that’s lighter weight is magical at preventing the coach and/or players from getting tired.
To practice throwing around the infield, Bates recommends several drills you can use. The first involves placing four fielders in a square, about 15 feet apart. The players flip the ball underhanded to each other, like in a double play. Keep their arms straight, using a stiff wrist, with gloves on their hips once the ball is out. Every fielder follows their flip, glove side first, rotating around the square. The idea is to have a sequence of catch, flip and follow. The ball should be caught with two hands, palms open. After about two minutes, repeat the process rotating the other way for another two minutes.
Fungo bats are typically only used by coaches, to consistently place grounders and pop flies to their fielders for practice purposes. And with a fungo bat in their hands, some coaches can pull off wicked accuracy – as one story goes, the late California Angels player and coach Jimmie Reese once shot an 82 on an 18-hole golf course using nothing but a putter and a fungo bat.