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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.
A fungo bat is a specially designed bat used by baseball and softball coaches for practice. The etymology of the word fungo ( /ˈfʌŋɡoʊ/) is uncertain, but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests it is derived from the Scots fung: to pitch, toss, or fling. A fungo is longer and lighter than a regulation bat, with a smaller diameter. The bat is designed to hit balls tossed up in the air by the batter, not pitched balls. Typical fungo bats are 35 to 37 inches (89 to 94 cm) long and weigh 17 to 22 ounces (480 to 620 g). Coaches hit many balls during fielding practice, and the weight and length allow the coach to hit balls repeatedly with high accuracy. The small diameter also allows coaches to easily hit pop-ups to catchers and infielders along with ground balls due to better control of the barrel of the bat.
Even in those formative years, authorities on the game warned the practice of hitting fungoes should be limited to coaches. Henry Chadwick, one of baseball’s earliest proponents, claimed “The weakest batting is shown when the batsmen indulges in fungo hitting,” according to the Art of Batting. Others agreed that the practice was bad for training a batter’s reflexes: “While watching some of our freshmen practicing ‘fungo’ batting the other afternoon it occurred to me that it was about the worst kind of practice a batsman could imagine in training his eye in batting,” a writer claimed in the March 3, 1886 edition of The Sporting Life. “It trains the eye to meet the ball in batting it in a manner which never occurs in actual play. It ought to be prohibited on every well regulated ball field.”
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.