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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.”
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Before we get started, we have to define the word "fungo" or "fungoes." To summarize, fungo (fungoes for plural) is a ball tossed into the air by the batter and struck as it comes down during practice sessions. If you are a coach, you are more than likely familiar with a fungo bat. Or, if you are a player who has ever worked on ground balls or pop-flys in practice, you should know what a fungo bat is, as well. For the rest of us, a fungo bat might as well be a foreign object. What is that oddly shaped, extra long practice bat? So, let's answer the most common fungo bat questions:
Alright, let’s get to the drill. “Fungo Baseball/Softball” is a great drill for fielding and base running. It’s the same as playing an inter-squad scrimmage, except the pitchers do not throw live, and the hitters toss the ball to themselves and hit fungoes where they want. It is set up as a competitive game with an endless amount of teaching points. I really like to do this drill early in the season in order to simulate some real game like situations, and also when you’re on a hot streak and you’re looking to keep your team sharp on the little things like relays, backing up, and communication.
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."
Within league standards there is ample latitude for individual variation, many batters settling on their own bat profile, or one used by a successful batter. Formerly, bats were hand-turned from a template with precise calibration points; today they are machine-turned to a fixed metal template. Historically significant templates may be kept in a bat manufacturers' vault; for example, Babe Ruth's template, which became popular among major-league players, is R43 in the Louisville Slugger archives.
Maple bats in particular were once known (circa 2008) to potentially shatter in a way that resulted in many sharp edges, sometimes creating more dangerous projectiles when a bat broke. Maple bat manufacture evolved significantly, in cooperation with Major League Baseball, paying special attention to grain slope, and including an ink spot test to confirm safest wood grain orientation.
“They’re not moving, their feet are apart, their gloves are on the ground, backs are flat, and they’re working down to up, out to in, basically a steady roll back and forth probably 15 to 20 each,” Bates said. “Then they’ll turn their body, work glove side for another 15 to 20, and backhand 15 to 20. No movement, really, just making sure we’re watching the ball roll into our glove, fielding it, and doing all the things fundamentally correct.”
There are limitations to how much and where a baseball player may apply pine tar to a baseball bat. According to Rule 1.10(c) of the Major League Baseball Rulebook, it is not allowed more than 18 inches up from the bottom handle. An infamous example of the rule in execution is the Pine Tar Incident on July 24, 1983. Rules 1.10 and 6.06 were later changed to reflect the intent of Major League Baseball, as exemplified by the league president's ruling. Rule 1.10 now only requires that the bat be removed from the game if discovered after being used in a game; it no longer necessitates any change to the results of any play which may have taken place. Rule 6.06 refers only to bats that are "altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball. This includes, bats that are filled, flat-surfaced, nailed, hollowed, grooved or covered with a substance such as paraffin, wax, etc." It no longer makes any mention of an "illegally batted ball". In 2001, MLB approved the use of Gorilla Gold Grip Enhancer in major and minor league games as an alternative to pine tar.
Break your team up into 2 or 3 teams. If you do 2 teams you’ll need 8 or 9 on a team with a player for each defensive position. If you only have 8 on a team you can eliminate either the pitcher, catcher, or one outfielder based on what is a priority for your team that day. If you only have 12-15 players on your team break it up into 3 teams of 4-5. Then place two of the teams on defense and one team hitting fungoes. No matter what, have the teams and batting orders pre-made before practice. This will eliminate unnecessary downtime during practice.
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.