For starters, we should clarify just what we’re talking about when we say fungo bat. Longer, lighter and thinner than a regulation bat (but a larger barrel), a fungo bat is typically 35 to 37 inches long, and weighs between 17 and 22 ounces. As David Allison wrote in the June 1978 edition of Country Journal, “A fungo bat looks to be a cross between a baseball bat and a broomstick.”
A rounded, solid wooden or hollow aluminum bat. Wooden bats are traditionally made from ash wood, though maple and bamboo is also sometimes used. Aluminum bats are not permitted in professional leagues, but are frequently used in amateur leagues. Composite bats are also available, essentially wooden bats with a metal rod inside. Bamboo bats are also becoming popular.
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.
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Baseball bats are made of either wood, or a metal alloy (typically aluminum). Most wooden bats are made from ash. Other woods include maple, hickory, and bamboo. Hickory has fallen into disfavor over its greater weight, which slows down bat speed, while maple bats gained popularity following the introduction of the first major league sanctioned model in 1997. The first player to use one was Joe Carter of the Toronto Blue Jays. Barry Bonds used maple bats the seasons he broke baseball's single-season home run record in 2001, and the career home run record in 2007. In 2010, the increased tendency of maple bats to shatter has caused Major League Baseball to examine their use, banning some models in minor league play.
The fungo is used by a coach to hit balls for defense practice. It is lighter weight, so less fatiguing to hit ball after ball. The fungo sheds its weight above the hands. The severely tapered barrel to drops weight and maintains a high moment of inertia. While the bat would be at greater risk of breaking if used in a live batting exercise, it is safe to use in practice because there are much fewer mis-hits.
If your high school or travel team has at least two coaches, you can use what Bates calls a two-fungo drill. One coach can hit to third and second, while the other hits to short and first. If catchers are finished working with the pitchers, they can feed balls to the fungo hitters. The idea is for the third baseman to practice turning a 5-4-3, with the first baseman moving up toward second base about 60 feet instead of 90, with a net behind him to catch overthrows. The shortstop works on throwing across on 6-3s.
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.”