Fungo bats aren’t typical bats like the ones Mike Trout takes with him to a game situation. Rather, they’re more of practice bats. The bats are specially made for coaches to utilize when testing the fielding of their players. For example, a coach would break out his or her fungo bat when he or she is looking to hit his or her shortstop a couple of ground balls or when he/she hits pop flies to the centerfielder.
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The bat's form has become more refined over time. In the mid-19th century, baseball batters were known to shape or whittle their own bats by hand. This allowed there to be a wide variety in shape, size, and weight. For example, there were flat bats, round bats, short bats, and fat bats. Earlier bats were known to be much heavier and larger than today's regulated ones. During the 19th century, many shapes were experimented with, as well as handle designs. Today, bats are much more uniform in design.
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.
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.
The Wright & Ditsons Lajoie baseball bat. This bat had a normal size barrel but had two knobs on the handle. The lowest knob was at the bottom of the handle and the other knob was roughly two inches above the lowest knob. This was designed to have better spacing between the hands due to the knob being in the middle of the grip. This also gave batters an advantage when they choked up on the bat, because the second knob provided a better grip.
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Once in a while, veteran managers revive it. The Giants took infield occasionally in 2008 and 2013 under Bruce Bochy, and Jim Leyland instituted infield drills before batting practice late in his tenure in Detroit. Molitor, for one, misses it. He took infield even as a designated hitter late in his career because he hated sitting around for almost two hours waiting to play.
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.”