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:
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.
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.”
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They can either be wood or aluminum. I encourage you to use a wood one. If not, I will make fun of you like I do my good friend Bill Booker at LaSalle-Peru H.S. for using his aluminum one. If you choose the wood fungo, I would recommend taping the barrel. If you hit a good number of fungoes, the tape will increase the durability of the bat. I took the tape off of one once. The barrell was like sawdust, but I re-taped it and it was ready to go. One season, I figured it out, between the high school, American Legion, an junior high seasons I had hit over 10,000 fungoes. Tape it up!
The origin of the word "fungo" is unknown and argued upon as there are many possible options as to the origins of this unique word. It is assumed by many to be derived from the Scottish word fung meaning to pitch, toss, or fling. This would make sense, as fungo bats are designed to do just that. Or, the alternative to this origin is that fungo comes from 1937 where David Shulman, writer for the American Speech, said, "My guess is that the word, which is baseball slang, may be explained through the elements of a compound word, fun and go." Lastly, a third belief is that the word fungo comes from an old game, similar to that of baseball, where the players used to chant, "One go, two goes, fun goes."
While many people view the fungo bat more as an antique piece of baseball’s history, there’s no doubt that it still has a special place in the modern game. Actually, the bat is starting to enjoy some revival all-round the game. Regardless of minimal production of fungo bats, you can rest assured that they’re here to stay. The bats are too beneficial to both coaches and players on a daily basis.
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.
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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.
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.