In 1990, Bruce Leinert came up with the idea of putting an axe handle on a baseball bat. He filed a patent application for the 'Axe Bat' in 2007 and the bat started being used in the college and pro ranks over the following years. In 2012, the Marietta College Pioneers baseball team won the NCAA Division III World Series using axe handled bats. Several Major League Baseball players have adopted the bat handle including Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, George Springer, Kurt Suzuki and Dansby Swanson.
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.”
As to who created the first ever fungo, baseball fans may never know. The word fungoes and fungo batting have been referenced since the early 1800's, but nobody has been able to pinpoint the original source. Baseball fans and historians both agree that the creator of the first ever fungo is somewhat of a mystery. Here at JustBats, we may not know who created the first ever fungo, but we are sure glad that they did!
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.”
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.
Fungo bats have been around since the beginning of baseball and as most of us may know, baseball was said to be invented by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, New York during the summer of 1839. Since fungo bats were much easier to swing and gave off a ton of pop, they were almost seen as cheating back in the day. In a book from 1897 named "The Technical Terms of Baseball," the sportswriter Henry Chadwick stated,"The weakest batting is shown when the batsman indulges in fungo hitting." It wasn't until baseball bat regulations came around that fungo bats were only used by coaches and parents.
How the bat is made is what differentiates it from the typical regulation bat used by major league players. In addition to being lighter and thinner, the bat is also much longer compared to the normal bat. It ranges between 35 – 37 inches in terms of length. In terms of weight, the bat weighs between 17 – 22 ounces. Of great importance to note is the fact that the bat features a bigger barrel than the normal ones. Since it’s flatter and features a small diameter, it’s ideal when it comes to hitting ground balls as well as pop flies. This would be necessary during the fielding practice of any team regardless of the level.
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.
To figure out who shoots first, players usually throw or roll a baseball to a certain object (usually at close range) and whoever is closest shoots first. The first person then gets to choose the first hole and tees off. To tee off (and for most shots) players hit the ball like they were playing baseball, but depending on the distance from the hole the player may choose to ‘putt’ the ball instead of hitting it. To putt the ball, the player places the ball on the cup (the end of the fungo bat), and can toss the ball from the cup in hopes of getting a more accurate shot. In shooting or putting, the player must have one foot where the ball landed during the entire duration of their swing or putt, failure to keep the foot planted results in a loss of a stroke. Scorekeeping is identical to traditional golf; the player with the fewest strokes essentially wins the hole. Players traditionally play nine or eighteen holes of fungo golf, and at the end the person with the fewest strokes in the set number of holes wins the game.