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:
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.
Fungo bats are, simply put, a long, skinny, and lightweight baseball bat used for fielding practice. Typically, they are around 34 to 37 inches in length and between 17 and 24 ounces in weight, give or take a couple of ounces. They will also almost always feature a 2 1/4 inch barrel diameter to allow for more control during a swing. As you can tell, fungo bats are longer than a normal baseball bat and much more lightweight in comparison. Most fungo bats are going to be made up of ash wood while there are some maple and bamboo wood fungo bats, some composite wood fungo bats, and very few aluminum alloy fungo bats. Almost all of these designs will be under $100 with very few eclipsing that mark.
Once the basic bat has been turned, it has the manufacturer's name, the serial number, and often the signature of the player endorsing it branded into it opposite the wood's best side. Honus Wagner was the first player to endorse and sign a bat. Next, most bats are given a rounded head, but some 30% of players prefer a "cup-balanced" head, in which a cup-shaped recess is made in the head; this lightens the bat and moves its center of gravity toward the handle. Finally, the bat is stained in one of several standard colors, including natural, red, black, and two-tone blue and white.
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.
It is not clear why pregame infield fell out of favor in the majors. Today, coaches hit balls to infielders and outfielders during batting practice. Most players go at it leisurely, lobbing balls back in or across the diamond. That rankles old-school players like Jerry Kindall, a former major league infielder who coached Arizona to three N.C.A.A. titles before retiring in 1996.
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!
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!