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A fungo bat is a specially designed bat used by baseball and softball coaches for practice. The etymology of the word fungo ( /ˈfʌŋɡoʊ/) is uncertain, but the Oxford English Dictionary suggests it is derived from the Scots fung: to pitch, toss, or fling. A fungo is longer and lighter than a regulation bat, with a smaller diameter. The bat is designed to hit balls tossed up in the air by the batter, not pitched balls. Typical fungo bats are 35 to 37 inches (89 to 94 cm) long and weigh 17 to 22 ounces (480 to 620 g). Coaches hit many balls during fielding practice, and the weight and length allow the coach to hit balls repeatedly with high accuracy. The small diameter also allows coaches to easily hit pop-ups to catchers and infielders along with ground balls due to better control of the barrel of the bat.
Fungo bats are usually 36 or 37 inches long. Due their thinner, lighter design, they are a very versatile tool for any coach. It is so much easier to hit hundreds of grounders and fly balls with a fungo than with a regular bat. As well, with the prices of today’s top end bats, a $35 fungo makes more sense. Don’t dent the $350 war clubs in your bat bag.
Many players "bone" their bats, meaning that before games, they rub their bats repeatedly with a hard object, believing this closes the pores on the wood and hardens the bat. Animal bones are a popular boning material, but rolling pins, soda bottles and the edge of a porcelain sink have also been used. Pete Rose had his own way of hardening his bats: he soaked them in a tub of motor oil in his basement then hung them up to dry.
Manufacturers position each bat's label over the mechanically weaker side of the wood. To reduce chance of fracture, and maybe deliver more energy to the ball, a bat is intended to be held so the label faces sky or ground when it strikes the ball during a horizontal swing. In this orientation, the bat is considered stiffer and less likely to break.
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.
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.
Four historically significant baseball bats showcased in the National Baseball Hall of Fame's traveling exhibit "Baseball As America". From left to right: bat used by Babe Ruth to hit his 60th home run during the 1927 season, bat used by Roger Maris to hit his 61st home run during the 1961 season, bat used by Mark McGwire to hit his 70th home run during the 1998 season, and the bat used by Sammy Sosa for his 66th home run during the same season.
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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.”