No, we're not talking about The Masters. We're talking about fungo golf, baseball's wonderful adaptation of frisbee golf. For those of you unfamiliar with the rules, the general goal is to hit predetermined objects or other landmarks located somewhere on a baseball field with a ball. Instead of a golf club, you use a fungo bat. All normal scoring rules of golf still apply.
Though entertaining enough, this play appears in its entirety as a small part of Sorrentino's magnum opus MULLIGAN STEW. You can read it as easily there as in this form. Plus you'll have the rest of Mulligan Stew as well. So I recommend you only buy this volume if you're the sort of collector who owns books because of what they are, not what they say.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 typically weigh between 17 to 22 ounces and may be as long as 37 inches, making them longer than most bats used for hitting. According to Pro Bats, a typical professional baseball player uses a bat that is about 34 inches long and weighs about 32 ounces, although there is considerable variation. Fungo bats not only are longer than regular bats, they also are skinnier. Like regular bats, fungo bats can be made of metal or wood.
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.
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.
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!