Chris Coste, a former catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies who coaches at Division III Concordia, in Moorhead, Minn., agreed. “When baseball is every single day, you’ve got to do things differently,” he said. “In the big leagues, they get so many ground balls during batting practice that infield is more for the fans and more for the scouts and things like that. At this level, we need it, and we love doing it.”
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.”
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.”
A baseball bat is divided into several regions. The "barrel" is the thick part of the bat, where it is meant to hit the ball. The part of the barrel best for hitting the ball, according to construction and swinging style, is often called the "sweet spot". The end of the barrel is called the "top", "end" or "cap" of the bat. Opposite the cap, the barrel narrows until it meets the "handle". The handle is comparatively thin, so that batters can comfortably grip the bat in their hands. Sometimes, especially on metal bats, the handle is wrapped with a rubber or tape "grip". Finally, below the handle is the "knob" of the bat, a wider piece that keeps the bat from slipping from a batter's hands.
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 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.