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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.
Maple bats in particular were once known (circa 2008) to potentially shatter in a way that resulted in many sharp edges, sometimes creating more dangerous projectiles when a bat broke. Maple bat manufacture evolved significantly, in cooperation with Major League Baseball, paying special attention to grain slope, and including an ink spot test to confirm safest wood grain orientation.
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.
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.
The fungo is used by a coach to hit balls for defense practice. It is lighter weight, so less fatiguing to hit ball after ball. The fungo sheds its weight above the hands. The severely tapered barrel to drops weight and maintains a high moment of inertia. While the bat would be at greater risk of breaking if used in a live batting exercise, it is safe to use in practice because there are much fewer mis-hits.
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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.
First-base coach Daryl Boston has been working Palka with fungo drills. — Phil Thompson, chicagotribune.com, "Yoan Moncada has untapped power from right side, Rick Renteria says," 23 May 2018 While the Angels took infield before the Texas finale Wednesday, Ohtani stood by the cage with a bat in his hand waiting for BP near where Scioscia was hitting fungo to some infielders. — Stephen Hawkins, chicagotribune.com, "Shohei Ohtani eager for more as Angels balance work for 2-way star," 12 Apr. 2018 And dad liked to take us to Lincoln Park and hit fungos to my twin brother, Javier, and me. — John Hickey, The Mercury News, "Adam and Will Rosales proselytize for baseball," 11 Apr. 2017 Since then, his only baseball activity has been hitting one-handed fungos to teammates in ground ball practice. — Nick Groke, The Denver Post, "Colorado skipper Bud Black faces the Padres with a new perch; Rockies still scanning Desmond, Dahl and Murphy," 10 Apr. 2017
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.
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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!