While many people view the fungo bat more as an antique piece of baseball’s history, there’s no doubt that it still has a special place in the modern game. Actually, the bat is starting to enjoy some revival all-round the game. Regardless of minimal production of fungo bats, you can rest assured that they’re here to stay. The bats are too beneficial to both coaches and players on a daily basis.
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.
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.”
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 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.
To figure out who shoots first, players usually throw or roll a baseball to a certain object (usually at close range) and whoever is closest shoots first. The first person then gets to choose the first hole and tees off. To tee off (and for most shots) players hit the ball like they were playing baseball, but depending on the distance from the hole the player may choose to ‘putt’ the ball instead of hitting it. To putt the ball, the player places the ball on the cup (the end of the fungo bat), and can toss the ball from the cup in hopes of getting a more accurate shot. In shooting or putting, the player must have one foot where the ball landed during the entire duration of their swing or putt, failure to keep the foot planted results in a loss of a stroke. Scorekeeping is identical to traditional golf; the player with the fewest strokes essentially wins the hole. Players traditionally play nine or eighteen holes of fungo golf, and at the end the person with the fewest strokes in the set number of holes wins the game.