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.”
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.
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If your high school or travel team has at least two coaches, you can use what Bates calls a two-fungo drill. One coach can hit to third and second, while the other hits to short and first. If catchers are finished working with the pitchers, they can feed balls to the fungo hitters. The idea is for the third baseman to practice turning a 5-4-3, with the first baseman moving up toward second base about 60 feet instead of 90, with a net behind him to catch overthrows. The shortstop works on throwing across on 6-3s.
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The origin of the word "fungo" is unknown and argued upon as there are many possible options as to the origins of this unique word. It is assumed by many to be derived from the Scottish word fung meaning to pitch, toss, or fling. This would make sense, as fungo bats are designed to do just that. Or, the alternative to this origin is that fungo comes from 1937 where David Shulman, writer for the American Speech, said, "My guess is that the word, which is baseball slang, may be explained through the elements of a compound word, fun and go." Lastly, a third belief is that the word fungo comes from an old game, similar to that of baseball, where the players used to chant, "One go, two goes, fun goes."
The bat's form has become more refined over time. In the mid-19th century, baseball batters were known to shape or whittle their own bats by hand. This allowed there to be a wide variety in shape, size, and weight. For example, there were flat bats, round bats, short bats, and fat bats. Earlier bats were known to be much heavier and larger than today's regulated ones. During the 19th century, many shapes were experimented with, as well as handle designs. Today, bats are much more uniform in design.
Once the basic bat has been turned, it has the manufacturer's name, the serial number, and often the signature of the player endorsing it branded into it opposite the wood's best side. Honus Wagner was the first player to endorse and sign a bat. Next, most bats are given a rounded head, but some 30% of players prefer a "cup-balanced" head, in which a cup-shaped recess is made in the head; this lightens the bat and moves its center of gravity toward the handle. Finally, the bat is stained in one of several standard colors, including natural, red, black, and two-tone blue and white.
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!