There is an old saying in sports that practice makes perfect. Practice is a key to succeeding in any sport that one is looking to play. It is especially important in baseball because there is so many technical and strategic aspects of the game. During your typical baseball practice, there will be players testing a variety of their skills, including hitting, pitching and fielding. Fielding practice is where something called a fungo bat comes into play. This may sound odd, using a specific bat to coach test fielding abilities, but any coach trying to improve his team’s fielding can only benefit from the use of a fungo bat. But what exactly is a fungo bat?
The first thing you will notice about a fungo bat is its odd name. Many have tried to determine the origins of its name but there have been many different theories that have emerged. One thought is that the word is taken from words from other languages. Some of these words include the Old English word ‘fonge,’ which means to catch, a German word ‘fungen,’ which also means to catch, and the Scottish word ‘fung,’ which means to toss. While these are some words that the name could be derived from, there are also other theories about how the bat got its name. Another theory is that it comes from a game called ‘Fungoble,’ which called for a regular bat being substituted for a special bat. One final theory is that it is just a mashup of the words fun and go, as baseball players like to have fun and let things go during their pregame warm ups. Regardless of its exact origin, the word can be traced back almost two centuries, as there are records of the term dating back to 1886.
Fungo bats are not bats that someone like Mike Trout would take to the plate with him in a game situation. Rather, it is a practice bat, made especially for coaches to use when testing players’ fielding. For example, if a coach is looking to hit his shortstop a few ground balls or hit some pop flies to his centerfielder, they would break out the fungo bat. What makes this bat different than the typical regulation bat that you see major league players using to belt homeruns is how it is made. A fungo bat is much longer, thinner and lighter than the normal bat. Fungo’s usually range between 35 to 37 inches in length while weighing between 17 and 22 ounces. The bat also has a much bigger barrel on it than the typical bat used by players. Because the bat is flatter and has a much smaller diameter, it is ideal to use to hit the ground balls and pop flies that would be necessary in any team’s fielding practice at any level.
Using a fungo bat certainly has its advantages for anyone choosing to use one. The most obvious advantage to the bat is its light weight. If a coach is conducting fielding practice, he has to hit a lot of balls in order to warm up all of his players. Hitting so many balls can get tiring, so having a bat that is a lighter weight helps from tiring the coach’s arm. The second big advantage to using a fungo bat is the accuracy at which one has when hitting the ball. Because it has a larger barrel and a longer length, the bat provides stronger control and allows a coach to hit grounders and pop flies with ease. While these are strong advantages for using a fungo bat, there are critics who think it is not something that should be used consistently in practice.
The major disadvantages of a fungo bat usually come when players are the ones attempting to use them. These criticisms come on many different fronts, most notably from those saying it messes with a batter’s instincts. While it is well documented how much easier a fungo bat is to use compared to other bats, this is not something that the typical batter should get used to using. Some would say that hitting with a fungo bat is not indicative of hitting in any real game situation and by consistently using fungos, this could severely screw up a hitter in a real game. This makes sense, as a fungo bat is designed to hit balls just thrown in the air, not actual pitches that you would see in a real game. Using a fungo bat can also mess up a batter’s technique. These bats are longer and lighter, making it easy to hit balls with just a flick of the wrist, but because of that, a player will swing it much differently than they would a game bat. Then, when the player steps in the batter’s box with a game bat, their technique is thrown off because the bat is heavier and takes more effort to swing.
The advantages and disadvantages of the bat are clear. And I think that the bat would be a lot more successful as a tool if they were used correctly. It seems to be that the fungo bat has all of its advantages when a coach uses it but all disadvantages when players step up to the plate with it. The solution seems quite obvious as in to simply use the fungo bat as a coach and not as a player. If this is done, coaches can hit pinpoint accurate ground balls and pop flies to test all of their players until they are satisfied with the team’s defensive skills. And at the same time, the players are kept away from using a lighter bat that can mess with their instincts as a batter and their overall hitting form.
While the bat is seen as a more vintage piece of baseball’s history, it seems like it could certainly still have a place in today’s game. This opinion seems to ring true, as the bat has started to have a bit of revival all around the game. Despite this revival, however, there are very little of these bats made on a regular basis, with only a few companies producing a few models of them. Regardless of their lack of production, the fungos look like they are here to stay for the foreseeable future because despite the negatives that are experienced by players, they are far too advantageous for coaches to use on a day to day basis.