Editor's Note: Looking to learn more about purchasing a fungo bat and which type is right for you? Check out this post on what you need to know before purchasing a fungo bat.
Everyone needs fielding practice. From the little to the big leagues, it’s a big part of game preparation. Repeatedly swinging a big bat can be tiring for coaches, though. But the kids need their drills! What do do?
Enter the fungo bat, an invaluable training tool used by coaches in all leagues across the globe.
What is a fungo bat?
Fungo bats are designed for practice and used by coaches to facilitate infield and outfield drills. Fungo's are typically made of birch wood and lighter and longer than traditional bats.
Fungo bats are designed to hit balls tossed into the air rather than hitting pitches or off a tee. The light weight allows coaches to hit the ball over and over without tiring as fast from swinging a full-size bat—they can even be swung one-handed.
Where did it come from?
There may be disagreement over its origins, but anyone who’s ever charged a ground ball during baseball practice is familiar with thefungo bat. Love it or hate it, the chopped-down practice bat has become a ubiquitous part of the game, for both players and fans.
While you probably won’t see one in the hands of someone like Miguel Cabrera, the renewed interest in vintage baseball leagues and specialty bat making means that the funny little bat is most likely here to stay. But there are as many opinions on its history, even where its name comes from, as there are thoughts on its place in the game.
A Cross Between a Bat and a Broomstick
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 with a larger barrel), a fungo bat is typically 35 to 37 inches long with a drop weight of -10 to -15. 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.”
Fungo bats are typically only used by coaches to consistently place grounders and pop flies to their fielders for practice. 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.
What’s in a Name?
According to the omniscient Oxford English Dictionary, the word “fungo” (plural “fungoes”) first appeared in print in 1867 in Henry Chadwick’s The Base Ball Player’s Book of Reference:
FUNGOES.—A preliminary practice game in which one player takes the bat and tossing the ball up hits it as it falls, and if the ball is caught in the field on the fly, the player catching it takes the bat. It is useless as practice in batting, good for taking fly balls.
We think that’s a pretty open-and-shut case for its origins, but numerous theories abound on where the little bat’s name comes from.
Some historians (and the OED) point to the Scottish verb fung, meaning “to pitch, toss, or fling.” Given the Scot’s pentiant for hitting balls with sticks, this is a pretty good guess.
Others, like Mr. Shulman, assert that the name is a mashup of ‘fun goes,’ or warm-up swings before the start of a game. This is supposedly derived from an old game—similar to baseball—where players chanted “one go, two goes, fun goes.”
We think that idea sounds dumb and reject it entirely.
While the specific origins of the bat (and its name) seem to be a regular point of contention among fans and historians, mention of the word goes back to at least the mid-19th century.
To Fungo, or Not to Fungo?
Even in those formative years, authorities of 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.”
To be clear: fungo bats are in no way shape or form meant to practice your swing. They’re meant for coaches to easily slap balls around the field without tiring out.
Regardless of where you fall on the advantages and disadvantages of practicing with fungo bats, a few things are certain—they’ve definitely earned their place in the history of the game.