Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous strike outs. Or to take bat against a ball … Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought. And enterprise of great pitch and moment. With this regard their currents turn awry. And I race to first!”
Ok, so that is not quite what Hamlet said. Still, the lore of the bunt, the story, the agony, the ecstasy, it’s all there. Not such a trifle, the bunt.
There are articles about baseball’s long and complicated history with the bunt. There is back-and-forth as to whether or not the bunt is alive and well…. or moribund. YouTube has videos of the best bunts of all time . There are arguments about who are the greatest bunters of all time. There are statistics, of course. Brett Butler holds the record for the most bases empty bunts in a season (29 in 1992). Yes, he was bunting to get a hit.
There are different kinds of bunts. The sacrifice bunt (“Like a bridge over troubled waters, I lay will down a bunt…. like a bridge….” ). You haven’t heard that version? And yes, there is the swinging bunt.
You think bunting is no big deal? Square off, and just tap it, right? Well, watch a pitcher in the National League, who may not be all that agile, stumble around trying to bunt a teammate over from first base. He misses it, or it goes foul, or it’s a pop up, or a come-backer and turns into a double play. Then…then tell me the bunt does not take genuine skill.
We go inside the mind of the inveterate bunter, and follow his thinking: From where is this next pitch coming? In which direction should I bunt? What kind of pitch will it be? When do I get into position?
The bunt, not such a trifle.
Some say Harry Wright, player-manager for the Cincinnati Base Ball Club, invented the bunt in 1860. Others say it was Dickey Pearce, shortstop for the Brooklyn Athletics, who in the 1860s perfected the “tricky hit”. What is the tricky hit? In those days, as long as the ball started in fair ground, it remained in play even if the ball then immediately went foul. Some of the guys with flat bats put “english” on the ball so it touched in fair ground momentarily, then went foul and was near impossible to defend. Pearce was reputed to have mastered the tricky hit.
The very word bunt is shrouded in controversy. Some say it is based on those players who were using their bats to “butt the ball forward”. Others provide a far more sarcastic explanation — the bunt is named after a tiny bird, the bunting. Research suggests it probably is the latter. After all in 1873 The Boston Globe called bunting “the black game”, and that it reflects a player’s “weakness at the bat”. Just a few years later the Detroit Free Press referred to it as a “babyish performance”.
But, look… a hit is a hit, and players embraced the bunt, at least until the fair-foul thing was banned after 1876. The tricky hit was not going to live on. So, what then happened to the bunt? It’s actually quite interesting: The bunt became a niche speciality. Over time, the popularity of bunting has gelled and waned, and waned more than gelled, but it is still around even though the bunt has certainly had its prominent detractors. In 1904. then President Taft ridiculed the bunt, saying he wanted to see players “hit it out for all that is in them”. Taft may simply have been complaining about the so-called dead ball era at that time, but by 1919 some pitcher named Babe Ruth hit 29 home runs.
Let’s tell it like it is: Do you know of any player who is paid millions and millions of dollars because he has so many bunts? There just is no Bunt-Run Derby is there?
Wikipedia tell us: “A bunt is a special type of offensive technique in baseball or fast pitch softball… The primary goal… is to ground the ball into fair territory, as far from the fielders as possible, generally while staying within the infield. This requires not only physical dexterity and concentration, but also a knowledge of the fielders’ positions, their relation to the baserunner or baserunners, their likely response to the bunt, and knowledge of the pitcher’s most likely pitches.”
So, there you have it. A good bunt requires real skill. And, if you ask me — please do ask me — there should be more bunting today. The bunt is good. It is not expected. It can throw off the other team. It can make the third baseman jumpy.
Recently Dr. Vinnie Voom Base, renown sports psychologist, sat down with Mr. Bunt.
After some prodding, he shared the following exchange with this reporter:
Mr. Bunt: “Doc, I just have such little self worth, and less self respect. You know my dad, and particularly his grand father, was in the game pretty often. Now, I’m a back seat, a forgotten piece of the puzzle. It’s pretty depressing!”
Dr. Voom Base: “Now, Mr. Bunt, tell me, how does this affect you? Is your appetite worse? Is sleeping difficult? How does it manifest?”
Mr. Bunt: “I feel invisible. There’s no point in eating. I am not brought out much any longer. I feel as though I don’t really even exist!”
Dr. Voom Base: “Are you having suicidal ideation?”
Mr. Bunt: “Am I what?”
Dr. Voom Base: “Are you thinking of ending your life?”
Mr. Bunt: “No… noooo…. It’s not me — it’s the managers — the players! They don’t seem to give a hoot! Games go by without my ever being involved. If I do show up in a game, it’s, you know, maybe once, lucky if it’s twice, and half of those times I am not even in fair territory!”
* * *
Finally, then, the question invariably must be asked: To Bunt…. or Not to Bunt?
Baseball fans, in my view, that should not be a question in this regarad at all.
From here on forward, let’s change it to: Bunting… lay it on!
Or, how about: Tis nobler to bunt and get a single then to striketh and getteth not a thing!