“Origins of Baseball” Bunches of Bunts PT. 2
Bunts could be categorized, simply, as either “bunting for a hit” or “sacrifice bunts.”
Earl Weaver, the cantankerous, quarrelsome, curmudgeon, an umpire-baiter and former manager of the Orioles hated sacrifice bunts; he saw them as “giving up an out.” [Part Three: The Death of the Bunt will support his opinion.]
Weaver would have been amused to learn that the sacrifice bunt was “discovered” by Clark Griffith in 1905, when a base runner misread a sign.
The story goes that, Jack Chesbro, a pitcher for Griffith’s New York Highlanders somehow made it to Third base. In yet another example of the dangers of pitchers running bases; with OF Wee Willie Keeler at bat, Chesbro mistakenly thought he saw the “steal” sign and set off for home plate.
Chesbro was lucky that Keeler did not take a full cut at the ball, or it would have ended Chesbro’s career; instead, the alert Keeler saw Chesbro racing heedlessly toward the plate and, in an impromptu move, Wee Willie bunted the ball safely and the Chesbro crossed the plate for a run to the astonishment of all but the smiling Chesbro.
The cunning Griffith stole the Chesbro mistake and turned it into a new baseball strategy and the sacrifice squeeze was born. Since Chesbro had no intention of stopping to see if the ball was successfully bunted, it was technically the first “suicide squeeze.”
As is frequently the case in baseball lore and history, some dispute Griffith’s claim to the title “Father of the Squeeze,” but Peter Morris suggests that, at least, the squeeze play was “raised to a new level of prominence in 1905 by Griffith and [his team].” (1)
As the play became more popular, defenses were adjusted, leading one article to refer to the “practical abolishment of the squeeze play by managers” in the 9/23/1911 issue of the Mansfield [Ohio] News.
Peter Morris disagrees:
“Of course the squeeze play did not entirely die but instead receded to a level of usage where it could again benefit from the element of surprise.” (2)
The iconic Manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, the dapper Connie Mack, went it one better in a the night cap of a double header in Cleveland: on with Zack Wheat and Chick Gallloway on 2nd and 3rd, “Mr. Mack” stunned the Indians when he pulled off a “double sacrifice squeeze,” when the batter, Jack Quinn laid down a perfect bunt that allowed BOTH runners to score.
But “Mr. Mack” did not invent the “double squeeze;” In 1913 Harry Davis was hired as a coach by Mack and Davis was credited with teaching it to the Athletics in Spring training and the team used it successfully 8 times that year.
On September 22, 1913 Mr. Mack pulled employed it to score the winning runs and clinch the AL pennants. But, proving the wisdom of Berra The Yogi, who said: “In baseball, you don’t know nuttin’,” the play backfired in the 8th inning of the opening game of the World Series that year, when Stuffy McGinnis jumped the gun and was picked off at 2nd base and against the Washington Senators on April 29, 1914, when Athletic Jack Barry bunted the ball high into the air; Senator infielder Chick Gamdil caught it and initiated a humiliating Triple play.
Talk about the “element of surprise,” Mack eschewed the play for 13 years, until he pulled it out of the sleeve of his dress shirt under his natty tailored suit to beat the Indians in 1927.
A: The “Father of the Double Squeeze” was Pacific Coast League player Mike Lynch of Tacoma, who, according to baseball reporter, Biddy Bishop, pulled it off for the first time in 1904.
The first time the play was reported in a MLB game was when the Cubs pulled it off against the Brooklyn Superbas [later called the Dodgers] on July 15, 1905; not surprisingly, the Superbas finished dead last with a franchise worst 48-104 record, 56 1/2 half games out of first.
In the “Bunting for a Hit” category, most fans are familiar with the Drag bunt that was perfected by the nonpareil player of his era, Mickey Mantle, who was also a superb power hitter.
Here is the man, who the cagey Casey Stengel called…
"the “best one-legged player” in baseball history…"
The Mick, explaining how he used his legendary “drag bunt” with great success:
No clear candidate has yet emerged that can claim the title, “Father of the Drag Bunt,” but it was mentioned in 1925 by F. C. Lane who wrote that the players referred to the technique as “dragging the ball.” (3)
In 1910 Johnny Evers and Hugh Fullerton, two Second basemen, described the Push or Force bunt:
“it was brought into prominence by little Frank [Dean] Butler of Columbus [Ohio]…he pushed the ball slowly down the infield, striving to make it roll fast enough to pass the pitcher either to his right or his left, ye so slowly that the shortstop or second baseman, playing deep would have to take it while sprinting forward at top speed and make a perfect throw.” (4)
Since Butler was a Left-handed batter, we might assume that his bunt technique differed from the “drag” bunt, because he had both feet squarely in the box when he “pushed” the ball into the Bermuda Triangle of Bunts; past the pitcher on either side of the mound toward the middle infielder on that side.
Today coaches counter move on anticipated bunts by keeping the corner infielders “at home” at their bags, while the middle infielders charge past the pitcher toward the plate.
We would be remiss if we failed to mention the bunt that most fans have seen used in MLB, and college, High School, and Youth League baseball: the “Fake Bunt.” [aka the “Bluff Bunt”]
In the modern game, especially at the amateur level, the coach calls for the batter to take a bunt stance with the bat held parallel to the plate; the purpose is to obscure the catcher’s view and block his throwing lane, so that a baser unner can advance without a throw.
In 1910, the “Bluff Bunt” was described by Evers and Fullerton in their book, Touching Second:
“[The Bluff Bunt] is aimed to pull the defensive infielders out of position. The batter was ordered to pretend to bunt, miss the ball purposely and shove his body over the plate so as to interfere slightly with the catcher’s vision.
The Third baseman, expecting a bunt, comes forward rapidly, leaving the base unguarded…the leading runner is expected to slide safe back of third base before the third baseman can get back to the base and catch the throw.” (5)
Today coaches try to counteract this strategy by sending the SS over to cover 3b and the Second baseman over to cover 2nd base.
It seems curious that interference is not called by any umpire, when this is clearly a blatant effort to block the catcher’s view and throwing lane to allow a runner to advance.
Take a look at the rule; would you call batter interference with a Fake or Bluff bunt?
A batter is out for illegal action when —
(c) He interferes with the catcher’s fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter’s box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher’s play at home base.
EXCEPTION: Batter is not out if any runner attempting to advance is put out, or if runner trying to score is called out for batter’s interference.
Rule 6.06(c) Comment: If the batter interferes with the catcher, the plate umpire shall call “interference.” The batter is out and the ball dead. No player may advance on such interference (offensive interference) and all runners must return to the last base that was, in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference.
Couldn’t an umpire cite this language?
“[a batter] making any other movement that hinders the catcher’s play at home base.”
“If the batter interferes with the catcher, the plate umpire shall call interference.”
Have you ever seen an umpire call batter interference with a Fake or Bluff bunt?
Finally, we must mention the, so-called “Swinging Bunt.”
Ask a High School coach:
“The idea behind the swinging bunt is to slice the ball past the infielders, who are playing up and tight. Typically, a team’s fastest, contact-producing hitters will be called upon in a situation requiring this type of tactic.
The swinging bunt is most often used after a fake bunt attempt, while the defense is inched forward, prepared for another bunt possibility. The swinging bunt works by the batter squaring around to bunt, as with a traditional bunt, and, as the pitcher goes into his motion, the batter pulls back and takes a short, choked-up swing.”
A bunt is a batted ball not swung at, but intentionally met with the bat and tapped slowly within the infield (from The Official Rules of baseball). Not mentioned in the official definition is that the batter holds the bat differently for a bunt from an ordinary swing. Rather than holding his hands close together and near the knob of the bat, the bunter holds his hands far apart with one well down on the handle and one nearly on the barrel.
Ask Tim “Me” McCarver, former caddy for Bob Gibson…
“Hey, I know the ball went over the third baseman’s head. But that was just a very lucky, very bad bunt. If you need convincing, watch Gregg Dobbs (Phil’s 3B) on the play.
If Furcal was using a swinging bunt, Dobbs would have stopped charging before contact i.e. the minute he saw Furcal pull back to swing. But he doesn’t. He’s still skidding to a stop as the ball clears his head. He was clearly moving as the ball makes contact.”
In this video, Ryan Howard keeps a straight face describing his “swinging bunt” that turned into a hit; he does admit it was “an excuse me swing” and then jokes “that was the way be drew it up…in the dirt.” Charlie “Never Read The” Manuel jokingly claims it was an intentional swinging bunt, but cannot keep a straight face.
And, look what the prairie wind blew in:
A beautiful swunt last week from Indians’ third baseman Alex Mortensen and a well-placed swunt from Chad Shultz both brought me to my feet in applause.
The swunt is a combination of a full swing and a bunt. It mostly happens accidently but can be done on purpose as well.
To execute a swunt, the batter takes a complete swing at a pitch and connects with only the very top of the ball. He makes contact with his bat extended in front of the plate.
This seemingly disastrous combination will often dribble the ball near the foul line and about halfway to either first or third base, depending on the handedness of the batter.
[Alex Tufts, Prairie Post]
The swunt may be a swell bunt, but it sounds very much like the technique used; here is an early description of the “FAIR-foul” hit from the March 10, 1888 issue of The Sporting News:
"“It was Dickey Pearce who conceived the idea of touching the top of the ball with his bat and making the famous foul-fair hits.”"
[SEE: Part One of this series on bunts: https://bosoxinjection.com/2013/07/02/origins-of-baseball-who-invented-the-bunt/]
All good attempts at defining the “swinging bunt,” but when a batter takes a full swing at the ball and only manages to tip it into fair infield territory; the ball drops in front of the plat;, the chagrined batter gapes at the ball in horror and, belatedly, runs for First base; the catcher, smugly, snaps up the ball and casually tosses it to the First baseman;, as the batter tries to crawl up into his helmet, that is not an intentional bunt; that’s a swing and a lucky tip by the batter employing and awkward “excuse me” swing.
And, if a batter fakes a bunt; then draws the bat back and takes full swing at it, what do we call that?
A: the Bunt and Swing?
While all the above types of bunts have been used since the 1880’s [or earlier] and have gone in and out of style, is the bunt, in our modern game, since April 6, 1973, at 1:53 p.m. at Fenway Park, doomed to die “not with a bang, but with a whimper?” [“The Hollow Men,” T. S. Eliot]
"PART THREE: The Death of the Bunt"
Primary source: A GAME OF INCHES: The Game on the Field, Peter Morris.  through .