How Babe Ruth Killed the Bunt

First things first, you don’t swing the bat when you bunt. That’s right, don’t swing. Now that that’s out of the way we can get down to the nitty-gritty of bunting. The nitty is that you hold the bat out in front of home plate and wait for the pitch. The gritty is that when it arrives if it’s a good pitch, you tap the ball into play. It’s that simple. Well, not really, but that’s the short answer.

A Bunt for Every Occasion

There are three different kinds of bunts. The most common is the sacrifice bunt. In this situation, the batter bunts the ball with the intention of advancing the runner while they, the bunter, are thrown out at first. A subcategory of the sacrifice bunt is the squeeze play. This is done to score the runner from third while, you guessed it, the batter is thrown out at first. There are two different kinds of squeeze plays, the safety squeeze, and the suicide squeeze. The safety squeeze is safe because the runner at third waits to break for home until the ball is successfully bunted. The suicide squeeze is suicide because the runner breaks as soon as the pitcher pitches the ball. And if the ball isn’t bunted, then the runner is hung out to dry.

The second kind of bunt is when the batter tries to bunt for a base hit. In some cases, the batter will start running while they are bunting the ball. This is called a drag bunt. It is more common with left-handed batters because of the side of the plate they are on. They can start moving to first base without having to cross the plate, thus giving them a head start while still being able to bunt the ball.

Lastly is the unintentional bunt, also known as the swinging bunt. This is accomplished by accident and is usually sprinkled with a bit of embarrassment. The batter swings the bat normally but manages to hit the ball with the power of a bunt. The most common word said after the swinging bunt is “oops” or you can insert a different four-letter word if you like.

Where Did the Bunt Come From

Nobody really knows exactly who invented the bunt, but we do know who perfected it. The Steve Jobs of the bunt was one of baseball’s early stars, Dickey Pearce. Pearce called the bunt his tricky hit and used it with great success even though it wasn’t considered to be an honorable part of the game in the late 1800s. In fact, bunting wasn’t widely accepted until the early 20th Century. It was during this time, commonly known as the Dead Ball Era (from 1901 to 1919), that bunting saw its golden years.

The Dead Ball Era

Why this happened during the Dead Ball Era is quite simple. The same ball was typically used for the entire game back then because of cost-conscious owners. And as you can imagine over the course of a game the ball would get pretty beat up. As a result of this constant bashing, the ball would become soft. A soft ball equals a dead ball. This dead ball wouldn’t fly as far when hit. So, the dead ball coupled with much more spacious parks than we are used to today made hitting the ball farther or hitting home runs much more difficult. As a result, players started finding other ways to generate offense and one of those ways was the bunt.

How Babe Ruth Killed the Bunt

So everything was going along hunky-dory for the bunt until 1919. What happened in 1919? Babe Ruth started hitting home runs on a scale that had never been seen before. First, it was 29 in 1919 and then 54 in 1920, and 59 in 1921. The country went home run crazy and Babe Ruth became a hero to millions. Since that time the bunt has slowly gone the way of the dodo bird. The people wanted home runs and the owners saw dollar signs in power, so they brought the home run fences in and filled up the seats.

And while the bunt has never totally left the game, and probably never will as long as pitchers are still taking their turn at bat in the National League, it has never regained the popularity that it once held in the early years of the 20th century.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images

Players Mentioned:

Dickey Pearce, Babe Ruth 


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