His book, Coaching Youth League Baseball, was written by Hall of Fame college coach Skip Bertman in 1975. Much of what he wrote about bunt is largely ignored today.
However, it remains relevant as an example of how the game should be taught and played at all levels of baseball, not trying to catch up when a player reaches the major leagues. What is sad is that the “art” and value of touch as a “weapon” has been lost by the last two generations of players, coaches and managers.
Skip wrote, “Major League’s emphasis on the long ball and the big inning has caused the art of bunting to be neglected. Yet every year, when playoff games begin and the World Series begins, we see professionals bunting off the live ball and artificial surfaces. The bunting won’t score as many runs as the home run, but it’s very often instrumental in the outcome of a big game.”
“Tapping bunts is an important weapon for every team’s offense. Well-executed bunts can open up a game wide. The bunt and run can be an effective play. A hitter can surprise the defense and bunt the base hit no runners on base, or with two outs and a runner on third.
“If a coach feels that a play involving a tag is required, he should continue with it. Pay no attention to guessers who always seem to know what should have happened after the play is over. By using tag, your team can create a lot of tough situations for the defensive team, and if their opponents aren’t properly prepared, a lot of mental and fielding errors will happen.”
In 2016, MLB had the fewest Sacrifice Bunts (SH) per game (.21) in its history. SH recording began in 1894 and since then they have diminished to what we have today. The numbers say that the lack of SH is in the same boat with most Strikeouts (SO), which was also the most ever. In 2013, analysts criticized former Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington because they thought he was touched too often. His response was, “You can take the analysis of that and put it into his (expletive) (expletive).” That year, the Rangers had .28 SH per game, matching what was then the fewest in MLB history. Washington’s answer was perfect, and he agreed with Skip’s advice: “Pay no attention to guessers.”
In the book 34-Ton Bat, by Steve Rushin, he quotes Casey Stengel, famous coach of the New York Yankees, in 1945, when he was a minor league coach. Casey said, “I get mad at players today who can’t bunt.”
Funny, in those days, he was referring to a handful of players, and I wonder what Casey would say now about the futility of a clear majority of players we need to watch. Yes, I know, the game has changed, as today’s working generations regard touches as “old school little balls” and no longer relevant, but the facts trump yesterday’s “old-fashioned” opinions or “new” today.
When players don’t know how to touch, when to touch or where to touch, managers don’t know the value of touches as a potential weapon, and both don’t mind not knowing; they must consider them terrible things. They would be wrong! They’ve been sold a list of pennant-minded products, along with a host of other misinformed ideas that have gained wide acceptance over the last 40 years. Defenses today routinely ignore the possibility of a batter bunting for a base hit, because hitters fail to understand the fact that in many circumstances they can dictate defensive positioning in future at-bats by executing a well-placed bunt, but never try. . There are ways to beat the hype defensive switches being used now, but not with clueless players and coaches. “Wee,” Willie Keeler said aptly, “Hit ’em where they ain’t.” Touch them where they are not, it also works.
Being a good bunter is not easy; it is a learned skill that requires proper instruction and constant practice, just like all skills in baseball and other sports. The ability to bunt during batting practice has absolutely no relevance to bunting against a pitcher who is trying to get the batter out in a critical game situation. Without proper technique and confidence, the hitter has little chance of success. That said, NL starting pitchers who play five or six times a month now do most of the sacrifice bunts, so if they can learn the bunt basics, surely position players can too.
An example of the commitment that may be required to have the right skill set is what coach Nellie Fox told then-Washington Senator Manager Ted Williams about his process as a player to become a great pitcher. “Doc Cramer (a former teammate of Williams with the Red Sox) used to have Fox carry a bat like a hot poker, thumb and forefinger as loose as possible. Fox said if Cramer suddenly tried to knock him out of his hands and he couldn’t ‘kick my ass'”.
Regardless of what the 5-foot-6, 160-pound Fox did to be a better bunt, it worked, because one year he bunted safely, for hits, on 26 of 30 attempts. This was accomplished even though he wasn’t the fastest runner averaging only 5 stolen bases and 5 caught stealing per year, indicating that he excelled on the three-legged stool of bunting, of how, when, and where to touch, plus he averaged 14 SH and 15 SO per year, never exceeding 18. So, since Since Fox was selected to play in 12 All-Star games, was the American League MVP in 1959, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1997, his constant efforts to be a better player were obviously rewarded .and being a good pitcher was a weapon he used to great advantage.Nellie Fox wasn’t the greatest, she wasn’t the strongest, she wasn’t the fastest player, in fact she was a BASEBALL player, always striving to get better.
Bunting can not only dictate the position of the defensive infielder, but can also be a useful weapon in disrupting a shooter’s rhythm. Take them off the mound to field his position, throw to the bases and cover first base. Interrupt them as much as possible. Touches create threats that must be defended. When defending, it opens up holes for base hits and other plays that wouldn’t normally be available. It’s worth repeating what Skip said, “…if your opponents aren’t properly prepared, there will be a lot of mental and fielding errors.”
Nothing in baseball works all the time, but bunts can be useful and productive things, not terrible things. Try them, you will like them.