Leonard: Baseball’s long and complicated history with the bunt

From Randy Leonard at The Atlantic on October 1, 2014, with mention of SABR member Peter Morris:

Baseball’s bunt—that quirky technique in which a hitter pivots to face the pitcher, grips his bat like a lacrosse stick, and tries to deaden the ball into that grassy no-man’s land in front of home plate—has been under attack for years. In the 1870s, when it first emerged as a viable strategy, fans jeered that it was effeminate. In 1904, President William Howard Taft publicly scorned the bunt, preferring instead to see players “hit it out for all that is in them.” And decades before Moneyball profiled Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his condemnation of the tactic, peer-reviewed articles in publications like Operations Research had already concluded that teams produce more runs when players swing away. The bunt, in other words, isn’t just boring; it’s bad baseball.   

Yet every fall, when the toil of 162 games begins to wear out the muscles of big sluggers and only playoff pitchers take the mound, the bunt reemerges. Sometimes it even helps determine a champion. In 1997, the Baltimore Orioles missed out on their first World Series appearance in more than a decade because they couldn’t execute a seventh-inning bunt. In 2001, during what was arguably the most thrilling Fall Classic ever played, legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera threw away New York’s chance at a four-peat when he fielded a ninth-inning sacrifice bunt and threw the ball into center field. In 2012, the San Francisco Giants swept the heavily favored Tigers and their quarter-billion dollar slugger Miguel Cabrera on a steady dose of “small ball”—stolen bases, hit-and-runs and, yes, bunts.          

Read the full article here: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/10/baseballs-long-and-complicated-relationship-with-the-bunt/380563/?single_page=true

Originally published: October 1, 2014. Last Updated: October 1, 2014.