Baseball’s Disappearance of the Bunt
My lifelong love affair with baseball statistics goes way back to the early 1960’s when my father would be attacked by me when he came home from work with the old defunct newspaper the New York World-Telegram. I would almost tackle his right arm as he walked through our front door to get the sports section to look at yesterday’s box score. It was a love most baseball fans have had ever since they could remember. I would have to ask my oldest brother Howie why Roger Maris had four at bats while Mickey Mantle only had two when they both played the same number of innings? He taught me what a sacrifice was and how it was not included as an at bat. He also taught me how a walk was also not considered an at bat which is hard for a 7 or 8 year old kid to understand. If the player is in the batter’s box and bats, why is it not an at bat? It took time but I began to understand baseball rules and nuances. Years later my love for baseball immersed myself coaching on the youth level. First with all of my kids and then putting extra years in it that somehow amounted to 25 years coaching Little League. There were ups and downs all through those years but studying the game, I learned on the youth level how effective bunting can be and be a huge advantage for teams who were able to master the skill. In fact bunting became such a big part of my team strategy I found that other parts of the game were suffering with my young team. I adjusted my coaching trying other strategies but bunting always seemed to work best for us. It did help us win some championships for a few years.
Following major league baseball I began to watch teams that bunt a lot. Then I noticed that teams were bunting less and less. As it turns out the flavor of the month for baseball today is something called Sabermetrics. Basically Sabermetrics analyzes all the possibilities in a given situation and tells the team or manager the best course of action to take. So in a game where the lead off batter gets on first base, the manager of today will probably have the next batter hit away rather than bunt. One of the theories here is that if you play for one run with “small ball” (bunting, hit and run, stealing) you are taking your team out of the possibility of having a big inning. Don’t hand over an easy out is what Sabermetrics is telling us. Interestingly I looked up some stats and sure enough in 2011 there were 1,667 sacrifices in the majors and in 2016 there were 1,025. What is this telling us? Maybe it is true what the announcers are starting to say that baseball is becoming a sport dominated from the batter’s box with three things: Home Runs, Strikeouts and Walks. If this is true then baseball will be missing a wonderful strategy to get a run home. Sure as a New York Yankee fan I love watching Aaron Judge hit his home runs. But manufacturing runs to me is one of the most beautiful parts of the game of baseball. I admit I’m one of those old school fans who even though I grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, there was nothing better to watch than a 2-1 or 1-0 game with pitchers who completed the game. My kids tell me change is good for everything but I still love reading my box scores everyday and don’t want anything to interfere with that. I can’t help but remember that great line from the movie City Slickers when the woman in the movie couldn’t understand why baseball stats are so important and the response from the actor Daniel Stern was:
“When I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn't communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball.”
Yes, bunting is slowly disappearing but the wholeness of the game of baseball, the parts that we fans love is still there. The box score. This should never be destroyed.