Originally Posted Feb 2016
Last week during that lunch at Forks Cafeteria in Wake Forest, my new friend “Tom The Wuff” and I got to discussing the nuances of baseball. That discussion proceeded naturally to the art of “hitting fungoes”…. and the legendary Jimmie Reese – Unanimously Acclaimed THE Greatest Fungo Hitter of All-Time.
Our lunch-mate The Bob Kennel quickly interjected to proclaim he “…invented the fungo bat” or maybe it was “…. invented butter beans” or “….the spork”; whatever. Anyhow, surprisingly, “Tom The Wuff” had NOT heard of Jimmie Reese…. or Clyde King. Tom won’t be my partner in Team Baseball Trivia; but is a fine fellow nonetheless.
So, then I find this recent article from The Cardinals’ Spring Training beat-writer. It is all about “fungoing”. If you think you like baseball as much as I do, I think you will enjoy it. There a lot in it about Jimmie Reese…. which will further impress “Tom The Wuff” that BobLee is INDEED “The Internet Legend”.
CNR is going to LOVE this article. Maybe you will too.
JUPITER, Fla. • The Secret Weapon’s secret weapon.
A fungo bat, his of course Cardinal red, enhances even Jose Oquendo’s versatility.
A fungo (noun) is a lighter, thinner bat than a conventional one, used by coaches to fungo (verb) ground balls, fly balls, really any balls. Oquendo is a wizard with it, whizzing grounders across the field, making shortstops field like The Wizard.
With certain slicing swings, he simulates spin — a grounder snakes this way or unspools that way — and he has the chops to chop, controlling the number of hops on even a nubber.
With a fungo, Oquendo can do things to a baseball like a Harlem Globetrotter does to a basketball.
“Just watch him,” manager Mike Matheny said of the longtime Cardinals coach. “There’s an art to that.”
This coming season, David Bell suggested I watch Oquendo closely during pregame batting and fielding practice, because “he does this thing.” If you can visualize the pregame setup, there is a screen set up in shallow center field, and a man mans it, along side a bucket of Rawlings. The guy collects all the batted balls.
“The guy stands almost directly behind the screen, and Jose’s near the plate,” Bell said. “And Jose can hit it and make it land right in the guy’s glove. He has the perfect trajectory. It’s pretty incredible.”
I interviewed numerous coaches about fungos, after having to explain to them that, yes, I truly wanted to conduct an interview about fungos, and the coaches then proceeded to explain the same thing: that fungos help maximize practice, because with a fungo, the coach can best control where the ball is hit to the fielder. And how fast. And how far.
“I had the experience of seeing the best fungo hitter of all-time,” said Speier, a three-time All-Star and a longtime infielder. “His name was Jimmie Reese. I saw him when he was 75, dragging around his bat. But he was, at one time, Babe Ruth’s roommate.”
Indeed, James Herman Reese played with George Herman Ruth in the 1930s, though in some old interviews, Reese joked that he was roommates with only the Babe’s suitcase.
“I watched him with a fungo,” Speier said of Reese, as if describing Picasso with a paintbrush. “What they would do, back in the day, was have the pitchers run from line to line. He’d stand in center field, and when they would run it would be like a football pass. He’d take his fungo and go ‘boop!’ I’m not kidding you, it was like 10 out of 10, hitting it to the running pitchers.
“Then I had the opportunity to see the fungo topper of all toppers. I saw him stand behind the mound, with a hitter at the plate, and he pitched batting practice with his fungo. I went, ‘Oh my god.’ Watching the batting practice segment, it was like, ‘This guy’s it. This guy is the (bleep).’ I was with the Giants, probably 24. And guys would say, ‘You should come out and see this guy.’”
Instead of accepting a formulaic fungo from a sporting goods company, Reese himself would whittle regular bats into fungo bats, like something Roy Hobbs would’ve done if he ever went on to coach for the New York Knights. Once, according to lore, on a golf course Reese shot an 82 for 18 holes, using only a fungo bat and a putter.
“His legacy will never be topped,” Speier said. “The consistency that he could do it was phenomenal.”
Suddenly, it hit me — I giddily told Speier that Babe Ruth’s roommate was, thus, the Babe Ruth of fungo hitting.