The Lost Art of Bunting in Major League Baseball

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The Lost Art of Bunting in Major League Baseball
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

The situation is simple. It’s late in a scoreless ballgame, there are no outs and the number six batter gets a single up the middle. It would only make perfect sense for the next batter to bunt and move the base runner to second, right?

In today’s game bunting is apparently no longer necessary.  The number seven hitter swings for the fences and ends up grounding into a double play, squandering a potential run.  This is one of baseball’s biggest flaws. Instead of moving the runner over and recording a productive out, managers simply wait for their offense to kick in.

Bunting was a vital part of the game back in the day and managers used this move frequently to score runs.  Guys like Rod Carew could have bunted .300 if they chose to.  Eddie Collins has 512 sacrifices—the most in the Majors—to go along with 3,000 plus hits and over 700 stolen bases.

Of course his hitting and base running gets more attention than his unselfish play, mainly because hits and steals are more glamorous than bunts.  Being a member of the 3,000 hits club and 500 steals club sounds a lot more prestigious than having the most bunts in MLB history.

In 2003 the Japanese media was covering a player who had broken a seemingly unbreakable record. No, it was not the home run record, it was the bunting record.  Masahiro Kawai broke Eddie Collins’s record for most sacrifice bunts. 

In fact, Kawai’s team celebrated at the stadium by showing fireworks on the scoreboard and having a flowery ceremony for him.  His proud wife and children were in attendance and the fans gave Kawai a standing ovation.  In the last plate appearance of his career Kawai laid down a sacrifice bunt.

If Kawai did this in the MLB, would it be greeted with this kind of fanfare?  Probably not, because Americans don’t appreciate bunting as much as the Japanese do.  If Kawai broke the record over here he would be mentioned briefly on ESPN. The fans at the game would give him a generous applause, but would they recognize that it truly takes a talented ballplayer to bunt?

I’m not saying every player that is good at bunting should be in the Hall of Fame. What I’m saying is that these players should be appreciated for having a skill that is gradually disappearing from baseball. 

Managers do not seem to recognize the fact that bunting can win games and confuse the opponent’s defense.  Mike Scioscia recognizes the importance of bunting in baseball and uses this—along with stealing bases—to win games when his offense is stagnant.  Managers and other baseball players have to realize that bunting is not "small ball," its baseball.      

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