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How Bunting Works


Meet one of the current kings of the bunt: Juan Pierre. The action captured here shows Pierre bunting during the Marlins 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the third game of the 2003 National League Championship Series. See more baseball pictures.
Meet one of the current kings of the bunt: Juan Pierre. The action captured here shows Pierre bunting during the Marlins 5-4 loss to the Chicago Cubs in the third game of the 2003 National League Championship Series. See more baseball pictures.
© Vick McKenzie/NewSport/Corbis

They don't write songs about bunters. Not even sad ones.

They do sometimes make movies about them, though you wouldn't know it. Neither "The Pride of the Yankees" nor "The Babe" devotes time to the 106 and 113 career sacrifice bunts laid down by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, respectively [source: Tapp]. About the closest Hollywood comes to a bunting hero is catcher Jake Taylor, who in "Major League" fakes Ruth's legendary called shot before bunting for a squeeze play.

No, a batter in the box wants to swing for the fences, rip the cover off, Roy Hobbs style, and send that pea on an all-expenses-paid trip to the moon. But beyond the blast, baseball is a game of tactics, and sometimes a bunt -- dropping the ball short and slow, right where it will give the infield fits and maybe score the runner on third (that's a squeeze play) -- wins games.

Years ago, every player's repertoire included bunting, even sluggers like Mickey Mantle, but many moon-shooters today lack the knack, partly because they're looking to mash some taters and partly because many post-"Moneyball" managers don't think sacrifice plays add up. They take a page from Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, who famously said, "I have nothing against the bunt in its place, but most of the time that place is in the bottom of a long-forgotten closet" [sources: Curry; Madden].

Others managers disagree. Better to advance a runner with a bankable bunt, they say, than to try to ding one over the fence -- especially with a weak hitter at the plate. Thus, in the National League, where teams can't fall back on designated hitters, pitchers need a decent bunt in their batting arsenal, as do leadoff hitters, who need to "set the table" for subsequent batters by getting players into scoring position [sources: Curry].

So the bunt is far from dead. In fact, some players continue to post record numbers in the short game. Miami Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre, better known as the active career leader in stolen bases (609), is also baron of the bunt. As of June 2013, after 13 seasons and change, he has scored 215 bunt hits (165 sacrifice bunts), quickly gaining on all-time bunt king Brett Butler's 245 in 17 seasons -- and has already passed Kenny Lofton (202), Otis Nixon (180) and Omar Vizquel (155). Kansas City Royals outfielder Willy Taveras also shows promise, posting 130 bunt hits in the majors since 2004 [sources: ESPN; Fangraphs; Fangraphs; Lempert; Rodriguez; Rodriguez].

Love it or hate it, most would admit that bunting is an art, one with its own peculiar techniques, physics and timing.