Apr

11

 I watched a beautiful bunt sacrifice attempt last night at the local high school baseball field. A runner on first, the pitch, with the batter already squared with bat set to bunt, as the entire field moves poetically. The catcher rocked forward on his heels, the first and third basemen raced toward the batter, the second baseman covered first, center fielder moved in to cover second base, and the fastball sped toward the bat. The ball popped up to the first baseman who caught it on the fly ten feet from home plate, he wheeled and lobbed the ball to the second baseman covering first base, and the runner was out too, as the umpire in black jerked his thumb toward the stars and screamed, 'Double play!' The sacrifice had failed, but it often succeeds.

The bunt in baseball is a special type of offensive technique. The goal is to tap the ball into fair territory to advance the base runner in a sacrifice of the batter. It requires great physical dexterity, concentration, and a knowledge of the fielders' positions, and foresight of the pitcher's most likely pitches. One of the sport's most famous early figures, Dickey Pierce, used this 'tricky hit' to effect as the rules permitted it to roll foul and still be counted as a hit. The bunt did not become common until the 1880s, and it has been accepted as a baseball strategy, with periodic waves of acceptance and dominance, to this day. During the 'dead ball' era of the 1960s, bunting was an important offensive weapon. Conversely, and now in the 'fast ball' and 'money ball' era of staying ahead of the economic curve of the fan in the stands who demand big hits, the bunt is seldom seen. Nevertheless,the role of the sacrifice bunt in baseball strategy is one of the daily discussions for baseball fans.

It is an exciting moment in the game. It reminds me of chess where every move is as strategic, making chess more exciting than baseball with at least as much sweat. Some situations in the board game that parallel the bunt are any gambit, pin into a weak position, zugzwang, or piece sacrifice to lose the position but win the game.

Likewise,with upright humans, there are various sacrifices that parallel the bunt. In a true sacrifice, the officer will have to play with less soldiers to capture the objective. In a sham sacrifice, a fake flank attack gains leverage in a territory. In speculative sacrifices, the commander risks losing something that he believes will soon regain material of the same or greater value.

In survival, after many years of baseball and chess, but none at war, the bunt is a repeated metaphor. To live, you must be able to bunt, over and over. For example, in hoboing you board a 'dog' slow train, and hop off as it pulls away to climb aboard a 'hotshot' to evade the bull. In the Amazon jungle, you raise your arms on greeting a wild mammal to feign a taller profile, while risking balance and putting your hands in reach of an anaconda. In the mountains, you risk crossing a snowy pass to reach a village before starving. In the desert, you walk at night to avoid the heat at the risk of stepping on snakes. On skid row, you may 'chuck a dummy' by faking a fainting fit in order to get a sympathy coin. In a dark alley, you take one on the chest to put on on his chin.

Learn the strategy of the bunt and you're almost home in baseball, into the mid-game of a good chess match, gotten the upper hand in a fight, and are half way out of the woods in survival.

David Lillienfeld writes:

With all due respect, I cite Earl Weaver: All that you do with a bunt is give up an out. You've only got three in an inning. Why give one up? Some of the time (I've lost track of the stats on it), the sacrifice is a twofer, as in a double play.

As noted, bunts require much dexterity, they also require lots of speed if one is bunting for a base hit (I think even Weaver was supportive of such) if the infield was back far enough. Rod Carew was perhaps the most able bunter I've seen who could/would bunt for a hit. Ricky Henderson was pretty good it, too, though showing less control the bat than Carew (admittedly subjective assessment).

Pitching, three run homers, and great defense was the Weaver prescription. There were no sacrifice bunts in that formula. (Weaver wasn't a great lover of the sacrifice fly, either, but he figured the batter had had a shot at a hit and at least the runner(s) could advance, maybe even score (if on 3rd).)

If sacrifice bunting ever becomes part of the Orioles game plans at Camden Yards, don't be surprised if there's a rumble in the ground by home plate; the ghost of Weaver will have been awakened.


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