Bunt, rarely tapped skill

Strategy: Many coaches frown on the use of the bunt, preferring power over finesse. But others see it as an opportunity to stretch the defense and win games.

Baseball

March 20, 2002|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Winning baseball games often comes down to throwing strikes, not giving up walks and making the routine defensive plays.

A seldom-used weapon that can confound the opposition is the bunt.

"It's a great weapon that puts pressure on the defense and pitcher," said Eastern Tech coach Kenny King. "We like to bunt and steal and take advantage of lazy third basemen."

So why don't more teams use it?

The best excuse is the advent of the aluminum bat in the 1970s.

"Think about it: How many high school players field that well?" said Dean Albany, an Orioles scout and coach of the Oriolelanders fall showcase team.

"It's a myth that you can't bunt with the aluminum bat. The bunt is still very much alive in summer wood-bat leagues, but you see it less in the high school leagues."

In his recently released book, The Baseball Handbook, Arundel High coach Bernie Walter writes, "The DESIRE to bunt is the most important factor in determining bunting success."

The aluminum bat aside, the kids see the pros treat the bunt as an insult to their manhood. The pro attitude toward the bunt has been detrimental to high school players and their coaches, Walter said.

"It's a power game today with Earl Weaver's play for the three-run homer and big inning, leaving little appreciation for the bunt," he said.

According to Walter in his book, "bunting is one of the skills of the complete player," and the state's all-time winningest public school coach encourages his players to learn to sacrifice bunt and bunt for a hit.

The sacrifice bunt is executed either out of the square-around position or the pivot; in this play, the batter sacrifices himself to advance a runner.

"There are advantages to both and I leave it up to the kids to use whatever is comfortable," said Atholton coach Kevin Kelly, who says if his team doesn't hit, it will surely bunt this season.

A batter sacrificing should make contact only at strikes, deadening the top half of the ball out in front of the plate and deflecting it away from the pitcher.

"I like bunting-breaking pitches, [mostly] curveballs, because the ball is already going down, " said Arundel assistant coach Nick Jauschnegg, who was a superb bunter at Brooklyn Park High and Towson University.

With the slash bunt, hands slide up the bat until the last second, when the batter instead takes a whack.

Drag and push bunts are similar in that they are attempts for a hit rather than giving up an out.

Many coaches like situational bunts, such as Gilman's Marty Meloy and Lou Holcomb of Cardinal Gibbons.

"We work on it a lot and use it, but not with our 3-4-5 hitters," Meloy said.

Holcomb doesn't like to bunt in the early innings.

"We like to let the game develop and have at least one go-around before we bunt," said Holcomb, who likes to give his hitters at least one chance before giving up outs with the bunt.

Glen Burnie's Bruce Sider and Chesapeake-Anne Arundel's Jim Simms, each of whom have won state titles, will bunt anytime.

"We use it and abuse it," said Sider of the sacrifice and the suicide squeeze, where the runner on third charges home with the pitch, forcing the batter to put the ball on the ground.

"Everybody wants to jack up, but we don't seem to get hitters like that. We will bunt with two strikes and squeeze with no outs."

In contrast, Mount St. Joseph's Dave Norton and Old Mill's Mel Montgomery disdain the bunt. Norton says he would rather "take chances on a big inning," but says that "if you can't defense the bunt, you are in trouble."

Montgomery said his Patriots had no sacrifice bunts last season and just one the year before.

"You only get 21 outs, and I don't believe in giving them away," said Montgomery, who has won two state titles. "We would rather use a delayed steal to get the runner in scoring position."

As for the suicide squeeze, he said, "Most of the time that's what you do, kill yourself. I think the suicide is a coach's play, so he can say, I won the game."

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