To Bunt or Not to Bunt!
Over the last several days, the bunt debate has arisen in Pittsburgh as the Pirates continue to hover near the bottom of the National League in sacrifice hits.
Veteran baseball fans harken back to the "old days" when every player in the lineup knew how to drop down a bunt to move a runner. "Why can’t these guys bunt anymore?" is the question that pops up time and again on the talk shows and in the stands.
I’m a firm believer in bunting a runner over when the opportunity presents itself but only when the opportunity is there for a player who CAN bunt! Power hitters and RBI men are NOT bunters despite what some would have you believe.
I did some research on some former Pirates to find out how often they bunted to prove my point.
Roberto Clemente played 18 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He amasssed 3,000 hits and was inducted into Baseball’s Hall Of Fame in 1973. He successfully dropped down a sac bunt 36 times over his brilliant career but 12 of those bunts came in his first two years in the major leagues, before he had established himself as real RBI threat. In fact, Clemente was credited with only two sacrifice hits over his last six seasons in the big leagues!
I was also curious to see what Willie Stargell did over his Hall of Fame career. Captain Willie is the Pirates all-time leader in home runs with 475. He actually was asked to bunt nine times over his 21 seasons in the majors but not once did he advance a runner via the bunt over his last 14 years with the Bucs!
Dave Parker’s career numbers stunned me. I figured, before the Cobra became one of the most feared hitters in baseball, that he would have bunted a few runners over in his early Pirates days but, incredibly, Dave Parker was credited with exactly one sacrifice bunt over his entire 19-year major league career…and that bunt came in his very first season in the big leagues, 1973.
It seems apparent that over the last several decades not a whole lot has changed when it comes to the bunt. Players who could handle the bat and COULD bunt, were asked to perform that task. Those who were considered the run producers and RBI guys were not.
Former Pirates shortstop, Tim Foli, who helped lead the Pirates to the 1979 World Series Championship, sacrifice bunted 169 times over his 16-year major league career. Jay Bell, who followed Foli as one the Pirates most dependable shortstops, dropped down 159 sac bunts over his 18 seasons in the big leagues.
Bill Mazeroski, best remembered for the game-winning home run in 1960 to beat the Yankees and for his unparalleled defense at second base, had 87 sacrifice hits over 17 years. Al Oliver, a doubles machine over his years as an outfielder/first baseman covering 18 years in the majors bunted 17 times but only twice over his last five years!
How about one of the great power-hitters in Pirates history, Ralph Kiner? Kiner spent ten seasons in the major leagues, eight with the Buccos, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975. He ranks second on the Pirates all-time home run list. Kiner sacrifice bunted nine times (interestingly enough, five of those nine bunts came in one season: 1954 with the Chicago Cubs, his second-to-last season in the majors.)
Since the current Pirates manager, Lloyd McClendon has what appears to be a more "American League" philosophy about the sacrifice bunt (don’t give up an out unless it is absolutley necessary) I thought it might be interesting to see how often Mac bunted over his eight seasons in the big leagues…how about FOUR! Once each in 1988, 1989, 1992 and 1993.
So, what do you think about the sacrifice bunt? Is it used enough "these days?" Do the players who should know how to bunt, succeed?
To bunt or not to bunt… THAT is the question!!