FIGURING OUT FUNGO
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"Then him and Carey was
together in left field, catchin' fungoes, and it was after we was through
for the day, that Carey told me about him." (Ring Lardner, Round Up, 1929)
Any baseballer worth his pinstripes, is familiar with the term, "fungo". But just how did the word come to be? Nobody seems to know for sure.
This is what Mr. Webster has to say about the illusive little word that means so much to roundballers:
fungo: n. pl. -goes Baseball. A practice fly ball hit to a fielder with a specially designed bat. [Origin Unknown.]
Well thank you Mr. Webster for that insightful tidbit!
So, since this was becoming about as clear as the dirt in the batter's box, we shall now dig a little deeper into the "true" origins of "Fungo."
Below, you will find two particular offerings and a sprinkling of assorted opinions and details.
The first is rather romantic and comes as told by John Hamilton "Pops" Shows to his grandson, Duke Boutwell of Pensacola, Florida. (in this case circa 1958)"
But for those of you who Just have to to know every detail - from the dimension of a dugout to the despicable demeanor of Ty Cobb, there is a more 'academic' treatise graciously donated by Alan Eckley.
As the gentle reader, we encourage you to make your own call! Read On! All credit is given to sources when known.
I asked my grandfather (Pops) that question when I was about eleven years old or so (about forty years ago) before he died. He was probably the world's greatest fan and the most knowledgeable individual then or now, on baseball and some other things, that I've ever known. He is obviously not an ultimate, or even credible, source, but here's what he told me: bats have always been traditionally made of ash or hickory, relatively soft woods, but hardened over time as the resins set up after machining and really resisted splintering. No one could afford machined (lathed) bats and would make pine and poplar bats to play an illegal game called fun-go ball. These bats were very inexpensive to make and had incredible "pop" when they struck the ball.
Home plate would be backed up to the backstop, eliminating the need for a catcher and all the boys in the neighborhoods would play "fun-go ball." Homeruns were the rule because of the incredible batspeed and compression energy the fungo bat could generate off the rubber-wound balls. Often times, the opposite field was eliminated from play and five-man teams were it. (pitcher, 1st, shortfielder, and 2 outfielders. I'll keep searching for a verifiable source on this subject.
--------The Dukester ( feared and respected
"Blue" that hails from Pensacola, Florida- oft noted for
his knowledge of the history of baseball and its rules.)
Everything You Wanted To Know About Fungo But Were Afraid To Ask!
The Fun/Go Theory. Writing in the February 1937 American Speech,David Shulman said: "My guess is that the word, which is baseball slang, may be explained through the elements of a compound word, fun and go."
An item in the Sporting News (May 23, 1981) reports on research by Bill Bryson of The Des Moines Register, who says that the chant, "One goes, two goes," etc., comes from a street game in which a player catching a certain number of fly balls was qualified to replace the batter.
A variation on this appears in Patrick Ercolano's Fungoes, Floaters and Fork Balls when he said, "Still others believe that the word has it derivation in rhyme consisting of the words 'run and go.' Hy Turkin, in his1956 Baseball Almanac, suggests, "an old game in which the man using this style of hitting would yell, 'One go, two goes, fun goes.'"
Still another variation of this theory appears in William Safire's What's the Good Word; Safire publishes no less than 13 theories, genuine and tongue-in-check, that were originally sent to him in response to a query in his New York Times language column. A letter from Frederick L. Smith of Short Hllls, N. J., says: In a substantial amount of this century's earlier English literature, especially some humorous things by P. G. Wodehouse.
There is reference to the warm-up for cricket matches involving 'fun goes,' i.e. practice strokes before the game began in earnest. I have always taken it as a fact of life that 'fungo' represents a shortening of this Englishusage."
The Fungible Theory. As stated in Zander Hollander's Baseball Lingo: The word 'fungoble' means something that can substituted for another and it is thought that in baseball the think fungo stick got its name because it replace the conventional bat."
The Fungus Theory, According to a note made
by Peter Tamony, the matter was discussed on KLX radio in San Francisco on April
10, 1956. Burt Dunne, radio-TV director of the San Francisco Seals and a student
baseballese, attributed it to an unnamed Princeton professor who claimed the bat hitting the ball sounded like fungus wood. Dunne added that the early fungo bats were regular bats that had been slit in two and then bound with tape. Tamony himself had written in the October 1937 American Speech that the word "refers to the lightness of the instrument."
A number of others think it came from the feel rather than the sound of fungus. For instance, Joseph McBride explains in his High and Inside" the bats, with very narrow handles and extra thick heads, were so soft that they seemed to be made of fungus."
Another fungus variation appears in the Safire collection of letters. It is from Stephen V. Fulkerson of Santa Paula, California, who says he first heard the word 50 years ago as a synonym for on-genuine or not bone fide, such as a fungo that is not a real fly ball. He relates this to fungus in the sense that rural people regard a fungus lacking the character of a real plant, which puts in roots in the ground.
The Fungen Theory. In February 1, 1987, Comments on Etymology Professor Gerald Cohen of the University of Missouri-Rolla writes, : Perhaps its origin is thought be sought in German fungen 'to catch'; we now think of ungoing a ball as hitting it, but the early quotes show clearly that the emphasis of a fungo game was on the balls being caught."
One of Cohen's citations is this explanation of a fungo game from American Folk Lore IV, 1891: "The game is played on a vacant lot, or in the middle of a wide street. One boy is chosen for batsman and the others stand around at some distance from him. A baseball is used and the batsman throws it in the air, and then bats it out to the fielders, who endeavor to catch the ball 'on the fly.' The one who first catches the ball a certain number of times that has been agreed upon, takes the batsman place for another game." Cohen also provides some instances of fungo as it was used in the New York World in the 1889-1890 period, including this one from the October 26, 1889, edition. "Ward's fungo was simply pousee- cafe' for Corkhill, and he swalled it smoothly."
The Fung Theory. One of the letters on fungo that appear in William Safire's What's the Good Word is from Jan H. Hall, associate editor for the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), in Madison, Wisconsin. She asserts that is from a Scottish verb, fung. Her letter reads in part; "According to The Scottish National Dictionary the verb 'fung,' meaning 'to pitch, toss, fling,' was in use in Aberdeen as early as 1804; 'Ye witches, warlocks, fairies, fien's! Daft funging 'fiery pears an' stanes.'" She says that the connection with ball playing is that the ball is flung into the air before it is hit and that the "-o" ending is common in other games (bingo, beano, bunco and keno).
Fungo Batting Fungo Stick n. Bat for pregame hitting practice. It is usually longer and thinner than a regular bat.
Fungo Bazooka n. A mechanical device that uses air pressure to fire balls into the air for fielding practice.
Fungo circles n. Two circular patches of dirt located on either side of home plate in foul territory. They are used by fungo batters and average about seven feet in diameter.
And for good measure, here's a few more definitions and opines.....
A fly ball hit to a player during practice. "Then him and Carey was together in left filed, catchin' fungoes, and it was after we was through for the day, that Carey told me about him." (Ring Lardner, Round Up, 1929)
The act of hitting a fly ball to a player during practice. It is usually thrown up in the air by the batter or fungoer and hit as it descends through the strike-zone. The primary purpose of this is to give fielders practice catching fly balls. The batter is often a coach. Some times hitted as 'to fungo bat,' An example would be: "He used to come out sometimes on Saturday and fungo bat for the players." (Gilbert Patten, "Covering the look in Corner" DS.)
A very long, light bat used in practice to hit flies to the outfield. In design gives the batter the ability to place his hits with greater accuracy.
n. A scratch hit.
According to Joe Reichler's Great Book of Baseball Records, a newsstand publication of 1957, it first appeared in Haney's Book of Reference, which was published by Henry Chadwick. In it fungo is defined as: "A preliminary practice game in which one players takes the bat and, tossing the ball up, hits it as it falls, and if the ball is caught in the fieldon the on the fly, and if the ball is caught in the field on the fly, the player catching it takes the bat. It is useless as practice in batting, but good for taking fly balls.."
David Shulman was able to date the use of fungo back to a March 3, 1886. issue of Sporting Life. "While watching some of our freshmen practicing fungo' batting the other afternoon, it occurred to me that is was about the worse kind of practice a batsman could imagine in training his eye in batting." Edward J. Nichols was able to find fungo used as a verb as early as 1892 (Brooklyn Daily Eagle), July 17.
The etymology of this word is uncertain., which allows for plenty of good theories and a certain amount of linguistic frustration. John Ciardi wrote:"Fungo in baseball has never been explained. I have seen efforts to derive it from L.[atin] fungo, I do undertake to discharge an obligation." He then adds with clear disdain, "Having noted the suggestion, I understand to believe the form remains unexplained."
To club with a bat or stick. "I'm sure that if most Americans should walk through the crowded wards [of wounded] they should grab baseball bats and hit a few fungoes the next time the Communists assemble in Union Square." (Jimmy Cannon on a Communists rally in New York, quoted in Time August 28,1950 ' PT)
And here we were thinking it was just a little, ol' skinny bat!
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