“Boys, bunting is like ******* ***. Once you learn how, you never forget.” Joe Schultz from Ball Four (Since this is a “PG” forum, you can look up the missing words.)
All too frequently baseball broadcasters will comment on “modern” players’ inability to bunt. Supposedly, every player used to spend hours “catching” the ball with the bat and placing perfect bunts at will. The exact time players stopped trying to perfect their bunting technique is never articulated; however, it had to be after Brett Butler retired since his name is synonymous with the art of bunting.
Of course much has been written about the lack of correlation between bunting and run production. Earl Weaver, the Orioles Hall-of-Fame manager, recognized the folly of excessive bunting prior to advanced metrics and famously eschewed the bunt in favor of the three-run homer. Dan Levitt presents a good case against frequent bunting in this analysis: http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2006/07/empirical_analy_1.php
No matter what side you come down on in the bunt debate, it is true that teams did bunt more frequently in the past. All this bunting “back in the day” is reflected in the numerous “bunting cards” found in the ‘60s and ’70s. The bunter pose was usually reserved for light hitting, middle infielders with slight builds or Whippet like outfielders. These frail but speedy types could “lay down” a sacrifice bunt or “drag” one for a single in their sleep. They constantly put the opposition on guard for a “safety” or “suicide squeeze.” Occasionally, a slugger would strike the pose as well. Now, let’s look toward the third base coach, get the “sign” and “roll one down” memory lane.
The weak hitting “poster child” for the bunting pose has to be Ray Oyler. His inability to hit Major League pitching is legendary; best exemplified by his benching in the ’68 World Series to get Kaline’s bat in the lineup. His lifetime average of .175 and a .258 OBP confirms his “weak wand.” Ray peaked with 15 sacrifice bunts in ‘67. My unhealthy obsession with the Seattle Pilots compels me to mention that Ray was the opening day shortstop in ’69.
Being a big Orioles fan in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s explains why the ’70 Paul Blair is my favorite bunter pose card. The Gold Glove centerfielder hit second and frequently used his speed to get on base which allowed the Robinson boys and Boog Powell to “knock him in.” He led the AL in sacrifice bunts in ‘69 and had a career best 17 in ’75.
Giraldo “Chico” Ruiz assumed the bunting stance in both ’68 and ’71. He was a speedy utility infielder who posted 12 sacrifice bunts in ’64 with the Reds. Ruiz is remembered for an infamous incident where he allegedly pulled a gun on Alex Johnson in the Angels clubhouse in 1971.
Ruiz’s ’68 teammate, Leo “Chico” Cardenas, had an almost identical photo. The slick-fielding shortstop “moved them over” 95 times in his career.
This ’70 Angel “Remy” Hermosa shows him attempting drag bunt. Angel recorded six sacrifice bunts in 91 career games.
Another early Expo shown “squaring around” is Charles “Boots” Day in ’72. Boots’ stats were less than exemplary, but he has to be enshrined in the “Best nick-name Hall-of-Fame.” Since he was primarily a catcher, the bunt pose is unusual but not unprecedented.
Tom Satriano’s cards in ’67 and ’69 feature the same bunt stance photo. Like Boots, Satriano did occasionally play in the field. He had 14 career sacrifice bunts.
Shortstops Jackie and Enzo Hernandez very much fit the prototypical bunter stereotype. Here we have Jackie in ’72 and Enzo in ’76. Those of you who attended the Miami SABR Convention in 2016 had the privilege of hearing Jackie reminisce as part of the Cuban player panel.
When the Royals dealt Jackie to Pittsburgh in 1970, they received “Little” Freddy Patek. The diminutive shortstop was the perfect player for a bunt shot. His career successful sacrifice rate was 75%.
Although he would later “muscle up” and slug 43 homers for the Braves in ’73, Davey Johnson modeled his bunting technique in this ’67.
Some guys were so associated with the bunt that they were depicted multiple times in the stance. Bert Campaneris shows up three times (’66, ’72, 76). Also Sonny Jackson put down a “bunt triple” in 70, 71 and 74.
Although he had some power and good RBI production, Topps put Jim Fregosi in the pose in ’68 and repeated the picture in ’69. The player boycott of Topps undoubtedly explains the usage of the same photo, but maybe Topps just liked that cool turtle neck undershirt. Jim led the AL in sacrifice bunts in ’65.
Being the complete player that he was, Joe Morgan undoubtedly mastered the art of bunting. He doesn’t fit the profile of the light hitter, but Topps had him pose bunting nonetheless in ’70.
Jose Cardenal must have kept a packed suitcase since he was constantly being traded. He is shown bunting in ’71 with the Cardinals.
I could “drag” this bunt theme on longer, but I will close with a few more examples.
As action photos became the norm for cards, actual “in game” bunts show up regularly. This ’74 Pete Rose is a classic shot.
From the ‘90s to the present there are countless examples. As long as mangers continue to “flash the signs” and pitchers bat in the NL, the bunt shot will not be “sacrificed.”