Photo credit: chicagotribune.com
By: Amaury Pi-Gonzalez
During the last 10 years or so, the shift has taken over, which was something that was an oddity. Harry S .Truman was the President of the United States when during the summer of 1946, Cleveland Indians Manager Lou Boudreau witnessed three Ted Williams hit three home runs during the first game of a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox. Which was very interesting because the shift never stopped a ball that went over the fence for a home run. But Boudreau was sick and tired of Williams pulling the ball to right field, so he decided to put four infielders between first and second. During that time only one player came to the plate with that defensive alignment. Therefore, it was called the “Ted Williams shift” for many years.
The Houston Astros are one of the teams that have used the shift the most. Nothing rare to see a left-handed hitter, that could be hitting .236 to see Yuliesky Gurriel at first-base, Jose Altuve the second baseman playing between first and second in short right field, shortstop Carlos Correa playing between second and first, to the right of Altuve and their regular third-baseman Alex Bregman playing just behind second base. Right-handed hitters also hit with the shift with frequency like Atlanta’s Freddy Freeman, and that is why he is a .300 hitter.
Matt Olson is he first-baseman for the Oakland Athletics. Olson is the 6’5″ and 230 lb cleanup hitter for the A’s. He has hit 142 home runs since his debut with the team in 2016. Yet, he has bunted looking for a base hit a few times this season to the opposite side of the shift for him the left side.
“Honestly, I think it’s always in play unless it’s kind of late in the game and I’m a tying or go-ahead run, something where driving the ball would be big for us,” said Olson.
And why not? I need to mention that there are major league players than can hit to the opposite field with frequency like I have recently seen more players with power like Olson trying to get on base with the bunt. A bunt hit today is breaking news and should be reported by Wolf “Breaking News” Blitzer on CNN. The bunt is healthy when used to be an integral part of the game, whose purpose is to get on base and score. Baseball historians say that the bunt was invented by Dickey Pearce, who played seven seasons with the New York Mutuals, Brooklyn Atlantics and St. Louis Brown Stockings. The bunt was not common until the 1880’s and then it was integrated in the 20th century as part of baseball strategy.
Thousands of home runs are hit in today’s game,specially with a “new”and lighter baseball it is common to see the balls going over the fences 420,430 feet or more. It would be ironic if the bunt is making a comeback but what is not ironic but a reality, is that power hitters with very low batting averages are trying to do more than just hit home runs and that is to bunt when they have the shift right in front.
Can the bunt have a revival in 2019? Maybe not, but we are seeing it with more frequency, and I do not mind especially when and if it works. Not only a sacrifice bunt, but a bunt for a base hit against the shift. Although home runs will never be boring and most fans love it.
The bunt? Let’s face it, it is a beautiful thing. By the way, the best I ever seen here in the Bay Area when it came to the art of bunting is Dagoberto “Blanco” Campaneris, a three-time World Champion shortstop for the Athletics from 1972-74.
Amaury Pi-Gonzalez is a pioneer of Spanish broadcasting in the Bay Area and has been broadcasting in the major leagues since 1979 for radio and television. He is currently on KIQI 1010AM/990AM Oakland Athletics Spanish radio network, covering the Bay Area and Sacramento/Stockton. Amaury got his start with A’s owner Charlie O. Finley.