This spring a woman approached Pete Rose, the manager of the Cincinnati Reds, and asked him to explain why it is that baseball managers dress up in full uniform every day whereas coaches in most other team sports wear dignified street clothes.
"Ma'am," said Rose, "you've finally asked me a baseball question I can't answer."
With that in mind, we will try to answer the lady's question and unlock some of the other great mysteries of the game.
1 Why do baseball managers wear uniforms when coaches in most other sports wear street clothes?
Harry Wright, manager of the first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was also an outfielder and pitcher. So the custom probably started because most managers in the early days were players as well.
Nobody knows the identity of the first nonplaying manager to wear a uniform. Two managers did wear civilian garb as late as 1950: Connie Mack of the Philadelphia A's and Burt Shotton of the Brooklyn Dodgers, although they usually sent a uniformed coach out to the mound to talk to the pitcher. Suits and ties didn't prevent Shotton from winning pennants in 1947 and 1949 or Mack from managing in eight World Series.
2 Fungo bats are used to hit fungoes—practice fly balls—to players, but what exactly does "fungo" mean?
The debate over the derivation of the word fungo is the etymological equivalent of the argument over who was best, Willie, Mickey or the Duke. Paul Dickson, author of the soon-to-be-published
Dickson's Dictionary of Baseball, traces the word back to 1867. It came from either: 1) the compounding of the words "fun" and "go," as in a game in which the hitter might yell, "One go, two goes, fun goes," 2) the word "fungible," a legal term describing a replacement for something, as in fungible assets, 3) a light, soft wood known as fungus wood, 4) the Latin word fungo, meaning I do, 5) the German word fangen, meaning to catch, 6) the old Scottish word fung, meaning to toss. 7) none of the above.
3 Why doesn't a team get more points when a player goes around all four bases at once than when he goes around one base at a time?
This question, often asked by grandmothers from the Old Country, is a good one. The home run is, after all, the very best that a hitter can do, and he and his team should be rewarded.