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PART II: THE BUNT AND SQUEEZE
Each time a player fails to lay down a successful bunt, sportswriters and fans complain, "Ballplayers just can't bunt any more. They just don't practice. I believe I could walk right out on the field and do better right now."
I heard all of these comments 30 years ago. They will still be popular 30 years from now. The truth of the matter is modern baseball presents a much more difficult set of circumstances for bunters, for the simple reason tremendous advances have been made in defense against the play. Then, too, the lively ball and improved bats increase the difficulty of hitting a dead ball in a well-executed bunt.
Furthermore, in recent years we have seen the birth of the onrushing defense alignment, first suggested by Branch Rickey. This defense system pulls in one of the outfielders to provide seven men (including the pitcher and catcher) to defend against a successful bunt.
Most criticized of all players for failure to bunt are the pitchers. In a close game with a bunt in order, the defending team knows the pitcher is almost certain to bunt. The opposing pitcher usually throws high and fast, the most difficult ball to bunt. Or he may throw an occasional curve, with the first and third basemen charging head-on with the pitch. Obviously, the pitcher must lay down an almost perfect bunt to advance the runner.
A WIDE DIFFERENCE
Compare that same situation with a .300 hitter at the plate and a speedy runner like Mickey Mantle on first. One can easily see a wide difference in the type of bunt necessary to advance the runner.
Take another bunt situation: runners on first and second and the lead man happens to be slow. The ordinary strategy demands the bunt be hard enough to make the third baseman field it, so that he doesn't have a chance to .retreat and cover the base for a forceout throw from the pitcher. You'll find it almost physically impossible, however, to bunt that runner to third against fielders of the caliber of Ruben Gomez of the New York Giants and Bobby Shantz of the Kansas City Athletics.
Naturally, a bunt has more chance to work when you make the play unexpected. With a fast runner on first and a man on third and one out, most any kind of a bunt can be successful in scoring the run, if not going for a base hit. The runner on third might be said to have an option whether or not to come in. If he feels he can beat the throw, he tries to score, but he may elect to remain on third. Never overwork this play for fear of alerting the defensive team.