THE BUNT RETURNS TO NEW YORK

                                     Kallas Remarks By Steve Kallas    

It had virtually disappeared from the New York Yankees during the Joe Torre era.  For awhile, people wondered aloud:  How come the Yankees never bunt?  But with all the early success (four World Championships in five years), the (mild) criticism faded away, and only came back slightly when the Yankees, in the last four years, were terrible in the playoffs.    

But there’s a new sheriff in town at Yankee Stadium and one of the immediate, tangible changes one can see is Joe Girardi’s use of the bunt.  The most underutilized offensive weapon in baseball (no matter what the “experts” say), the bunt won a game for the Yankees on Thursday, April 3.  Tied at two in the bottom of the eighth, Melky Cabrera singled and Johnny Damon’s sacrifice bunt was mishandled by Blue Jays reliever Scott Downs.  With first and second and nobody out, Derek Jeter then sacrificed the runners to second and third.  Bobby Abreu’s bloop single would then drive in the third and final run of a 3-2 Yankees victory.    

While the bunt has been criticized for years and recent statistical analysis suggests that sacrifice bunting isn’t really a good idea, it’s actually more of a feel thing.  If you’re early in a game and the manager has a sense it’s going to be a pitchers’ duel (they still happen sometimes), you should play small ball and get the run.  If you’re late in a close game (depending on the exact situation), you should also probably use the sacrifice bunt.  In the old days (1960s and before), this was considered good baseball.  With the re-emergence of the home run in the last 10-15 years (steroids-aided, of course), that line of thinking had, essentially, gone out the window.  At Yankee Stadium, especially, the sacrifice bunt was like an almost-extinct animal – rarely, if ever, seen on the premises.    

I recently saw a documentary on the Brooklyn Dodgers highlighted, of course, by their sole World Series victory in 1955 against their hated rivals, the Yankees.  Nobody remembers that, in the top of the sixth of Game 7, leading 1-0 and with Pee Wee Reese on first and nobody out, both Duke Snider (whose bunt was misplayed) and Roy Campanella laid down sacrifice bunts to move Reese to third.  Gil Hodges (his Hall of Fame snub, a baseball disgrace, will be left for another time) then hit a 400-foot sacrifice fly for his second RBI of the game (final score 2-0).  For those of you who don’t know, Snider and Campanella are two Hall of Fame sluggers who batted third and fourth in the Dodgers lineup that day.    

Flash forward to today and the notion that both a number three AND number four hitter would even attempt to sacrifice bunt consecutively would be laughed at and ridiculed as embarrassing to the hitter.  He would be insulted (again, Snider and Campanella are two legendary players).    

Which brings us back to Girardi and the 2008 Yankees.  You’ll see more of this during the course of the season.  Girardi still has that old “National League mentality” when it comes to moving runners along and playing for one run (given the way the Yankees are hitting right now with runners in scoring position, that’s actually a necessity).  So if the Yankees win a division by a game or win the wild card by a game, remember this win (in only the third game of the season).  Long live the bunt!    

© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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