Rube Foster once staged 11-bunt comeback

Including six straight suicide squeezes

February 7th, 2022
Photo via Rube Foster 1916 by Graig Kreindler from the collection of Jay CaldwellAccompanying art by Tom Forget

A version of this story was originally published in September 2020.

Bunting is a lost art in today's game. With most teams focusing on the long ball in an attempt to score as many runs as possible, laying down the bat for a sacrifice or squeeze or drag is seen as a wasted plate appearance. The 2021 season had the lowest amount of sacrifice bunts on record for a full season, and many experts believe the practice could soon disappear for good.

But do you know who loved bunts? Negro Leagues legend Rube Foster loved bunts.

The former pitcher, manager and owner -- known as "The Father of Black Baseball" -- emphasized a strong focus on the fundamentals. He loved suicide squeezes, bunt-and-runs and sacrifices; he even held bunting extravaganzas at his training camps. Here's a snippet from former MLB manager John McGraw, who used to watch Foster at work.

“To play for Rube Foster you had to be able to bunt into a hat,” said McGraw. " ... Rube would put two hats out on the field, one between the pitcher’s mound and first base, the other between the mound and third. If you couldn’t get a bunt down into one of those two hats, you couldn’t make the team.”

He was even known to fine players for not getting down the proper form.

And during a game in June 1921, while coaching the Chicago American Giants against the Indianapolis ABCs, Foster put all that practice into work. Overwhelmingly so.

Because it was so long ago, the story has varying versions, but the most popular -- printed by both the Chicago Daily Tribune and Chicago Defender at the time -- was that the Giants were down 10-0 going into the eighth inning. Foster's team then scored nine in the eighth to get within one, the ABCs scored another eight in the ninth to go up, 18-9, and then the Giants rallied for another nine to make it a tie.

And they did so, mostly, by bunting.

Some say it was 11 bunts in a row, others say it was six straight suicide squeezes. Either way, infielders were running all over the place, completely befuddled that someone could actually call for this many bunts. Again, there's not much precedent for this in today's game, but the time the D-backs bunted three times in a row in 2015 is probably the closest we can get. Just imagine if they did it eight more times?

Foster was also a genius at hiding his signs to his players, probably aiding in the surprise comeback. From "Rube Foster in his Time" by Larry Lester:

“When Rube would sit there on the bench in his street clothes, fans always thought he was giving signals with his smoking pipe. Sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn’t,” former Giant Wee Willie Powell said. “To confuse the opposition, he made other players think that was what he was doing. While they’d be watching Rube, somebody else on the bench was giving the real signals."

The Giants added two grand slams in the two innings. That's eight runs on homers, 10 on the mighty power of the bunt.

The ABCs couldn't break the tie in the bottom of the ninth and darkness fell on Indianapolis' Washington Park. The game was called as a tie. According to reports at the time, the home crowd went home "sickened."

We would, unfortunately, see no more bunts put on by Rube Foster that day and never a bunt parade like it in professional baseball ever again.