Some players just can’t help themselves. Whether it’s a steal attempt or an impending close play, it looks so easy just to dive straight ahead so they can reach the base safely.
The players that choose to slide head first truly believe it’s faster, even if studies show the benefit, if any, is small. The thinking goes that if a player extends himself forward, much like diving for a fly ball, he’ll reach the base quicker. But diving for the base also exposes a player to a myriad of risks, such as getting stepped on by the fielder, or jamming his hand into the base.
San Diego Padres prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., the No. 2 prospect in all of Major League Baseball according to MLB Pipeline’s midseason rankings, recently ran afoul of the dangers of sliding head first. On a steal attempt while playing with the Double-A San Antonio Missions, Tatis jammed his left thumb on the base, fracturing it and causing ligament damage. The thumb required surgery, ending his season and delaying his MLB debut until at least 2019.
There is not much protection for the hand, wrist and arm once extended into a sliding position. The New York Yankees’ Gleyber Torres suffered a different kind of injury in 2017 while playing in Triple-A. While attempting to score from second, he slid headfirst into home plate and was tagged hard on the elbow. He tore his ulnar collateral ligament, which required Tommy John surgery.
While Torres bounced back (he was an All-Star and is an AL Rookie of the Year candidate), and Tatis likely will too, other players may not be so lucky. The risks are obvious. So why do players still do it? The simple belief is they think it is faster, and they’re used to doing it. Many of them feel strongly about it.
Mike Trout suffered a similar injury to Tatis in 2017. But it did nothing to dissuade him from sliding head first.
“It was a freak thing,” Trout said to the Toronto Star later in 2017. “After your first slide, you tend to forget about it. I’m not going to switch.”
If forced into sliding feet first, maybe they would be slower because it’s not something they’re used to. But is a player’s comfort worth the risks?
What’s your take?
Take 1: Feet first always
The risks are just too great. Even if some players have been sliding head first all their lives, it’s never too late to switch. That’s why it’s very important to teach kids the proper sliding mechanics at an early age. Even if a player is fast enough to beat a throw, there’s too many other ways to get hurt.
Take 2: It’s the player’s choice
For many players who slide head first, speed is their weapon. They need to get every possible advantage on the basepaths and you don’t want to take that away. There is better protection now like braces and sliding mitts that players can wear to mitigate injury. And there is no way to eliminate injury risk from any part of baseball, sometimes it just happens. If a player is taking needless risks, then definitely coach him. Otherwise, let them go as hard as they want.
So, should all players be forced to slide feet first? Or if a player has success sliding head first, should coaches let him have at it? Have your say in the comments below.
From GameChanger and Todd Kortemeier
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