Don't do it
By Bob Ryan, Globe Staff
I'm going to risk boring you as I air out my pet peeve in baseball.
No, not Creeping LaRussaism, not today, anyway. At least Creeping LaRussaism involves thought, however convoluted. You've got to work really hard to screw up how a baseball game is run as badly as the Cardinals' skipper has. He honestly thinks he has come up with a better way to approach victory. He's sincere; I'll give him that. He thinks running in seven pitchers from the seventh inning on of a one-run game is the way to go. What can I say?
No, what I'm venting about today is the idiotic head-first slide.
I choose this occasion because tonight David Ortiz is supposed to return to the Red Sox lineup after missing the last four games. And why was Big Papi hors de combat to begin with? It's because he injured his right shoulder last Friday evening attempting (fruitlessly) to stretch a single into a double with a foolish earth-shattering belly-flop against the White Sox; that's why.
I hope I make myself clear enough: head-first sliding is ALWAYS a)unnecessary b) dangerous and c) counter-productive. Every organization should do everything in its power to discourage its players from employing the tactic. I'm talking about fining, if that's the only way to convince players not to do it.
By far the dumbest place to slide head first is home plate. The catcher has armor; the baserunner doesn't. 'Nuff said. But there is nothing a head-firster can accomplish at any time a conventional slider (with the proper technique) can't. I'll guarantee you neither Ty Cobb nor the Great DiMaggio ever slid head first.
The second dumbest place to slide head first is first base. In fact, the only reason to slide at first base at all is to avoid a tag. After watching far too many Mike Greenwell head-first slides into first, I was moved a few years back to contact the physics department at MIT. I was put in touch with a baseball-loving physicist who explained to me that sliding head first doesn't get you there any faster. In fact, it slows you down.
Now if the first base coach can convey to you that a tag is in the offing, then, hell yes, get down. But if you go head first, don't think it will get you there quicker than if you had gone feet first. It won't.
Why does everyone slide head first these days? They do so because everyone else does it. I'm wondering if proper sliding is even taught any more.
Two people are responsible for this plague. The first was Pepper Martin, "The Wild Horse of the Osage," who captivated America with a scintillating performance in the 1931 World Series, hitting .500 and regaling spectators with head-first slides. But the practice was not widespread (Martin was regarded as something of a nut job), and it was out of baseball until Pete Rose showed up in 1963.
You might know it would take a narcissistic showboat to revive a counter-productive practice. Oh, look at Pete run to first base on a walk. Oh, look at Pete sprint around the bases after hitting a homer. And, oh, look at Pete slide head first everywhere. What hustle! What a competitor!
There was a lot to like about Pete Rose's game, but head-first sliding was a lot of nonsense, and now it is his ultimate legacy to the game. Asinine head-first sliding has accounted for an untold amount of injuries. Remember Manny injuring himself sliding head first into the plate that night in Seattle? That was completely avoidable.
And, yes, I know that Rickey Henderson was a head-first slider for his entire career. I'm here to tell you that he would have been just as safe on every one of those stolen bases had he gone feet first. Yes, I know Dave Roberts went in head-first on that fateful October evening in 2004. Same goes for him. Jeter wouldn't have gotten the tag down any quicker if he were trying to beat a foot instead of a hand.
Yes, I realize people used to get hurt sliding into bases the old-fashioned way, usually, we were told, when "their spikes got caught in the bag." Well, they don't wear metal spikes now. There is far less likelihood of someone getting hurt the old-fashioned way if they now slid the old-fashioned way.
But no one is listening. And so players will continue to jam shoulders, get hands and fingers broken, and just plain mess themselves up sliding head first, because they honestly don't know any better. And a lot of them will be out at first because they took more time getting there on their stomach than if they had simply kept those legs churning.
As far as I'm concerned, if the Red Sox lose another player to an injury caused by a needless head-first slide it's their own fault. They should know better by now: head-first sliding is a menace.