- Special Report: Is Head First Sliding More Dangerous?
- Articles printed in April 20 & May 4, 2012 editions
of Collegiate Baseball
- By AL FIGONE, Ph.D
- Collegiate Baseball Newspaper
- (Special 2-Part Series)
- FOLSOM, Calif. How dangerous is the
head first slide when comparing it to the feet first slide?
- The devil lies in the details as some people
believe that the head first is faster than the bent-leg when comparing the two in terms of
speed to the next base. We dont know if head first sliders experienced worse
catastrophic injuries than the feet first sliders.
- Isolated numbers dont answer questions
- Differences between the two slides in
terms of type of injury such as catastrophic or permanent paralysis.
- No functional disability.
- Types of body parts injured.
- Average practice and playing time
lost by offensive and defensive players.
- Sliding into home.
- Breaking up a double play or base
causing an injury to one or both players.
- Money spent at all levels of baseball
to cure and rehabilitate individuals incurring sliding injuries.
Teaching and practice time spent on sliding
during the course of a season at various levels of play, and similar questions. There also
exists significant differences among coaches at all levels involving the correct and
safest methods of teaching each slide, and a number of coaches at all levels have reported
they allowed players to choose which slide they prefer to use. Reasons for choosing the
head first slide vary.
- Some believe it allows the runner to slide
into the base faster. Players experienced in sliding head first might risk more injuries
if forced to utilize the bent-leg or use some other feet first slides.
- The choice between the two is not that big
of a deal, according to many, allowing the head first if not used at first base, in
breaking up a double play or at home plate, and citing Ricky Henderson and Pete Rose as
two great players who successfully slid head first. There was no data that researcher Judy
Karren and I could uncover that documented the usage rates of both slides except in United
States Little Leagues where the head first is prohibited.
- Fastest And Safest Sliding
- For many former and active coaches,
managers, scouts, MLB and high school and college players: "Head first sliding is
like chewing tobacco. As many know, its risky, but (those in baseball) still
continue to execute, advocate, and teach it," as stated in part by Los Angeles Times
sports writer Mark DiGiovanna.
- So, lets assume were a 10 person
committee with infinite powers to change sliding in baseball so it becomes no different
from other skills in terms of probability of injury.
- How do we proceed to find the best evidence
on which to base our decision? Let me suggest five scenarios to accomplish this task.
- 1. We could peruse the scientific literature
comparing the head first and feet first in terms of speed and injuries for the last 20
- 2. We could determine how many of the top
all-time base stealers were head first or feet first sliders?
- 3. We could find out how many players slide
feet or head first depending on the situation (i.e., first base, breaking up a double
play, sliding into home; head first, base stealing or base running (extra base hit).
- 4. We could use anecdotal evidence ranging
from lower leagues to the majors involving reasons for the increasing trend towards head
first, and importance of practicing sliding on regular basis similar to other skills.
- 5. We could ascertain sports medicine
specialists opinions (i.e., orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists, etc.) about
- The following is a description of the
evidence Judy and I uncovered regarding each slide.
- 1. Theres only one comparative study
completed that demonstrates the head first is statistically faster than the feet first by
0.02 of a second or provides a five inch advantage. The reason for the difference,
according to the authors study, Dr. David Peters, Professor of Mechanical
Engineering at Washington University, has to do with angular momentum. By definition, when
the arms go out first, the momentum is forward and when the feet move out first, the
momentum is back.
- Five other academic studies reported no
statistical difference between the two. When I asked Dr. Peters "what if we could set
a study of two perfectly match samples in terms of body weight, speed, reaction time,
experience and skill level for both slides, height, etc., what did he predict regarding
which of the would be the fastest?" His answer: No difference.
- For injuries, we examined seven scientific
studies and discovered an overwhelming number of upper body injuries to the fingers,
hands, wrists, arms, stomach, chest, shoulders, face, head, and neck were related to the
head first. As expected, the "feet first" was related to broken ankles, leg
contusions, ankle sprains, and knee injuries. But in comparing time spent away from
practice and games, the head first won hands down.
- 2. Of the top 50 career leaders in stolen
bases, to the best of my knowledge, there have been four head first sliders as of 2012:
Rickey Henderson, Tim Raines, Omar Moreno and Roberto Alomar. There may be more. (If so,
please let know).
- 3. For the situational head first slide, an
overwhelmingly number of "head firsters" reported anecdotally they do not slide
into second to prevent a double play or home. One (Alomar) stated he "slides head
- 4. Responses to this issue included:
"The art of sliding might be gone," "sliding is not practiced
anymore," and "players want to mimic Henderson."
- A 2003 study of MLB teams illustrated 10
teams spent one day practicing sliding. None practiced head first sliding, and two of the
10-teams placed mats on the grass and had players slide across them.
- In 2011, after the head first commanded
attention from all levels, including executives, players, coaches, and managers, a
sampling of the prevailing opinions of each slide included: "A preference for feet
first, but if one is comfortable executing the head first, let them do it,"
"Its too risky to change them," "Managers preaching against the first
slide, fining players who execute it," "Both slides have risks," "You
can get hurt crossing the street," "Players should be allowed to slide the way
they are good at," "I let my players slide any way they are comfortable,"
"Im a feet first guy." Two former successful MLB head first sliders
reported, "They will not teach their kids the head first."
- 5. Almost all of the medical professionals
advise against the head first. But, they readily acknowledge that baseball players have
their quirks, own ideas, preferences, and may not follow their recommendations.
- This is the best evidence we have acquired.
Whats your decision, committee member? Rendering a decision reflects baseballs
conundrum or difficulty in resolving the sliding issue.
- In every area of baseball in 2012, science
continues to trump conventional wisdom in catching, pitching, hitting, infield and
outfield play, base running, base stealing and other performance-related areas such as
functional strength and conditioning.
- This trend assuredly will continue allowing
for the application of the safest training and effective rehabilitation protocols and
improvement in the mental and physical levels of performance in baseball.
- Suggestions On Sliding
- Here are some suggestions to consider:
- 1. If we say one or other is faster, we
should ask, show us reliable evidence supporting your position.
- 2. If both are equally safe, then what has
the evidence revealed thus far?
- 3. Why do we not routinely practice sliding
during a season? What scientific evidence tells us its better and safer to practice
sliding a few times during the early or preseason?
- 4. How can we expect players to processes
multiple decisions on close plays when one will suffice? Are we today expecting players to
master more than one slide when most players are not mastering one? As Bernie taught us,
"If you want to be an aggressive slider, move to the next base fast, or avoid a tag,
the bent-leg pop up fadeaway will serve all your purposes."
READ MORE ABOUT HEAD FIRST SLIDING: Al Figone
explores injuries in Major League baseball during the 2011 season due to sliding, why the
head first slide is riskier, the history of the head first and feet first slides and much
more. This 2-part series appeared in the April 20 and May 4 editions of Collegiate
Baseball. Call our subscription department at (520) 623-4530 weekdays from 8 a.m.-4
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