After watching the Red Sox lose the services of Big Papi for a few games after an ill-advised head-first slide while trying to stretch a single into a double last Friday, the Globe’s Bob Ryan tackles what he considers to be the biggest scourge facing baseball. Well, except for “Creeping La Russaism” (“you’ve got to work really hard to screw up how a baseball game is run as badly as the Cardinals’ skipper has.”) Link swiped from Repoz and Baseball Think Factory.
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.
Two people are responsible for this plague. The first was Pepper Martin (above), “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!
It should be stressed that Jack Curry was highly critical of the headfirst slide (Robbie Alomar’s tendency to do so, in particular) in a NY Times pieces over 4 years ago. He refrained from gratuitious insults directed at Tony La Genius, however, so the points go to Ryan.