Vin Scully and the headfirst slide

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If you watched the game on TV last night you heard Vin Scully spend a good amount of time lamenting the lack of sliding skills in the major leagues. This was brought about when Brandon Crawford slid headfirst into 3rd base and injured his finger.

At my house or at the ballgame or at a bar, anytime someone slides headfirst into 1st base or home I’ll bemoan the action. Even though science says you might get to first a tick faster by sliding  into first base that is only in a perfect scenario and is not worth the injury risk.

It doesn’t actually matter if sliding is theoretically faster than running through if the sliding proposition requires precise timing and mechanics that no major leaguer employs

That one just seems foolhardy,  unless one is trying to avoid an errant throw in which case anything goes if that hit is more important to you than being able to play more games.

The home first slide makes sense in that you can manipulate your arms to try to find the seam where you can touch home before the catchers touch you. However,  the benefits of being safe at home in a 162 game season for one run, don’t seem to outweigh the possibilities of serious injury to your fingers or hand given you are sliding into a very protected player. A.J. Pollock put the Diamondback season on the rails even before the season started with such a slide.

Sliding head first at 2nd or 3rd is a different story.   Back when you only had a few teams and everyone was vying for the postseason money share,  players weren’t so friendly. You slid you got tagged hard. Much better to have that hard tag on your legs and feet than your head, arms, and hands. This is just an observation but as the hard tag went the way of baseball slavery, players stopped having to worry about a hard tag to the head or having their hands/fingers purposely stepped on if they slid head first. Maury Wills explains the mindset back in the early 1960’s. It wasn’t safe for African-American to slide headfirst. Can you imagine Jackie Robinson in 1947 doing a head first slide instead of his famous hook slide?

Wills was caught stealing only 13 times in 1962. He paid a tab physically with severe bruising in his legs, resorting at times to a rare headfirst slide to spare further pain. “They’d have brought a knee down and broken my collarbone,” he said, when asked why he so rarely went headfirst.

As the headfirst slide became a safer proposition and a much faster one to the bag you started seeing it more and more. I think Pete Rose had a huge impact on this as images of Pete Rose hurling his body head first at the 3rd base bag are ingrained in old time fans minds.

Sure, if you watch the brilliant sliders like Jackie Robinson, Maury Wills, or Junior Jim Gilliam you could see the art of the slide as they hook slid into their base evading the tag, but damn that head first slide was exciting. It is what I did and I expect what many kids did who played baseball in the 1970’s.

Vinny was lamenting that they don’t even teach sliding anymore in spring training, and to be honest, I’ve been wondering that myself for 30 years.  Or at least since Pedro Guerrero almost ruined his Dodger career with one of the worst slides ever seen into 3rd base. Back when Puig looked to be the next Pedro Guerrero fans winced whenever he slid because it was always a trainwreck.

I think one of the answers is obvious. The other not so obvious. Vinny specifically mentioned the hook slide, and the answer to that one is that it is hard to learn and takes lots of work. Players would rather practice hitting/fielding than learning how to use a slide they probably would rarely use. Maury Wills tells us what he thinks:

Wills spent years perfecting his hook slide, reaching the Majors at 26.

Learning the difficult slides like the hook slide probably takes more time than any modern ballplayer wants to devote to a small part of his game.

Davey Lopes was not a head first slider, but he also wasn’t a hook slider. He did the simple slide hard and fast feet first into the bag.

It’s usually a guy trying to avoid a tag, and it just looks like a hook slide,” said Davey Lopes, who succeeded Wills as the Dodgers’ leadoff catalyst, making good use of his wheels on the basepaths. “A real hook slide is hard to do, very hard. You just don’t see it any more.

“Maury used to fade away with his hook slide, and he did it from both sides. More guys did it in the old days. Jackie Robinson used to hook slide. I never even tried it. I’d have broken an ankle the way I slide — late, straight and hard.”

So why has baseball simply stopped teaching their players the slide that Davey Lopes and thousands of ballplayers used to employ?

When you see a Puig,  slide feet first you understand why they slide headfirst because given how bad they are at sliding feet first they are actually in more danger of injury than with the head first slide.

But really, when you are spending millions on your players, shouldn’t you make sure they can do the fundamental aspects of the game that will keep them healthier over the term of team control? Even if the players don’t want to learn how to slide, it would seem it would be in the best interest of the players, owners, agents, that they make this effort.

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