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Should MLB opt for safer bases to reduce sliding-related injuries?

May 9, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT

Jacoby Ellsbury AP

Steve Wulf has a very thought-provoking article over at ESPN in which he discusses the recent spate of diving-related injuries and possible solutions. On the list of players suffering base-related injuries are Nationals teammates Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.

The bases, Wulf writes, haven’t always been hard:

[...] it is worth noting that the base Jack Corbett was inserting into the diamond 70 years ago was much more pliable. So was the base Pete Rose was reaching out for when he first popularized the headfirst slide. Over the years, as the convenience of rubber took precedence over the safety of canvas and plastic, the bases have become harder while the players diving and running into them have become bigger and faster.

The bases used today are known as Jack Corbett Hollywood Bases. They’re hard to move with the physical movements natural to baseball players, but easy to take away if you’re a groundskeeper.

What’s incredible is that, as far back as 40 years ago, a safer base was created and scored high marks in a two-year study performed by Dr. David Janda of the Preventive Sports Medicine Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The base, called the Rogers Break Away Base, had three sections which included a base top which snapped on to rubber grommets connected to a base plate. According to the study, injuries were reduced by 98 percent and healthcare costs related to the injuries declined by 99 percent.

Why wouldn’t baseball immediately fund and implement safer bases? Two groups: umpires and groundskeepers. Umpires worry that changing the bases will affect their ability to correctly make calls. Though, with the addition of instant replay, this concern may be a moot point. Groundskeepers like the current bases because they’re very easy to pop in and out.

But umpires and groundskeepers aren’t responsible for the billions of dollars the sport generates. Fans don’t buy tickets to watch Joe West umpire or Jeffrey the Groundskeeper spritz water on the field before the game. They don’t buy jerseys with umpire Bob Davidson’s last name on the back.

Players, managers and coaches, and front office personnel all have problems with the bases as they stand now. In Wulf’s article, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said, “I’m all for a new base.” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that the Hollywood Bases are “from hell as far as I’m concerned.” Rays GM Andrew Friedman said, “There’s 0 percent that the bases can’t be improved [upon].”

Per Wulf, newer, safer bases could be tested in the minor leagues or in the Arizona Fall League. Positive results and reactions could spur the joint safety committee and the MLB players association to reexamine the sport’s use of the hard base.

I’ve paraphrased a lot, but go read Wulf’s article. There’s a ton to learn in there.

  1. jeffbbf - May 10, 2014 at 12:32 AM

    Just another example of the inflexible, but powerful, umpires and groundskeepers blocking the advancement of professional baseball.

    C’mon..while we’re at it, just outlaw the head first slide. That would be the safest move of all, no?

    • asimonetti88 - May 10, 2014 at 1:08 AM

      “C’mon..while we’re at it, just outlaw the head first slide. That would be the safest move of all, no?”

      well, thanks to HBT commenters, I’ve learned they only make rule changes if Buster Posey is hurt first

  2. brewcrewfan54 - May 10, 2014 at 1:10 AM

    Of course they should consider it. I’m not saying they should go to break away bases for sure. Any base that can survive a hard feet first slide probably wont stop and hand/wrist/shoulder injuries but if players like Rollins and old sxhoolers like, Fregosi are saying the bases could be better its something to explore.

    • brewcrewfan54 - May 10, 2014 at 2:07 AM

      Unfortunately I said Fregosi when I meant Larry Bowa. I somehow mixed up the names, as I know Mr Fregosi passed away this offseason.

  3. mikhelb - May 10, 2014 at 3:15 AM

    “Why wouldn’t baseball immediately fund and implement safer bases?”

    Because injuries sliding on a base are anomalous occurrences and represent a small percentage of the plays a baseballist participates in, and to say that in an experiment there was a reduction 98% in injures occurrences is a moot point, with a database as small as TWO years, statistically speaking we could be talking about a reduction so small that it could be due to other factors and not only due to new bases. Statistics people, we are baseball fans and we are supposed to know at least the basics so as to spot what is a weak spot in that study done in the seventies with way less tech than now.

    In fact, injuries could be reduced significatively by having players diving correctly, and that would cost much less than changing bases because it is a basic premise of a coach: teach them how to play.

    Every season we see players with more and more raw talent and in more need of polishing, but eirher their coaches do not care or do not know what to teach them because maybe themselves were not that good all around baseball players.

    How can McGwire teach a youngster how to choke a bat and slap hits if he never did it? I trust Larry Bowa or Rod Carew way more in that aspect, and “Big Mac” in taking full advantage of a player’s power swing. Same for “running coaches”, they should teach their players to slide feet first, is mor efficient, you have less drag because a smaller portion of your body is in contact with the ground so you could slide a bit before and still make it to the base, or slide and use your hands to get up and keep running if the ball passes by.

    As for infielders blocking a base? Sleed spikes first and see if they keep blocking the base with their knees, sure it is “a crime” to spike them, but it is also “a crime” to block the base knowing full well that modern baserunners slide hands first and can get hurt crashing with their knees.

    And to think that baseball’s new regulations obligue runners to slide in home plate to be at the mercy of the catcher blocking it while wearing protective gear.

  4. chunkala - May 10, 2014 at 7:47 AM

    People don’t come to see umpires and groundskeepers but for some reason they have a say in the matter. No other sport would give a damn about their opinions. Yay, Unions!

    If the umps don’t like it, start handing them some lit dynamite sticks.

    • clydeserra - May 10, 2014 at 11:23 AM

      hope you enjoy your weekend. Yay, Unions!

  5. sabatimus - May 10, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    Oh for crying out LOUD stop messing with the game!

  6. rcali - May 10, 2014 at 1:16 PM

    Strangely you would think this would have been done after the first 100 injuries. My guess is that MLB went to the hard bases to save money.

  7. anxovies - May 10, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    The bases that we used when I played in high school were canvas with straps and buckles that secured them to a ring sunk in the ground. I have no idea what they were filled with but they had plenty of give and I don’t remember anybody getting injured by merely stepping on them. Plus, they looked a lot cooler than the rubber slabs they use today.

    • crackersnap - May 10, 2014 at 10:45 PM

      Exactly. And I had no idea they were rubber bricks now. Working in IT, my mantra with my employees has always been to never make a decision that can negatively impact the business, just because it makes your job easier. It has served me well for decades. Here, the umps and groundskeepers are violating it. They lose.

  8. musketmaniac - May 10, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    Pete Rose will roll over in his grave if they ban the head first slide.

  9. moogro - May 10, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    This exact article could be written about the wimpy standards on padding and concern for the player on the perimeter fences. It’s medieval and a huge waste of money and talent due to injuries. The game is a lot more exciting when players can go all out to make plays. MLB should encourage that any way they can through improved safety of the field gear. I’ll harp on this forever: Why does the player’s union tolerate this?

    The ESPN article didn’t also account for the foot and ankle injuries that have come from stepping on these bases. The players are expected to run as fast as they can and then time their foot landing so as not to be awkward at the last second so as to not ruin their bodies. It does not have to be this way. anxovies is right: the canvas bag is certainly better. It can either be anchored or breakaway. It can be stepped on or crashed into without injury.

    Someone other than me will make a ton of money with a runner’s glove that locks the wrist and webbing that locks the fingers and thumb. It won’t save players off the initial at-bat, but will catch on quick as a change after the runner calls timeout.

    The ESPN comment section below the article was painfully stupid. I don’t want to go back there again. Very discouraging.

  10. zdravit - May 10, 2014 at 5:33 PM

    Replace them with big fluffy pillows. Secure them with a sticky substance.

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