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Base-Running: Sliding Safely

by Herb McReynolds, M.D.
Tucson MSBL

(This article appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of HardBall Magazine.)

 

 

Each year, an estimated 40 million people in the U.S. play 23 million games of softball and baseball. Studies indicate that over 70 percent of the medically treated injuries in these games are related to sliding. Bad judgment, poor technique, poor timing and inadequate physical conditioning are all causative factors. Alcohol has been implicated in many recreational sliding mishaps, although hopefully not in the MSBL.

Safety bases have been shown to reduce sliding injuries by 98 percent in recreational softball, which translated to 99 percent reduction in health care costs. The universal use of safety bases could prevent 1.7 million injuries per year, saving a staggering $2 billion. Hillary [Clinton] would love this. If we could get her to spring for the bases, we'd be set.

The Berry Patch

The most common sliding injury is the "strawberry” (not named for Darryl, since he doesn't get on base enough anymore to acquire one), caused by the shearing force of hard dirt against the skin. In severe cases, this results in a full or partial thickness skin burn. The knees, buttocks and hips, elbows and chest are the most commonly affected regions.

The best way to avoid the berry patch is to slide on both buttocks, distributing the force over a wider area. For some of my teammates, that area is wide indeed, and one would think they would slide beautifully, but the mass must somehow redistribute itself as they run, since they invariably land on one side.

GOOD: Tucson's Frank Trujillo demonstrates the bent leg, or "figure 4" slide. The eyes are on the base to pick up errant throws. Hands are up, preventing slide burns. Both buttocks are touching the ground, reducing the risk of a strawberry. Tuck leg, which leaves the ground first, is in position with the ankle behind the opposite knee. Lead leg is slightly flexed, with the toes pointing up, not digging into the base.

BAD: Frank demonstrates the injury slide. His right hand, hip and knee absorb the force of hitting the ground, and may suffer for it. More dangerous is the extended foot pointing into the base. This causes many ankle injuries. A late slide like this may impart rotational force to the knee and cause serious ligament or cartilage damage.

The Physics of Fx

The impact load needed to separate a standard base from its post is 3500 foot-pounds. The Breakaway Base™ requires one-fifth of that. It's not surprising that so many contusions, fractures, sprains and dislocations result from the meeting of body part and base. If a twisting or rotational force is introduced while sliding with a flexed knee, meniscal cartilage and ligament injuries can occur, as well as patellar fractures and dislocations.

As an emergency physician, I have seen or treated a shoulder dislocation, an ankle fracture dislocation, several knee injuries, finger dislocations and fractures, foot and ankle fractures and numerous ankle sprains. In a study by Dr. David H. Janda over two seasons (486 games), 2,028 slides on Breakaway Bases™ resulted in only two injuries. In one case, the player never made contact with the base.

Numbers Don't Lie

Janda also studied injuries to the same teams playing 498 games on stationary bases. Ten serious sliding injuries occurred. This certainly correlates with my clinical experience. Another study covered 633 games on Breakaway Bases™ and 627 on stationary bases. There were two injuries on the safety bases, and 45 on the standard bags.

These impressive stats clearly suggest that the quick-release feature of this safety base reduces the impact load generated during a slide thereby reducing the risk of injury. Making sliding illegal might reduce injuries somewhat, but in the world of competitive sports, this is not practical and it is certainly not acceptable to the baseball purists of the MSBL. The safety base is a viable alternative, and the MSBL might want to undertake a comparative study of its own to confirm its applicability in the MSBL context.

About Sliding

Relearning proper technique is essential for the adult ballplayer who wants an injury-free season. When approaching a base where there may be a play, a runner should always be prepared to slide. A late slide is often catastrophic, since the runner makes contact with the base at a higher speed and has less time to absorb the impact.

It is important to practice sliding. The best equipment is a 10- to 12-foot piece of cardboard, no shoes, just socks, and some heavy duty baseball pants. I've coached youth league ball this way for years, and the kids always enjoy the drill I used to hate.

Before sliding practice can begin, the player must choose his "tuck” leg. Try sitting cross-legged on the grass. The leg you tuck under is your "tuck” leg.

The Drill:

  1. Keep your eye on the base, not the defensive player, in order to properly judge the distance to the base.
  2. Go into your slide about two body lengths from the base.
  3. Don't jump. A slide is a controlled sit-down.
  4. Slide on both buttocks, with both hands up. A good drill for this: grab the bat from the coach as you slide under it.
  5. Tuck one leg under your lead leg. Ankles should be flexed back, knees slightly bent, head up. Keeping the head up allows the runner to pop up or lean back as game conditions warrant.

That's the basic technique. There are advanced variations, but this article is concerned with the skills for safe sliding, not base-stealing. Myself, I like to slide head first. I feel it gives me better control, but the principles are the same.

  1. Same as feet-first slide.
  2. Ditto.
  3. Get low, exaggerate your runner's lean or crouch. Go into a controlled dive, not a jump.
  4. Make contact with the base with fingers up, wrists moderately flexed back. Palms should cradle the base, as elbows bend to absorb impact.

GOOD: The head first slide is great if the player's chest can make contact with the dirt before the belly. The hands reach the base with fingers up and wrists slightly flexed. The eyes are on the base to pick up any wild tosses. The chest contacts the ground first, followed by the abdomen and legs. The feet are slightly raised to prevent injury to the toes and premature deceleration of the slide.

 


 

Dr. Herb McReynolds founded the Tucson MSBL and served as its president from 1989 to 1991. He is a former member of the MSBL National Board of Directors and was inducted into the MSBL World Series Hall of Fame in 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

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