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Headfirst slides: Helpful, risky or both?

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 11, 2014 at 2:23 am •  Published: June 11, 2014
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Even Pete Rose, the man who made the headfirst slide fashionable, says there's a time and place to be prudent.

As in, no need to get your nose bashed in at home plate.

"You don't want to slide headfirst into shin guards," said Rose, who played the most games in big league history.

If Rose played today, his signature dives wouldn't be much of a novelty. It's become common in the majors for runners to fling their arms out, lead with their faces and hurtle toward bases.

But at what price?

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers and Josh Hamilton of the Angels are among the stars who have gotten hurt sliding that way this year.

Nolan Arenado of the Rockies, Mike Napoli of the Red Sox and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals are on the list, too.

So many injuries, in fact, that many wonder whether the move is safe, or should be banned.

Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist recently slid headfirst while trying to steal second base and dislocated his left thumb. A decade ago, he was yanked from a game while in the Houston system — the Astros had instructed minor league managers to immediately pull any player sliding headfirst into first base or home.

Zobrist has no plans to stop.

"I'll keep sliding headfirst," the All-Star said. "Probably with an oven mitt on my hand — or something to protect it."

That's what New York Yankees leadoff hitter Brett Gardner does. When he gets on base, he puts a cutoff elbow sleeve made of synthetic rubber over his hand.

"If it happened to get stepped on, it definitely protects me more so than not having anything at all. The main thing with me, it keeps all my fingers together so when I slide headfirst, maybe my finger doesn't get caught on a base," Gardner said.

Rose's slides helped solidify his reputation as one of the game's rough-and-tumble performers, and the image of him sailing through the air, arms extended, lives on.

Rose brought a style all his own to the field. He'd use more of a diving motion — he'd also elevate his legs, figuring that made him more likely to get hit by a throw on a close play.

He was willing to risk scrapes, he just wanted to avoid really hurting his legs and feet.

"I'd rather get spiked on my arm or my elbows or my shoulder," he said.

Detroit Tigers speedster Rajai Davis takes a more standard approach to headfirst slides, staying low to the ground and launching himself across the dirt. The landing is a little more gentle that way.

"The Pete Rose, that's not a good slide in my opinion," Davis said. "Of course, it worked for somebody else. That's why he's Pete Rose."

Whichever way a player does it, Rose still believes there are benefits to going headfirst. Runners can adjust in mid-slide to avoid a tag, and Rose says they might have an easier time seeing the ball.

"You go into second and the ball squirts away from the fielder, your peripheral vision's going to pick the ball up," Rose said.

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