The base: Approach at your own risk

As their teammate, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, says, "There is no forgiveness in a base. I've been hanging around second base for a while now, so trust me on this."

Equally unforgiving are the critics, both casual and seasoned, who attach sole blame on this rash of injuries to the headfirst-happy players themselves. Asked about the propensity of his own dynamic rookie George Springer to launch himself, Astros manager Bo Porter said, "I don't like headfirst sliding. It just exposes too much of your body. You can get fingers, hands [hurt]. We tell them [not to] all the time."

Indeed, every organization discourages its minor leaguers from sliding headfirst. Some even fine them for doing it. But then the players get to the majors, and their own competitive juices take over.

"They have a football mentality nowadays," says Phillies third-base coach Pete Mackinin.

The flip side of that recklessness is the whispered-about "fear of the base," a phobia that causes injuries, as well -- some players get caught between sliding into a base and going in standing up. Either way, fearless or fearful, it's hard to get players to change.

"I'm going to keep sliding headfirst," says Angels star Mike Trout. "I've been doing it my whole career. I'm going to keep doing it."

Asked why he does it, Simmons once said, "It's just how I feel faster."

Some physicists have actually backed up Simmons, pointing out that a player will generate slightly more force with the head and arms leading, not trailing. But the infinitesimal difference in acceleration is less important than the view players get as they hurtle forward toward the bag, the better to see the fielder and avoid the tag.

(On the other hand, a test by ESPN's own Sport Science found that a runner reaches first base, at least, just a wee bit faster when he continues his speed through the bag on his feet rather than his chest.)

Taking the resistance to behavioral modification into account, is there a way to prevent the injuries that are sapping the game of some of its more aggressive players?

"Prevention is the best treatment," says Dr. Daryl Osbahr, an orthopedic surgeon who studied under Dr. James Andrews and is an assistant team physician for the Nationals. "You have to look at both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. We can modify their techniques to make the headfirst slide safer. And we can look at the base itself, both the composition of it and the anchoring system."

The bases currently deployed at every major league ballpark -- and at thousands of other diamonds across the land -- are manufactured by Schutt Sports of Litchfield, Illinois, and are called Jack Corbett Hollywood Bases. They are named after a long-forgotten baseball pioneer (read about him here) who came up with a system in the late 1930s to make bases both tough to move when they're in play and easily removable when they're not. The base, tapered so that it could hug the dirt, had a metal attachment at the bottom that was placed in a metal tube sunk in concrete below the ground.

"They're called Hollywood bases," says Orioles manager Buck Showalter, "but they're from hell as far as I'm concerned. They're slippery and hard, and they cause all sorts of injuries. We'd be better off going back to burlap bags."

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