The base: Approach at your own risk

There's no need to go that far back, although 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. And, thanks to Jack Corbett, the bases still haven't moved.

You didn't have to take physics to know the inevitable outcome.

The funny thing is that, more than 40 years ago, Roger Hall, a former baseball coach at Elizabethtown (Pennsylvania) College (read about him here), invented a disengage-able base that could severely reduce the number and pain and costs of sliding injuries. Called the Rogers Break Away Base, it comes in three sections: a below-ground plastic anchor housing, a rubber base plate with rubber grommets at the corners, and a base top that snaps onto the grommets. The number of snaps varies for the level of play: from 12 for youth to 25 for pro.

The base was used in a two-year study conducted in the late '80s by Dr. David Janda of the Preventive Sports Medicine Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Tracking injuries on the baseball and softball fields at the University of Michigan, Janda found that the breakaway bases reduced injuries by an astonishing 98 percent and health care costs by 99 percent. He concluded that the movable base could do for baseball injuries what the air bag did for automobile accidents. Indeed, Ralph Nader championed the breakaway base on his CounterPunch website.

Nowadays, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends the use of breakaway bases at all levels. The Rogers Break Away Base is sanctioned by Little League International and Ripken Baseball and used by several major college baseball teams.

But, for whatever reason, neither Hall nor Janda was ever able to make any real headway with Major League Baseball. The powers that be were as entrenched as their bases.

"I'm afraid they blocked innovation," Janda says. "As a consequence, the players are left to slide into icebergs set in concrete."

(Back in 2004, MLB did change the bases a little. It sold advertising space on the top for "Spider-Man 2.")

"Our main resistance comes from umpires and groundskeepers," says Brian Hall, who now runs Rogers Sports for his uncle. "The umpires are afraid that the Break Away Base will make it harder for them to make the right call if and when the base comes off. But it doesn't come off that easily, and the base plate remains in place. As for the groundskeepers, they love the convenience of being able to pop the bases in and out to drag the infield. Ours is also easy to deploy."

Schutt, which acquired the rights to the Jack Corbett base in 1996, is the longtime supplier to Major League Baseball, so loyalty might be at work. Schutt certainly has a lot riding on its continued relationship with MLB: Base sales have grown 150 percent in the past four years, in part because teams now sell them as "game-used" memorabilia.

But Schutt also makes safety bases, including an impact base that gives more and a Kwik-Release base.

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