The base: Approach at your own risk

"To my knowledge, Major League Baseball knows of these," says Rob Ball, the product manager in charge of bases at Schutt. "But their standards are necessarily high. These bases have to stand up to the impact of Pedro Alvarez or Prince Fielder sliding into them."

One might think that baseball would embrace the idea of modifying the base, given the game's new and welcome emphasis on safety, e.g., the new rules on home plate collisions and the recent spate of base-running injuries.

But the medical director of Major League Baseball, Dr. Gary Green, cautions against rushing to change the base.

"We're seeing a small cluster of sliding injuries right now, but I wouldn't call it a rash of injuries," Green says. "We've counted 113 sliding injuries in the last three years, which actually resulted in only a small percentage of the overall days missed.

"I understand the position of the AAOS, but I believe that's intended for recreational baseball and softball, which was the basis for Dr. Janda's study. I would worry about the unintended consequences of using breakaway bases on the major league level. Would they change the nature of the game in any way? Would they come off in the normal course of play? Would they make it that much harder for umpires to make the right safe or out call?"

Dr. Randall Culp, the hand surgeon for the Phillies, has seen his fair share of upper extremity injuries suffered by an encounter with a base.

"We can't stop the players from sliding headfirst," Culp says, "but we can teach them the right way to do it. It's important that they clench their fists around a batting glove as they slide so as not to expose their fingers. Of course, you can't do that trying to leg out a double or a triple, or diving into first base to beat out a single, which isn't a good idea to begin with.

"The development of a new, safer base would be a good way to go."

Medical opinions aside, it would still need the buy-in of the men in uniform. Would the players themselves be game for a new base?

Larry Bowa and Jimmy Rollins represent more than 30 years at shortstop in the majors. Bowa, now the bench coach for the Phillies, is decidedly old-school; Rollins is ... well, not. But about the base issue, they're on the same page.

"We're protecting everyone else," Bowa says. "Catchers, pitchers, hitters. Why not the baserunners? Seriously, I think a different, safer base makes sense. You're not changing the game, you're keeping your best players on the field, and you're probably saving a ton of money. Sure, I think the idea has merit."

"I'm all for a new base," Rollins says. "Just as the breakaway rim made basketball safer, a base that gives would make our game safer. And we can certainly do something about the surface of the base -- you can't wear plastic cleats or else you'll slip. Hey, maybe we should go back to canvas. Everything old is new again."

And what about the men and women whose job it is to take care of the bases? White Sox head groundskeeper Roger Bossard has worked for the club since 1967 when his father, Gene, brought him into the family business, so he's seen firsthand the evolution of bases.

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