After suffering the first significant injury of his career, a torn thumb ligament that will keep him out of action for as long as two full months, the Angels’ Mike Trout stated that he would continue to slide head-first into bases and that the slide into second base which resulted in catching his thumb on the bag, ripping the ligament from bone, “was just a freak thing” and no reason to change his ways and slide the safer, feet-first way. I thought Trout was a lot smarter than that.
The head-first slide is among the most dangerous activities that can occur on the baseball field, and likely the most dangerous that can be totally avoided. Coaches and managers throughout baseball as a general rule tell players of the dangers of sliding head-first, but the blockheads they deal with seem to believe that are all invincible, that they will never,
ever, suffer a serious injury on the play, and that that is just the way they do it and just the way they will continue to do it. History tells us that is just plain wrong, and that serious injuries will continue to occur so long as players believe that the perhaps split-second advantage of the head first slide is a necessary and needed element of their game.
In the early 1980s, the Dodgers number one pitching prospect was a left-hander by the name of Rich Rodas. After a 12-0 Rookie League season, he proceeded to work his way up the Dodgers’ minor league ladder with seasons of 14-6, 14-8 and then in Triple-A in 1983, 16-4. 1983 also saw his major league debut, with him pitching 4-2/3 impressive innings in the National League, striking out five and allowing one run. Rodas began 1984 back in Triple-A Albuquerque, and after a 5-2 start, he was recalled back up to the Dodgers. He pitched in three games in relief up to the time when he was a runner on first base, and proceeded to slide head first into second, on a force play. Rodas injured his shoulder on the slide, and that was the end of his career. He did pitch two innings in 1985 for Albuquerque, but he never pitched another inning in the major leagues.
The infamous torn thumb ligament injury also hit the Dodgers’ biggest star about a decade later, when Mike Piazza missed several weeks after a head-first slide into second base resulted in that injury, sidelining him.
Six years ago, the issue of head-first sliding became a major issue for debate when in the first month of the 2011 season four star players all sustained serious injuries on slides into second base: 2010 MVP Josh Hamilton injured a shoulder, Toronto shortstop and now Angels’ third baseman Yunel Escobar suffered a concussion, Washington third baseman now first baseman Ryan Zimmerman suffered an abdominal strain, and Dodgers’ shortstop Rafael Furcal broke his thumb, an injury that kept him out more than sixty games and effectively led to the end of his career in LA. Dodgers’ first base coach and longtime star base-stealer Davy Lopes was quoted at the time as wondering why the trend of head-first sliding was growing, adding that he never did it as a player.
Furcal was replaced at short by Dee Gordon and the next season, 2012, the new Dodgers’ shortstop and now Miami second baseman Gordon also missed about two months of the season after a head-first slide resulted in his own thumb injury. The long run of serious injuries that has derailed and likely ended the career of Mets’ third baseman David Wright began with a shoulder injury suffered in a head first slide.
In recent years, most major sports have taken substantial new precautions to evaluate and treat players who may have suffered concussions and to make sure they are sufficiently
recovered before being allowed back on the field. Yet, concussions, and in many cases serious concussions, are frequently the result of legal head-first slides. In recent seasons, in addition to Escobar, players such as former star Justin Moreau had his career virtually ended by the effects of concussions begun with an injury suffered sliding.
Serious and even catastrophic injuries suffered in head-first slides are not limited to major league baseball. The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill has reported that since 1982, nine baseball players at various levels of play have suffered paralyzing injuries. This includes former Arizona State baseball player Cory Hahn who was paralyzed from the chest down when he fractured a vertebrae in his neck when his head struck the knee of the opponent’s second baseman.
No, Mike, it’s NOT “a freak thing”, it’s a very common thing, and it’s time to prohibit the head-first slide.