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January 9, 2014

Pebble Hunting

The Year's 10 Best Slides: A Slide Show (Again)

by Sam Miller

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Last year, obsessed with the possibilities of a pretty simple pun, I wrote about my 10 favorite slides. There were those who said we'd never try it again. Well guess what.

10. Punto Slides
There are days where you really get the sense we’re missing the point. This, for instance, is a base hit that Nick Punto recorded:

And now here is Nick Punto on that very same play:

There has never been a truer expression of Nick Punto’s career, or life, than this play. Diving into first base is always unnecessary (yes, I see your hand in the back Omar Vizquel), but Punto loves to do it so much that he does it even when it is unnecessarily unnecessary. And yet, as I read Nick Punto’s Wikipedia page, there is no mention of the incredibly telling detail that he once slid into first base on a ball that went through to center field. Instead, we get nonsense like this:

  • Punto had 3 hits in 14 at-bats in the 2011 World Series.
  • he continued to play regularly due to injuries to Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy
  • He had 2 hits in 5 at-bats in just 4 games with the Phillies that season
  • He also appeared in five games at first base

But I get it. Wikipedia is a huge online repository of information. Maybe they don’t mention Punto’s headfirst slide into first base on a ball that reached the outfield on this particular page, but surely somewhere else? Nope. I read literally every page of Wikipedia looking for it, and it’s just not there. Instead, Wikipedia’s editors felt that a 2,400 words were necessary on the topic of toilet-related injuries and deaths, including more than 20 fictional toilet-related injuries and deaths, including a number that hardly qualify as toilet-related injuries or deaths at all:

  • In the 2003 film The Italian Job, the character Left Ear (Mos Def)'s nickname is attributed to a childhood prank involving cherry bombs in a toilet at his middle school.
  • In This is England '86, the character of Meggy (played by Perry Benson), had a heart attack while on the toilet. The character survived, but later died off screen in '87.
  • In the pilot episode of the 2000-2005 comedy-drama series Dead Like Me, the main protagonist Georgia's life is cut short when a toilet seat from the Mir space station drives her into the pavement.[23]

And nothing about Punto's slide into first. Just missing the point completely, the whole lot of us.

Hey, here’s one more for the Punto files:

That came on the most routine two-out, inning-ending fielder’s choice you’ll ever see. It was also an exhibition game (though, at least, a WBC game—they were keeping score and all).

Back during some political event, Slate ran a piece comparing the candidates to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and concluding that Bugs Bunny always wins. This is actually relevant to many fields, starting with who gets popular in grade school and who doesn’t. Here are the key definitions:

Bugs and Daffy represent polar opposites in how to deal with the world. Bugs is at ease, laid back, secure, confident. His lidded eyes and sly smile suggest a sense that he knows the way things work. He's onto the cons of his adversaries. Sometimes he is glimpsed with his elbow on the fireplace mantel of his remarkably well-appointed lair, clad in a smoking jacket. (Jones once said Cary Grant was his inspiration for Bugs. Today it would be George Clooney.) Bugs never raises his voice, never flails at his opponents or at the world. He is rarely an aggressor. When he is pushed too far and must respond, he borrows a quip from Groucho Marx: "Of course, you realize this means war." And then, whether his foe is hapless hunter Elmer Fudd, varmint-shooting Yosemite Sam, or a raging bull, Bugs always prevails.

Daffy Duck, by contrast, is ever at war with a hostile world. He fumes, he clenches his fists, his eyes bulge, and his entire body tenses with fury. His response to bad news is a sibilant sneer ("Thanks for the sour persimmons, cousin!"). Daffy is constantly frustrated, sometimes by outside forces, sometimes by his own overwrought response to them.

Punto is clearly a Daffy Duck, and Cano is clearly a Bugs Bunny, in baseball’s ecosystem. Look at the disdain in Bugs’ posture when Daffy, unrestrained, disturbs his controlled, superior environment. Major-league baseball is, indeed, mostly Bugs Bunnies, the Bugs Bunnies from a thousand different Little Leagues all brought together to be Bugs Bunnies for all of our entertainment. Then a Daffy comes tumbling into the picture, and looks like a fool out there. You gotta respect that. Most of us don’t have the ability to be Bugs Bunny, so we’re Daffy Ducks, but we don’t have the guts to really embrace that fact like Punto does.

9. The Microcosm Slide
Nothing all that special about this slide: There's a hit to right field, a fast runner goes first to third, the throw goes through, the play is just close enough to require a slide, but not so close that the third baseman even catches the throw on the bag. There’s nothing remotely interesting about this play, except that Yasiel Puig darned near killed himself doing it:

It took him 34 seconds to get up from this slide. Seriously, look at this picture and tell me what event you figure preceded it: A) Puig makes routine slide on non-close play at third, or B) Puig insults Ralphie Cifaretto in front of everybody at the Bing:

You gotta feel for the Dodgers. Puig is their most valuable commodity at this point, and he’s basically the entire college fund invested in Dogecoin. It’s not that he engages in reckless behavior. He engages in banal behavior recklessly. Remember when he was pulled over going 110 this winter? He was just trying to parallel park and it got away from him. “Awww, geeeeeeez, Yasiel, brushing your teeth again,” the Dodgers murmur when he shows up in the trainer’s office with the last knuckle of a toothbrush protruding out of his orbital socket.

8. AfterSlides

On the very first Now That’s What I Call Music (USA) compilation series, the 14th track was by Radiohead. Also on that album: Aqua, Backstreet Boys, K-Ci & JoJo, Tonic. I don’t know what Radiohead and K-Ci & JoJo could possibly have in common, but the evidence suggests it was something, because that album was a total hit. And now there are 49 in the series, plus seven Christmas compilations, 11 country, four “Latino,” and Now That’s What I Call Music Disney, Classic Rock, Faith, Love Hits, Party Hits, Off The Hook, and so on.

I’m not sure what these two slides have in common, either, other than the interesting part of each happens after the slide. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. That, and a Draw Me Like One Of Your French Girls joke that Mike Axisa beat me to.

7. Peltzman Slides
This one—well, I’m not going to lie. This is in here because Jonathan Villar’s face went right into Brandon Phillips’ butt. It’s like when Aaron Rowand face-mashed a wall, except it was a butt. My goal is to see Face-Mashed Butt in the next edition of the Dickson Baseball Dictionary.

So you can admire that, on its own terms. But what puts it here is this: Watch what happens to Brandon Phillips after his butt gets face-mashed. He just… disappears. Villar slides in so hard (with his face, into a butt) that he basically knocks Brandon Phillips right off the face of the earth. That’s why the theme here is not players sliding into butts, but players sliding soo hard. The Villar slide, more than anything, is about a player who dove into second base with the momentum of a runaway freight train; why are these so popular?

For years we’ve been hearing that player health was going to be the next big thing in sabermetrics (or in baseball analysis, however you want to label it). Modern medicine is certainly improving, independently of (but to the benefit of) major-league baseball. And yet players keep getting hurt. More than ever, by some measures. How can this be?

Maybe it’s the Peltzman Effect, also called risk compensation, and defined thusly: “The adjustment of individual behaviour in response to perceived changes in risk. People tend to behave more cautiously if their perception of risk or danger increases, and less cautiously when they feel 'safer' or more protected.” This shows up all over the place: Drivers, when wearing seatbelts, drive in a less safe manner; drivers, seeing a bicyclist wearing a helmet, give the rider less clearance when passing him; skiers wearing helmets go faster and get injured more than unhelmeted skiers; etc. Baseball is better at getting players back on the field than it ever were before. But look at how hard these guys play now.

Watching slide after slide for this, I came away convinced they’re sliding harder,

later,

more out of control,

and more into contact


than the sliders of my youth. Now, memories of my youth are terribly unreliable. This is a nostalgia-influenced hypothesis, and those are almost always wrong. Maybe I’m wrong. And certainly there are parts of the game—collisions at home; beanballs—where anecdotal evidence suggests a gentler game. But those are situations where players are no longer as eager to hurt each other. They seem more willing than ever to hurt themselves.

6. Houdini Slides, By Non-Athletes
This is just a reminder that Jose Molina is, in fact, in better physical shape than almost any non-teenager you know. If you were playing pickup basketball against Jose Molina, he would destroy you. If you were playing flag football, he would be the quarterback, and he would be unstoppable partly because he would be faster than all but one or two people on the field. And if you are trying to do something as simple as defend a 17-inch “base” from Molina, and you have the benefit of standing directly in front of that base and waiting for him to arrive, and all you have to do, when he runs directly at the base, is lay one single hand on him before he gets to the base, he will defeat you.

At full sprint, he slides, subtly shifts the direction of his slide once it has already begun, supports his 200-plus pounds of weight with his weaker arm, and retains the posture required to dodge the tag with his right arm and slap the plate in the tiny window available to him. And, for good measure, pops up onto his feet immediately. He not only tags the base you were defending, he was running 25 feet away from you before you even got off your elbow. Laugh at Molina for being slow. You have no shame. You’re the worst.

5. Houdini Slides, By Athletes
Underacknowledged fact: The average major leaguer is bigger than the base. He could envelop the base entirely. He could sit on it, and leave no portion of it exposed. And he’s actually allowed to do this. So, were you a defender and a baserunner was coming toward you and you had the baseball and you wanted to tag him before he touched the base, you could simply make the base disappear. At this point the baserunner could consider options. He might try to wait you out, like by reading a magazine. He might try to make you forget about him, by going out to see a show and coming back later. Both of these are also allowed. He might challenge you to stump him with a trio of riddles, with his entry gained only should he answer all three riddles correctly. Allowed. He might return to the base he came from, or he might give up and go back to the dugout, or he might give up completely and just retire from the sport, as there’s a whole wide world out there for him. All of these are possible, and allowed. He would not, however, could not, touch the base, for you are blocking it entirely. You own the base; he has to come to you; if he doesn’t, you win. Pretty, pretty simple, guys.

Some fielder should try this, because the current strategy—leaving the base exposed and letting the runner dip dodge duck dive and dodge—has some weaknesses.


4. Slides As Skill
There are five tools: hit, field, run, power, throw. There are other skills that we recognize: patience, baserunning. We note behaviors, like hustle, and we note characteristics, like makeup. And we generally notice tendencies, like the pace a pitcher works at, or whether the catcher throws behind the runner a lot, or whether the center fielder plays shallow or deep, or whether the player is Yasiel Puig. So there might be two dozen cells in a pretty comprehensive spreadsheet evaluating a player. But there are, what, thousands of discrete actions that make up a baseball career. One of those discrete actions is sliding into home when you’re out by a mile. You don’t think this is a skill. This is a skill. And you’ll never guess who the Ted Williams of sliding into home when he’s out by a mile is.

It’s Justin Morneau! There were roughly three of these plays all season (so far as I could tell by scouring MLB.com highlights), where the runner went past the plate but managed to double back and tag home before the catcher tagged him. Two were Justin Morneau. You just never know what God made special about you.

3. Prince Fielder Slides
Okay, Sam. Let’s find us some Prince Fielder slides to round this out. Gonna find a great Prince Fielder slide, I know that much. The guy slides like a poorly constructed burrito, unraveling and spilling guacamole all over the field. So let’s head over to MLB.com’s video archives and dig into the Prince Fielder slides!

Search: Prince Fielder sliding

>no results<

Hmmm.

Search: Prince Fielder diving

>no results<

Search: Prince Fielder collision

>no results<

Search: Prince Fielder falling

>no results<

Search: Prince Fielder collapsing

>no results<

Search: Prince Fielder rolling

>no results<

Search: Prince Fielder tumbling

Results: Dustin Pedroia tags Victor Martinez for one, then tosses to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who gets the tag on a tumbling Prince Fielder

Gah that kills me. Here’s another angle, and just remember what you saw above: What you’re about to see is not a trip. This is his honest effort at locomoting himself toward a bag.

2. Faceful of Dirt Slides
There was no throw on the play.

1. Awkward Slides
The Kinsler slide very nearly won for awkwardest slide, until I noticed something about this Brett Lawrie slide that was even more awkward than Kinsler’s. More goofy. More silly. More stupid to look at. More flat-out insensitive to the nervous system. Can you spot it?

(The answer is: the umpire’s camouflage hat.)

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Sliding

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