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May 9, 2014

Pebble Hunting

Starling Marte and the Upside of Headfirst Slides

by Sam Miller


Someday, when you’re telling your grandkids about baseball in your day, you might have to explain what headfirst sliding was. Whether a player will continue to slide head-first now qualifies as a low-grade controversy (at least if the player is good enough). The Astros reportedly outlawed it for their minor leaguers for a time, pulling players from the game if they led with their fingers instead of their toes. The Braves teach their prospects not to slide headfirst, and the Indians lecture theirs. “I don't like headfirst slides,” said Houston manager Bo Porter last week, perhaps unintentionally putting a spotlight on headfirsting prospect George Springer. “I really don’t like headfirst slides.”

Or, someday, when you’re telling your grandkids about baseball in your day, you might have to explain what feet-first sliding was. There are two ways this sort of thing can go. Everybody can caution up and decide that the three-month injury is practically never worth the extra out. Or, as the game gets faster, stronger, even more lucrative, even more competitive, it can go the other way: Feet-firsters could be seen as less gritty, less fiery, less interested in winning. “Headfirst slides are much more prevalent than they ever have been,” Mike Scioscia said last week. “Maybe now it's because of swimming pools,” suggests Davey Lopes, confusingly. Runners slide headfirst more and, it’s this writer’s sense, those slides are faster, cheaper, and out of controllier than ever. While teams want to protect their investments, it's hard to think of an example of players ever choosing the cautious, healthy option, especially when the alternative might help them win. In 50 years, I’d expect, the headfirst slide will be eradicated. Or the headfirst slide will be the only slide we see, and it will be at least 35 percent more physically stressful than the headfirst slides of today.

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Related Content:  Starling Marte,  Sliding,  Headfirst Slides

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