JOHN DOHERTY: Diving belongs in a pool, not on the diamond
Forrest Gump was right. Stupid is as stupid does. Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton offers the latest proof.
You would think he learned his lesson in 2011 when a headfirst slide into home resulted in a fractured right humerus (upper arm bone). At the time, the 2010 AL MVP admitted, “It was a stupid play.”
Yet, there he was a week ago, sliding headfirst into first base trying to beat out an infield grounder. Naturally — for reasons I will explain in a moment — he was out. And out he will remain, for another 6-8 weeks, after surgery for a ruptured ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb.
Explaining why he did something that makes NO sense, Hamilton said, “It’s just part of who I am.” Apparently, that’s the part lacking any understanding of simple physics.
To keep propelling yourself forward, you must keep moving your legs. The moment you stop moving your legs, you start slowing down. If sliding — head first or feet first — would help you get the last few feet of a measured run faster, you would see Olympic sprinters diving across the finish line. Be sure to let me know the next time you see that.
The rules of baseball allow overrunning first base and home plate. The only time you can justify sliding into either is to avoid a tag. Not the case for Hamilton last week. The first baseman was not pulled off the bag by the throw.
If a slide had been necessary, it should have been feet first. The bones and ligaments of the leg, because they bear weight all the time, are much stronger than those of the arm.
Throw in the anchored bases to which MLB stubbornly clings and you are begging for torn ligaments and broken bones. In contrast, breakaway bases, which reduce sliding injuries by 80 percent to 90 percent, are allowed in the minor leagues, college, high school, and youth baseball.
If Hamilton’s latest injury isn’t enough evidence to stop headfirst slides — and allow breakaway bases — then consider another star player similarly lost. Washington third baseman Ryan Zimmerman will be out 4-6 weeks after breaking his right thumb trying to avoid being picked off of second base on Saturday. Going headfirst rather than feet first to avoid the tag was of no benefit in this instance. Zimmerman was still out.
Perhaps more understandable but every bit as dangerous as the headfirst slide is the diving catch.
When the White Sox gave up ace Jake Peavy last year in a three-way trade with the Red Sox and Tigers, the pay-off was supposed to be young slugger Avisail Garcia. On Wednesday, the 22-year-old outfielder dove for a sinking line drive. He didn’t come up with ball but he did tear the labrum in his left shoulder, requiring season-ending surgery.
In the aftermath, White Sox manager Robin Ventura talked about not wanting to change the way Garcia plays the game. But diving rather than not diving has completely changed the way Garcia plays the game. He isn’t playing at all.
John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.