Managers generally discourage players from sliding headfirst at first base and home plate, but there are exceptions depending on the particular play. The widespread feeling is that major leaguers should make their own decisions in the moment and that injuries are an inevitable part of the game.
“A lot of what we do on the field is instinctual, not instructional,” said A. J. Hinch, the Astros’ manager.
At the minor league level, where there are many more teams and a correspondingly higher number of sliding injuries, the Angels require players who tend to slide headfirst to wear thumb guards, Manager Mike Scioscia said. In the past, the Astros removed minor leaguers from games if they slid headfirst into first or home.
Players in Pittsburgh’s farm system who have injured their hands, fingers or shoulders can be fined for sliding headfirst. So can players who tend to rely more on brawn than speed.
But, said Larry Broadway, the Pirates’ director of minor league operations: “Typically, you don’t really get to that point. Guys know that if they’re not supposed to, they don’t do it.”
Major leaguers who prefer to slide headfirst say it is easier to avoid tags and to remain on the bag with their hands rather than with their feet. Many also say it feels faster to slide headfirst.
The theory is that outstretched hands extend farther than feet ahead of the body’s center of gravity, located in the pelvic area and the reference point for velocity. Thus, headfirst slides should reach the bag slightly quicker. The difference might be two-hundredths of a second, the equivalent of a few inches, which can make the difference between being safe or out. But sliding involves many variables, and the available science is contradictory.
“It’s not completely obvious you will always get there quicker one way or the other,” said Alan M. Nathan, a retired physicist at the University of Illinois who studies the physics of baseball. “My take from the experiments is that it’s so close, on average, it’s a wash.”
In any case, both Trout and Bryant said in interviews they would continue to slide headfirst.
“It was a freak thing,” Trout said of his injury. “After your first slide, you tend to forget about it. I’m not going to switch.”
Bryant said before a game against the White Sox: “There are ways to maneuver your hands so they can’t tag you. But with me sliding feet first, my feet are big, my legs…