Yankees

Sims: Breaking Down The Dangers Of The Headfirst Slide

Kinsler, Simmons Suffering From Injuries Sustained On Headfirst Slides
Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves slides headfirst into third ahead of the tag. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves slides headfirst into third ahead of the tag. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

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By Abby Sims
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What do Ian Kinsler and Andrelton Simmons have in common? They are both suffering from injuries which were sustained on headfirst slides. Kinsler is the more banged up of the two, though both injuries and the consequences that follow were eminently preventable.

Kinsler careened headfirst into third base and could have injured any number of body parts with his awkwardly reckless slide. Initially diagnosed as an intercostal strain, reports now indicate that Kinsler developed a stress reaction in his ribcage.  This only means that both injuries are likely in play.

The intercostal muscles are muscles that run between the ribs and help form the chest wall. They are most active in respiration. The stress-reaction diagnosis means that the ribs themselves are involved. The term stress reaction indicates disruption to the bone that is not sufficient enough to damage the outer shell (cortex); the latter would result in fracture. In weight-bearing bones, stress reactions are often referred to as “fatigue damage.”

Simmons sprained his left thumb last month sliding into second base. He clearly didn’t learn a lesson after losing two months following a headfirst slide in 2012 which resulted in a broken pinkie finger. Even worse, Simmons was quoted as saying that he has no plans to stop the practice because “it’s just how I feel faster.”  Well it may help him beat a tag now and then, but at what price?

Headfirst slides most commonly cause injury to the hands, head and upper body, while feet-first slides are more likely to cause traumatic injury to the lower extremities. It does seem that the headfirst method is more likely to land a player on the disabled list.

When four MLB players were injured from headfirst slides at the very start of the 2011 season, it appeared that there might be a push to get away from the practice.

Rafael Furcal fractured his thumb at third base, Josh Hamilton injured his shoulder at home plate, Yunel Escobar sustained a concussion trying to beat the tag on a triple and Ryan Zimmerman strained his abdominals diving for second. In only the third game of his college career in February of 2011, Arizona State outfielder Cory Hahn suffered a cervical spinal cord injury that has left him with limited use of his arms and paralysis from the chest down. A headfirst collision with the second baseman ended more than his baseball career.

The list goes on and on, with other repeat offenders including Chase Utley.

Studies have conflicted as to whether the headfirst slide even offers a speed advantage.  A 2002 study reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that there was no significant statistical difference in speed between the feet-first or headfirst slide.  This controlled field study addressed players at levels ranging from little league through college.

More recently, David Peters, a mechanical engineer and professor at Washington University in St. Louis, has purported that the headfirst slide does offer a speed advantage for a variety of reasons relating to math and physics. However, even he feels that it is faster to run through the base rather than slide into first.

Davey Lopes, a leading base-stealer of his era, was quoted some time ago by MLB.com as saying that he doesn’t understand why players slide headfirst.

“I always felt too many bad things can happen going headfirst,” Lopes said. “You see an infielder who knows you’re coming in headfirst, he puts his knee down to block the bag. It’s perfectly legal to do that. It’s not dirty. The runner has to know he’s vulnerable going headfirst. You go feet-first, not many infielders are going to drop a knee down, I guarantee you.”

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