I know it’s in vogue in some baseball circles to bash concepts like grit. But as a little leaguer with no other appreciable skills, I like guys with grit and hustle. And while I wouldn’t trade a superior player for an inferior yet “grittier” one, there’s a certain appeal to players who play hard.

Though it certainly took its toll on Grady Sizemore and robbed him of what should have been a spectacular career, the way he ran out every grounder or dove for every baseball was admirable (though I was much less a fan of his propensity to slam into outfield walls, which I’ll get to in a second). But talent being equal, hustle and grit still has its limitations – the biggest being that you actually have to be on the field to use it. Those attributes do little good in the training room.

There’s a basic risk/reward factor to throwing your body around. Sizemore’s fearlessness around outfield fences is one example where the risk was not worth the reward. Another was Lou Marson blocking the plate and getting steamrolled in Tampa last weekend. And Sunday we saw yet another, Michael Bourn’s head first slide into first.

The head first slide into first base is seen as one of those gritty, give it your all, do anything to win plays, especially at that point in the game when the Indians really needed a base runner. On the other hand, it’s always dangerous to slide headfirst into any base, and downright stupid to do it at first base. I would gladly trade the hit for an out in that situation if it keeps Bourn in the lineup.

I’m not arguing that sliding into a base isn’t  faster, though one of the biggest reasons for this is because players don’t have to give up so much momentum to slow down so they can bring themselves to stop at the base. Not a problem at first where you can fly down the line. But even if sliding head first into first was always a split second faster, in the course of 162 games is it worth the risk for any player, let alone one of your big free agent prizes? I don’t think so. (Not to mention increasing the chances for collisions with the first baseman or even the umpire if he’s out of position.)

Unlike home plate collisions, the head first slide into first seems like a more recent phenomenon and not one of those “how the game has always been played” things. Both plays, of course, are as likely to get players hurt as they are to get them a positive outcome in the game.

Luckily for the Tribe, Bourn suffered a cut and not a dislocated or broken finger that would have kept him out of action a lot longer – and in my inexpert medical opinion those always seem to be the kind of injuries that can derail an entire year because they never seem to heal quite right during the season. Still, with five stitches, who knows how long Bourn might have to sit out. And Marson is lucky he “only” had neck pain rather than the torn ACL Carlos Santa experienced a few years ago in his own home plate collision.

The point is, the Indians have had guys hurt already this season on two plays that MLB should simply outlaw for the players own good. I know it’s a player’s choice to block the plate or dive into first on a ground out, but if baseball is serious about making the game safer, sometimes players need to be protected from themselves. For example, even with the ugly affair in San Diego last week, MLB is doing much better at eliminating (or at least reducing) those on purpose beanings (see Carrasco, Carlos) and the brawls they often lead to.  I wish they would take the same approach with action on the basepaths as well.

(Follow Matt on Twitter @mhutton722)

9 Comments

  • Vince says:

    Let’s just stop sliding all together! The Jose Reyes wouldn’t have gotten hurt! This is a ridiculous article, Home plate collisions don’t happen all that often, same with sliding into first base. it was a freak accident that’s all it was, The NFL is becoming a flag football league, and now you want baseball to go down the same path. While were at it lets outlaw the fastball from a pitchers arsenal because a batter might get hurt if he is hit by it. Injuries happen when you give full effort in a physically demanding sport, no amount of rules is going to change that, but keep it up and sports itself will change. And not for the better!

    • Mary Jo says:

      Eliminate sliding. Ban fastballs. How about hockey helmets for pitchers? Bet David Huff would have wanted that rule.

      You want to make the game safe? Let’s watch games online with the 18 players competing by playing PS3′s MLB13 The Show. Only thing that might get hurt that way is the guys’ thumbs.

      I would think any professional sports player knows the risks inherent in the game he plays and is willing to accept them. Don’t go overboard with turning all sports into cupcake events.

  • Glenn says:

    Great post, Matt. Grady was always my favorite, largely because of how he played. But your point is well taken. Baseball has outlawed the home plate collision at many levels. They need to do it at the professional level, too. Removing this play will take nothing away from the skill and excitement of the game – and everything to protect players from serious injury.

  • Chris Burnham says:

    I still have vivid memories of Kenny wrecking his shoulder upon sliding into first.

  • medfest says:

    If you don’t want home plate collisions then enforce the rule that states the catcher can’t block the plate without the ball.
    The catcher is the only player who stands in the base line on purpose to receive a ball for a tag play,that’s where the worst collisions occur.
    I’ve NEVER seen this called in a MLB game,seen it called a few times at college games and quite a bit in high school.
    Bang ,bang plays happen(like Marson’s) and are part of the game,do you really want to play “slide or give up” in the majors?

    I thought Bourn actually made the smart move avoiding the collision with the far larger Thornton,until the lummox trod on his digit.Getting spiked sucks,but the hand/fingers has got to be the worst spot to get spiked.

  • The Doctor says:

    Ugh, here I was hoping that Francona wouldn’t be crazy enough to bat Stubbs leadoff with Bourn out. Then I see today’s lineup.

    The guy just can’t get on base – why he was ever allowed to bat leadoff in Cincy can only be explained away by Dusty Baker’s refusal to rely on anything besides his ol’ baseball eye to figure things out. But Francona – why? Surely he is smarter than Baker, but then again, he’s had no problem keeping rallykiller Cabrera in the 2-hole so far this season…

  • tdaddy says:

    I can understand some of the views of your article Matt and of those who replied with their opinions. I just can’t forget Ray Fosse and how his career was changed after that All Star game collision with Pete Rose. Sliding into first base I never understood.

  • Nicole says:

    I suppose it depends on whether you want to watch your players play, well and healthy, all year or whether you want to leave those decisions up to the players’ instincts.

    Either way, I’d say that these need to be manager-level rather than MLB-level decisions.

    Well-written article.