Friday, April 11, 2014

One Thumb Ligament Equals Two Feet

Everybody repeat it with me: headfirst slides into first base are dumb.

The latest casualty? Josh Hamilton, who ripped up his thumb's internal workings and will be out a couple of months as a result. This is not a new thing for Hamilton, who is making something of a second career out of doing dumb things early in the season that get him hurt, but it's a bad thing for the Angels, who were enjoying his small sample size return to form in hopes that he'd help them return to relevance.

Instead, this.

Look, I understand that diving into first base feels faster. It looks faster - flying is faster than running, right? And it certainly has that awesome gritty "going all out for the team" vibe for it. But the thing is, when you're sliding into first base, you're losing speed through friction. You're getting to the bag slower. Or, for the kids who still aren't getting it, you're more likely to be called out. Which, according to the rules of the game I learned as a kid, is bad.

This is not helping the ball club. This is not helping win games. This is pointless macho that hurts the ball club, and too often hurts the player as well, even if it's slightly more likely to end up on SportsCenter as evidence you're trying really hard.

You know what works better than trying really hard? Running really fast. Specifically, running fast through first base, like the rules say you're allowed to, because that way you keep up your maximum velocity all the way down the line. 

You know what else works better than trying really hard? Not jamming your thumb up against the bag with your entire body weight and a ton of momentum so that the rubber bands that are your ligaments go "sproing" and keep you from playing baseball for a good long while.

That being said, I expect when Hamilton comes off the DL, he'll do the same dumb thing all over again, because he feels like he should. He'll talk about how this was just him trying to help the team and play hard, and some folks will eat that stuff up with a spoon* because, hey, it plays good to the "long time listener, first time caller" crowd. 

And in another couple of years, or months, or weeks, we'll have this same discussion all over again.

*MLB Network's Harold Reynolds boldly stepped into the breach on that one, gamely trying to demonstrate on Thursday night's studio broadcast why diving into first base is faster and better than running to first base, and how everyone is doing it wrong. Harold, bless his heart, has approximately the same grasp of physics as your average Magellanic penguin, as he feels that A)watching side-by-side footage of Brett Gardner running to first base and diving into it and having a feeling that diving is faster constitutes "proof" B)suggests that leaning makes you faster and C)claims that Michael Phelps' proper poolside technique and sprinters leaning forward at the tape are proof that diving into first base is faster. He does, however, want to make it clear: one should dive through first base, rather than into it. 
Harold Reynolds is paid an awful lot of money to say things like this. Words fail me.
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