Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Thumbs down on face-first sliding

'Instinctive' play often ends with injuries

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JOSH HAMILTON sprinted down the first-base line. He was going to salvage a hit out of the weakly hit ground ball. It's an amazing sight to see a player as large as Hamilton -- 6-4, 240 pounds -- running at that rate of speed.

As he approached the base, Hamilton launched himself headfirst toward the bag. His body slammed into the ground and his hands plowed into the base.

The extra effort provided no reward. Hamilton was still out. And now he's out for the next six to eight weeks.

He became the latest player to suffer an unnecessary injury from sliding headfirst into first base. It has become almost an annual tradition of flawed thinking. Hamilton jammed his hand into the base and tore a ligament in his thumb that required surgery.

"Sometimes, your instincts more than anything take over," Hamilton told reporters after the injury was announced. "I shouldn't have done it, probably. But I'm not going to say I won't do it again, because I'd be lying."

A week before, the Dodgers' mercurial outfielder, Yasiel Puig, also injured his thumb diving into first base. Puig has a collection of bad base-running decisions, but that may be his worst.

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon could only shake his head when asked about his philosophy on the play.

"We talk to them till we're blue in the face about it. We don't like it. It's a dangerous play. I think it's an instinctive type of play. They smell a hit, they want to get a hit and they don't think about what you are doing."

The instincts are wrong. It's actually been proven running through the bag is faster than diving for it.

An inning after Hamilton hurt himself, Michael Saunders also dived headfirst into first base. Though the circumstances and reasoning were slightly different than Hamilton.

Saunders had dropped a perfect bunt down the first-base line, trying to get a hit. As he sprinted to first, he thought the pitcher might try and flip the ball to the first baseman who would have to tag him to get him out. So he dived to avoid a possible tag that never came. Instead, he got a face full of dirt and an abrasion and some swelling under his right eye.

"So that didn't work out too well," he said. "I knew right away I did something. I just didn't know if I broke it open."

That will be the only situation where you see Saunders slide head first into first.

"I don't believe in it and it's just not the safest play," he said. "You'll never see me slide into first on a ground ball to third base or shortstop or second base," he said. "I won't slide to try and beat it out. Only to avoid a tag. You saw what happened to Hamilton."

LESTER TURNS DOWN LATEST OFFER: Jon Lester wants to stay in Boston. The Red Sox want to keep him. But he wants to stay there on his own terms and the team's latest contract offer isn't going to cut it.

According to multiple reports, the team offered Lester, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, a four-year extension between $70-$80 million. He declined the offer and asked for no further contract talks for the remainder of the season.


-- The Seattle Times


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2014 B11

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