Davey Lopes On Head-First Sliding
With all the ballyhoo about Jose Reyes’ headfirst slide into third last night and the ensuing discussion about whether it’s safer / smarter / faster to slide head- or feet-first, here are some interesting points.
First, a mechanical engineer came to the conclusion that sliding head-first was faster.
Though, other researchers — including a physicist — saw no significant difference between the two methods.
But what about the opinion of someone who has actually been on a baseball field and done some sliding? Here is what Davey Lopes — one of the all-time great basestealers — had to say in an article published on MLB.com a few weeks back:
“I never slid headfirst, ever. Nowadays they all do,” said Lopes, who stole 557 bases in his 16-year playing career. “Back in the day, only slow guys did it. Maybe now it’s because of swimming pools. Kids learn to dive headfirst. That’s the only thing I can think of. I remember the first guys I would define as basestealers to do it were Frank Taveras and Omar Moreno. Later on, Rickey [Henderson] would do it, but sometimes he’d also go feet-first.
“For me it was more natural to slide feet-first. That’s the way we were taught. It was the safest way. … Not that you can’t get hurt feet-first, but it’s easier to get hurt headfirst.”
Anytime Frank Taveras and Omar Moreno get mentioned in the 21st century, you know it’s a great quote.
Now, what about changing a player’s style? Said Lopes:
“Nowadays, I would never try to change a kid. They are conditioned to go headfirst, and it would mean a real change,” said Lopes. “You’d have to work on it on a daily basis. A lot of it would be psychological. You’re taught that when in doubt, slide. But you don’t want somebody thinking in the middle of it, ‘Do I go feet-first or headfirst?’ You’d have to work with them, have their cleats off so they aren’t worried about catching a spike and rolling over and breaking an ankle.
“But I always felt too many bad things can happen going headfirst. 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.”
What do you think? Should Reyes — and other players — continue to go head-first or feet-first? Battle it out in the comments.