You may have seen this scenario play out once or twice before – a batter hits a fair ball down the line and tries to turn his hit into a double. As he runs to second base, he slides feet first to avoid the tag and be called safe. If you’ve been around baseball enough, you know that runners typically have the option of sliding feet first or head first. So, why do baseball players often slide feet first?
The main reason baseball players slide feet first is to avoid injury. The alternative would be to slide head first, but baseball players can easily jam their fingers when sliding head first. Additionally, some baseball leagues go as far as banning head-first slides.
Stick around to learn more about why baseball players slide feet first toward their base.
1) Feet-First Slides Limit the Risk of Injuries
Diving feet first is less risky in terms of injury compared to diving head first. When diving head-first into a base, baseball players may become susceptible to injuries such as shoulder dislocation, thumb wounds, and other neck and spinal complications.
I’ve had a couple of jammed fingers from sliding into bases and I can tell you first-hand that those are never fun. That’s why I typically opt for sliding feet first into bases.
As an example, professional center fielder Mike Trout, who plays for the Los Angeles Angels, tore a ligament in his thumb when sliding head-first into second base. On the bright side, he got himself a stolen base.
Now, sliding feet first doesn’t necessarily mean these types of slides are completely safe. Subsequently, ankle and foot injuries could still be probable. Nevertheless, they’re much less dangerous compared to the ones brought on from a head slide.
Additionally, research has found that 1 in 249 head-first slides resulted in injury. In contrast, the rate of injury for feet slides was 1 in 413.
For one more example, the video below shows Yasiel Puig diving head-first into third base. This slide led to him limping off the field.
2) Some Leagues Ban Head-First Slides
Another reason why baseball players slide feet first is that in some regions, head-first slides are banned. In turn, players can get fined if seen doing a head slide.
The ban is mainly enacted to prevent injuries and provide a safer playing environment. That being said, the rule may not be particularly common in adult games. Instead, the ban is mainly practiced in Little League games.
According to the Little League’s website, head-first slides are not allowed. Head-first slides result in the runner being out and the ball remaining a live ball. However, Little League rules do allow baserunners to dive head-first when returning to a base.
3) Feet First Slides Provides Long-Term Benefits for the Team
In the long run, sliding feet first results in fewer injuries, which means players can play in more games.
Players who choose to dive head-first may become seriously injured. Even a thumb wound could cost a player one month’s worth of playing time.
Consequently, losing valuable players can set the team back. If the player initially used the feet-first technique, the risk of injury would’ve been a lot lower.
Statistically speaking, from 2011 to 2015, over 1,633 baseball slide-related injuries were recorded in the Major League and Minor League. These injuries resulted in over 4,263 days missed every season.
Over 25.3% of the wounds were hand and finger related. Additionally, 31.3% of those injuries needed a surgical operation.
4) Players Are Usually Taught to Slide Feet First
Growing up, I remember only being taught how to slide feet first. This technique ended up sticking with me throughout my baseball career and it’s the same one I use today.
Most baseball players are taught to slide feet first so it makes sense most players use the feet-first sliding technique.
The only caveat is that we were always taught to slide head first whenever we were heading back to a base, especially if a pitcher tries to pick you off.
Being taught to slide feet first also leads to another interesting question about which leg you should slide with. While most coaches will probably tell you to slide with whichever feels the best, there are some additional schools of thought around this topic.
I recommend reading my other article that covers the topic of which leg should you slide with.
Head First Slide Vs. Feet First Slide: Is There a Speed Difference?
The baseball community has seen lots of debate surrounding whether diving head or feet first is faster. Interestingly, physicians and experts have made arguments for both sides.
Most Believe a Head First Slide is Faster
At first glance, diving head first might seem faster than a player using their feet. The stretched-out hands are able to reach the base faster since they’re closer to the body’s center of gravity.
Physicists from the University of Washington, Alan Nathan and Dan Peters, believe that when you slide your feet, the center of gravity is contrastingly flung backward.
So it makes sense that a head-first slide is faster than a feet-first slide. Or is that actually the case?
Feet and Head Speed are Actually the Same Speed
Several arguments counter the ones provided by Peters and Nathan and state that diving feet first offers the same speed as diving head first.
The main culprit is friction. When a player slides headfirst into their base, their abdomen, anterior thighs, knees, and chest are making contact with the ground. Meanwhile, a feet-first dive only involves the buttocks and posterior thighs.
This means the feet-first slide maintains less surface area, which results in less friction. The reduced amount of friction provides baseball players with more speed. Therefore, a feet-first slide and a head-first slide are the same in terms of speed.
Baseball Players Choose the Slide they are Most Comfortable With
Baseball players often go with whatever they’re comfortable with. Some players like New York Yankees outfielder, Curtis Granderson, prefer feet first because he once hurt his hand in a head-first dive.
Nonetheless, Granderson goes on to say, “Into third, I think you get leaning a little bit, especially if it’s a triple,” “You get a little fatigued, you’re leaning forward and just momentum takes you down that way.”
At the end of the day, players just want to reach the bag as fast as they can. They may not have time to evaluate whether a head or feet dive is the best choice. The heat of the moment mainly decides it for them.
Know When to Slide in Baseball
While it’s important to distinguish between the benefits of a feet-first slide and a head-first slide, it’s also important for players to know exactly when they should slide.
This is especially true for youth players. Growing up, I remember doing everything I could to not slide, even though sliding was most likely the best option.
To better understand when you should slide, I recommend reading my quick guide on when to slide in baseball.