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When “Safe” isn’t Safe—What You Need to Know About Baseball Sliding Injuries

June 06, 2014

Those of us who grew up watching Pete Rose play baseball in his prime will recall this common scene:

Pete, or “Charlie Hustle” as he was known on the field, comes flying past the shortstop and makes a dramatic headfirst dive—arms outstretched—just barely beating the ball to third base as the umpire calls, “Safe!”

This happened hundreds of times during Pete’s career, and the sliding trend that he popularized has now become the norm for players of all ages and skill sets—from Little League all the way to the majors.

Sure, the goal of every baserunner is to be called “safe” by the umpire—but is the seemingly simple act of sliding actually safe for athletes? While sliding might improve your chances of getting on base, it also presents some heightened injury risks.

A recent ESPN article shed light on an emerging trend amongst Major League Baseball (MLB) players—slide induced injuries. This season alone, top flight players such as Bryce Harper, Yasiel Puig and more than a half-dozen others have incurred lacerations, broken bones, joint dislocations, and ligament strains and tears—all from sliding into or making contact with a base or a fielder.

If sliding injuries can occur to the best players in the world, they can certainly happen during your rec league softball game or your child’s Little League or high school game. In fact, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, more than 400,000 Americans are treated for baseball-related injuries each year. Many of those injuries are slide-related.

While baseball is commonly known as a non-contact sport, the risk of collision is certainly not minimal. Some of the most serious injuries are caused due to contact with a ball, a bat, another player or a base. Yes, even the seemingly harmless base, which is made of hard rubber and anchored deep into the ground, can cause serious injuries that require months of treatment and rehabilitation.

Tips for Preventing Baseball Sliding Injuries

As the Assistant Team Physician for the Washington Nationals, a member of the USA Baseball Medical & Safety Committee, and a member of the STOP Sports Injuries Outreach & Education Committee, I work with players, parents, coaches and athletic trainers to reinforce the importance of proper baseball sliding technique. Here are some helpful tips that you can apply in your own life or teach to your children to help avoid a serious injury:
  • Always take time to stretch and warm up properly. This will help you avoid lower body ligament injuries while maintaining flexibility and strength.
  • It is important that proper sliding technique is taught and practiced before using an actual base.
  • Always practice with a sliding bag first. Once the player has learned the correct technique, gradually move to a breakaway base and then, if your league requires it, to a standard, anchored base.
  • Players under the age of 10 should not be taught to slide.
  • When coming into home plate, the baserunner should attempt to slide safely in order to avoid a collision with the catcher.
  • The obstruction rule should always be taught and observed. It is dangerous to get in the way of the runner or block the base without possession of the ball because it could cause serious injury to both the baserunner and the fielder.
  • If league rules allow it, use separate bases for the runner and the fielder to help prevent foot and ankle injuries.
  • Always wear the appropriate footwear. Your cleats should have enough traction to help avoid slippage, but not so much that they can get caught in the turf or injure another player.
  • Know what equipment your league (or your child’s league) is using, and be sure to have a thorough understanding of league rules.
In every situation, prevention is always the best treatment. Together, we can make sliding safer—but it takes an athlete’s entire influence circle to make a difference. The athlete, parents, coach, team personnel and doctors all need to be dedicated to preventing injuries together.

To learn more about injury prevention in baseball, visit the STOP Sports Injuries website.