Steve Wulf has a very thought-provoking article over at ESPN in which he discusses the recent spate of diving-related injuries and possible solutions. On the list of players suffering base-related injuries are Nationals teammates Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.
The bases, Wulf writes, haven’t always been hard:
[…] it is worth noting that the base Jack Corbett was inserting into the diamond 70 years ago was much more pliable. So was the base Pete Rose was reaching out for when he first popularized the headfirst slide. Over the years, as the convenience of rubber took precedence over the safety of canvas and plastic, the bases have become harder while the players diving and running into them have become bigger and faster.
The bases used today are known as Jack Corbett Hollywood Bases. They’re hard to move with the physical movements natural to baseball players, but easy to take away if you’re a groundskeeper.
What’s incredible is that, as far back as 40 years ago, a safer base was created and scored high marks in a two-year study performed by Dr. David Janda of the Preventive Sports Medicine Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The base, called the Rogers Break Away Base, had three sections which included a base top which snapped on to rubber grommets connected to a base plate. According to the study, injuries were reduced by 98 percent and healthcare costs related to the injuries declined by 99 percent.
Why wouldn’t baseball immediately fund and implement safer bases? Two groups: umpires and groundskeepers. Umpires worry that changing the bases will affect their ability to correctly make calls. Though, with the addition of instant replay, this concern may be a moot point. Groundskeepers like the current bases because they’re very easy to pop in and out.
But umpires and groundskeepers aren’t responsible for the billions of dollars the sport generates. Fans don’t buy tickets to watch Joe West umpire or Jeffrey the Groundskeeper spritz water on the field before the game. They don’t buy jerseys with umpire Bob Davidson’s last name on the back.
Players, managers and coaches, and front office personnel all have problems with the bases as they stand now. In Wulf’s article, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said, “I’m all for a new base.” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said that the Hollywood Bases are “from hell as far as I’m concerned.” Rays GM Andrew Friedman said, “There’s 0 percent that the bases can’t be improved [upon].”
Per Wulf, newer, safer bases could be tested in the minor leagues or in the Arizona Fall League. Positive results and reactions could spur the joint safety committee and the MLB players association to reexamine the sport’s use of the hard base.
I’ve paraphrased a lot, but go read Wulf’s article. There’s a ton to learn in there.