Should MLB opt for safer bases to reduce sliding-related injuries?

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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.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.