Jacoby Ellsbury

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.

Claire Smith becomes the first woman to win the BBWAA’s Spink Award

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ESPN
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The Baseball Writers Association of America has elected Claire Smith the winner of the 2017 J.G. Taylor Spink Award. She becomes the first woman to be given baseball writing’s highest honor. She will be honored with the award that is presented annually to a sportswriter “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing” during Hall of Fame inductions in Cooperstown on July 30.

Smith, 62, covered the New York Yankees for five years beginning in 1983 for the Hartford Courant before becoming a columnist with the New York Times. She later served as an editor and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1998-2007. She is now ESPN’s news editor of remote productions, responsible for the integration of news and analysis in live game broadcasts and the Baseball Tonight and Sports Center studio programs. She is a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and winner of three New York Times Publishers’ Awards.

Smith was named Sports Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists in 1997, received the Mary Garber Pioneer Award from the Association of Women in Sports Media in 2000 and the Sam Lacy Award at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame in 2010. She has served on the Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee and was the chair of the New York chapter of the BBWAA in 1995 and 1996.

There will be Under Armour logos on the front of baseball uniforms

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Under Armour
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Yesterday’s announcement that Under Armour will be taking over the MLB uniform business brought with it an added bit of news: for the first time, beginning in 2020, baseball uniforms will feature the maker’s logo on the front of the jersey. From Paul Lukas of UniWatch:

While the Majestic logo has appeared on MLB sleeves, the Under Armour logo will be appearing on the upper-right chest area.

Lukas has a bunch of Photoshopped images of MLB players wearing uniforms with UA logos on it to give us a sense of how it will likely look.

It’s certainly weird and in some cases even a bit jarring. It would be my preference not to see baseball uniforms go this route as I think they’re aesthetically pleasing parts of the game in and of themselves. But it’s inevitable. If there is a chance for leagues and sponsors to make money and if it doesn’t cause them to lose fans (i.e. lose money) they will take it. You can say you’ll give up baseball if they put corporate logos — including paid advertisements, not just the logos of the companies which make the gear — but you’re lying to yourself about that. You and I will complain and grumble and then we’ll get used to it. At some point, after a couple of years, we’ll start talking about which ads look better and which ones look worse and applaud particularly savvy and pleasing looking logos.

As I wrote back in April when the NBA approved ads on uniforms, there may even be a bright side to all of this.

Sports teams have had it both ways for a long time. They’ve worked to make a buck off of anything that isn’t nailed down all the while pretending to be something greater than any other business. They play on our nostalgia and our loyalty in order to portray themselves as something akin to a public trust or institution, entitling themselves to perks no other businesses get and the avoidance of regulation. By turning players into walking billboards, perhaps the four major North American sports will inadvertently make some folks realize that they are just businesses and that they aren’t deserving of such special treatment.

I’m not holding my breath about that, but anything that takes away even a bit of the faux public trust luster that sports leagues and teams use to manipulate their fans is a good thing. Maybe it’ll make, say, the Yankees or the Dodgers look less venerable and sharp. But maybe it’ll remind people that they’re just business units of a $10 billion industry, not some fourth branch of government or whatever.