Update (10:37 PM, September 11): Bastian reports that Zimmer will undergo surgery as Zimmer suffered a broken fourth metacarpal on the dive attempt. The Indians don’t have a timetable for his recovery yet, but he will very likely miss the rest of the regular season, if not the playoffs.
Update (11:46 PM ET): Per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Zimmer suffered a broken bone in his left hand on the slide. He’ll be examined by a doctor on Monday.
Indians outfielder Bradley Zimmer tried his hardest to beat out a routine ground ball in the bottom of the seventh inning, diving head-first into first base, but he was ultimately called out. Zimmer was shaken up on the play and he needed attention from the team trainer to examine his hand. He initially stayed in the game but he was taken out before the top of the eighth.
Every so often, we hear about a player suffering an injury hustling to first base trying to turn an out into a hit. Sometimes, it works and the player gets a hit out of it. Sometimes, it goes really wrong and the player suffers a serious injury like a broken finger or wrist. Is the risk worth the reward? Unless it’s Game 7 of the World Series, probably not. And even then, from the player’s perspective, still probably not because he could be potentially costing himself millions of dollars and multiple years on a contract. Teams don’t like to make heavy commitments to injured/injury-prone players.
Back in 2012, then-Dodgers first base coach Davey Lopes — one of the greatest base runners of all time — said of former major leaguer Nick Punto’s propensity to dive into first base, “I wouldn’t teach it,” J.P. Hoornstra reported. John Brenkus also proved for ESPN many years ago that it’s better to run through the bag as opposed to diving.
In Zimmer’s situation, his team was in the midst of an historic 17-game winning streak (now 18) and is battling the Astros for the best record in the league. Games are very meaningful right now, so it’s understandable why he’d push his pedal to the metal. But he also recently came off of the seven-day concussion disabled list after injuring his head attempting to make a catch on Setpember 2. Is a single in a game his team was already leading 3-2 worth it compared to the Indians potentially losing him for the stretch run when the club is already missing Michael Brantley? Oftentimes, the motivations of a team is at odds with a player’s best interest, but here, the Indians very much want to keep Zimmer healthy. They would have traded that single and even the continuation of their winning streak in order to make that happen, for sure.
The blame here lies in the “hustle” culture of sports. In baseball, we publicly ostracize players who appear to take it easy on a routine grounder or pop-up and humiliate them in the very rare instance in which a fielder misplays one of those otherwise routine outs. But those who “dog it” have it right: turning the occasional ground out or fly out into a single (or, more rarely, a double) isn’t worth potentially winding up on the 10-day disabled list with a pulled hamstring, a dislocated finger, or a concussion. If I’m in the front office or the coaching staff of a baseball team, one of the first things I’m stressing early in spring training is that it is not okay to dive into first base under any circumstances unless it’s Game 7 of the World Series and the score is close.
The Indians should have more information on Zimmer’s status on Monday. In the meantime, Zimmer is very likely regretting his decision to put in some extra effort. As Allan F. Mogensen said in the 1930’s, “Work smarter, not harder.”