- Associated Press - Friday, May 18, 2012

Taking batting practice and infield practice are rituals in baseball.

Sliding practice? Not so much.

Ask a player at the highest levels of the game when he last rehearsed the art of getting down and dirty on the base paths, and he’ll probably tell you he can’t remember. Some might tell you never.

Even if done right, sliding is one of the most common causes of injuries in the game. It’s an assumed risk.

Still, former major-leaguer Darin Erstad said sliding is something he probably should address more now that he’s head coach at Nebraska.

“As I was brought up, it wasn’t even talked about,” he said. “I can count on one hand how many times in spring training we broke out the sliding mat and slid. You just got to base as quick as you could.”

The great debate is whether sliding feet-first or headfirst is more efficient.

Ty Cobb was known for going in with cleats up. Base-stealing stars such as Maury Wills, Lou Brock and Davey Lopes were feet-first guys. Pete Rose came along and popularized the headfirst slide. All-time steals leader Rickey Henderson went headfirst, as do many of today’s top stealers.

Baseball people say a player always should go feet-first into home and first base because of the risk for head, shoulder, wrist and hand injuries. But because there are varying circumstances _ from the angle the runner is leaning to the position of the defensive player _ it’s not uncommon for headfirst slides to occur in any circumstance.

Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees said he has scraped up his hand sliding headfirst into home and tries to avoid it. Same goes for diving into first base.

“Into third, I think you get leaning a little bit, especially if it’s a triple,” he said. “You get a little fatigued, you’re leaning forward and just momentum takes you down that way.”

Two years ago, Minnesota’s Justin Morneau suffered a concussion sliding into second base against Toronto. Baltimore’s Brian Roberts got one going headfirst into first base last year and Texas slugger Josh Hamilton broke his right arm going in the same way to home.

Arizona State’s Cory Hahn was left paralyzed from the chest down last season after going into second base headfirst. He fractured a vertebra in his neck when his head struck the knee of New Mexico’s second baseman.

Hahn said he typically preferred to slide feet-first, but was leaning forward and would have had to slow down to adjust his stride to go in feet-first.

“I feel feet-first is safer, and I feel you can get hurt regardless,” Hahn said. “It’s one of those things where if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time _ and everything has to go wrong for something to happen _ you can get injured.”

Story Continues →