|Injuries Like Hamilton’s Will Continue||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on April 19, 2011
It’s a shame playing baseball with passion and intensity sometimes results in injury.
Several years ago, Derek Jeter cut his face diving into the stands to grab a foul ball. Last summer, Jason Bay suffered a concussion in Los Angeles after crashing into the outfield wall to make a catch. Twins’ newly acquired shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka broke his leg after standing his ground on a double-play attempt this year.
The play unfolded strangely. With one out, Adrian Beltre hit a foul pop-up near the third base dugout. Tigers’ third baseman Brandon Inge and catcher Victor Martinez both went for the ball. Inge caught it, but Hamilton saw nobody covering home plate and took off.
Inge gave Martinez and easy flip, and V-Mart dove in to apply the tag to a sliding Hamilton on a bang-bang play. Not only was Hamilton out at home, but the force of the tag and the slide broke his arm.
At first, Hamilton attacked his third base coach for sending him on that play, saying it was a “dumb” decision. He later rescinded these comments and put the blame on himself. With no one covering home, the third base coach felt Hamilton had the speed to beat Martinez in a foot-race, and he almost did.
Well, what’s done is done, and the Rangers will be without their All Star slugger for six to eight weeks.
There’s an old baseball adage that applies perfectly to this situation: “Never slide headfirst into home.” Baseball people feel it’s too risky and can result in injury, similar to the Hamilton scenario.
The catcher is equipped with padding, and if he lands on the runner awkwardly, it’s a precursor to injury. A runner’s hands are exposed, and all is takes is the catcher to step on the runner’s fingers with metal spikes for a significant injury to occur.
Catchers have also mastered the art of blocking the plate. As a result, a player looking to slide headfirst into home will almost inevitably make some sort of contact with the catcher.
Several acceptable slides exist around home plate. First, runners always look to slide feet first whenever possible. Even if the catcher is trying to block the plate, the force created by a feet first slide may cause the catcher to lose balance, thus increasing the runner’s chances of being safe.
Recently, the hook slide has become popular. The runner takes an outside route to the plate and goes into a feet-first slide. The player’s momentum takes him past home plate, but just far enough so that he can reach out with his left arm to touch home safely. This slide is successful if the throw to the plate draws the catcher forward, which creates a lane to the back part of home.
When in doubt, a runner is allowed to barrel into the catcher. If there is no malicious intent, it’s a legal play and may do the job of dislodging the ball. However, this is another play that may lead to injury. Though the runner would be coming home with tons of force, the padding of the catcher can neutralize that force instantly.
Other than these, the final option is to slide headfirst. As in the case of Hamilton, when the throw pushes the catcher to the right of home plate, it creates a lane on the left side, which is basically the fair territory in front of the plate. The runner dives headfirst with his right arm extended in an attempt to swipe the plate and elude the tag.
The idea then for the runner would be to make contact with the plate and immediately maneuver out of harm’s way. This is much easier said than done.
So now back to Hamilton. He’s always been the type of player who will do anything to help his team win, including sliding headfirst into home. He made the right slide given the situation, and it’s unfortunate that the result will cost him almost two months.
Other players can learn from Hamilton about playing the game the right way and taking no prisoners. So many players today are worried about their contracts that they won’t go the extra mile for the good of the team. The game needs more players like Hamilton, who refuses to play the game scared.
The Texas Rangers will attempt to move on without their star player for the next two months. Texas will need Hamilton down the stretch, so a speedy recovery is all they can hope for.
As for the debate about sliding headfirst into home, the players who desperately want to score that run will stop at nothing from arriving home safely, regardless of the injury risks involved.