MLB: Legal to Slide in First?

Is it legal to slide into first base, and if not, why? If so, why don’t you ever see it in MLB? - Jinx

You see it every so often. I saw it a few weeks ago at a Cincinnati Reds game. Why you don’t see it more often is because it’s mostly, well, stupid.

The main reason to slide into a base is to avoid a tag. You don’t ever need to be tagged to get put out at first, so there’s never a tag to avoid (if you go past first and then have to scramble back, that a different story). So why would you slow yourself down from running full bore to drag yourself along the ground sliding into first base?

Some players either forget that they’re going to first, or for some reason believe they’ll get there faster if they slide, so they do it anyway. I remember a play (but can’t remember his name - but he was probably a Cleveland Indian) messed up his shoulder pretty bad sliding headfirst into first base.

I think this has come up before…

As far as I know it is perfectly legal and if you watch enough games you will eventually see someone try to slide into first. I have seen many headfirst dive/slides into first.

The reason you don’t see it that often is because the runner is trying to beat the ball to first and is allowed to overrun the bag as long as he doesn’t make a turn towards second. Since most people can run faster than they can slide, there is no reason to slide into first.

I’m no MLB scholar, but to my knowledge, it is legal, and I’ve seen it happen occasionally. I think the issue is this: why would you want to? Sliding wouldn’t make you go any faster than running, so why do it? You slide into other bases to avoid the tag and to avoid overrunning the bag - two problems you don’t have on your initial run to first.

About the only time you’ll see a batter-runner sliding into first is when the throw to first is off and the defender is going to have to try to apply the tag because he doesn’t have enough time to get to the base for the force out. And, of course, the batter-runner has to have the presence of mind to realize that the throw is off—I think about the only clue he would get is the first baseman stepping forward off the bag to field the throw.

a) If sliding is not faster, then why slide at all? Low profile?
b) Has anyone tried sliding and c ome up short???

  • Jinx

Er… It’s been mentioned several times already that you slide to a) avoid the tag and b) avoid overrunning the base.

Oh, and sometimes c) trip up the defender at second to break up a double play. I’ve seen slides at second that don’t even go near the bag—they go straight for the guy trying to turn the DP.

I don’t follow your logic…doesn’t that prove that IT IS really faster? Many above said it is not faster, afterall. From your argument, it appears it could very well be desireable to slide into first base to beat the ball…even if it is a forced out…if the ball flies past the infield. It is your slide vs. the speed of the throw. And, what if your slide knocks the fielder’s foot off the bag? (And, can one slide “spikes-first”?)

In short, it is not clear to me whether sliding is faster or not…

  • Jinx

It’s not. Avoiding the tag is not the same as getting there faster. The fielder’s hand takes longer to get to ground level than hand level, so by sliding you give yourself an extra second. If it’s a force out you’re better off running all the way.

Sliding is not faster, but it decreases the area that the defender has to tag. The hands, head, or feet (yes you can slide “spikes-first,”) are much smaller targests than, say, the entire torso if the runner comes in standing up. Plus, the throw is often high, and with a slide the defender has to come a relatively long way down to make the tag. Those seconds can make a big difference in baseball.

Thanks, folks, for the details. i suppose those coached in the sport understand these finer points as those few seconds can make you or break you! - Jinx

No, there is NEVER a tag play at first. By definition there can’t be.

Slides are considerably slower to the bag (2nd, 3rd, home plate) because the direction of motion changes in mid-stream (forward to down) and the player loses some momentum to the ground through friction. What it DOES do is, as you said, both reduce the ‘target’ and bring the runner in at an unpredictable angle. Those two things may help. But not at first. Do what you will…all the 1B has to do is touch the bag while holding the ball and the batter is out.

Incorrect. Let’s say I am the batter. I make a bunt down the first base line. The first baseman charges down the line and picks up the ball. On the way to first, he tags me and the ump yells “OUT!” The first baseman has the option of either #1) tagging me on the way to first, or #2) touching first base in possession of the ball before I get there.

First of all, yes there can. If the defender feels like it, he can tag the batter-runner out. I just saw it happen in the Astros-Nationals game: the Nationals player fielding an infield ball struck by Willy Taveras saw that he had no chance to get the ball to first ahead of Taveras, but he was close enough to Taveras to tag him, so he did. And Taveras was out. And, like I mentioned previously, I’ve seen tags at first happen when the throw was off and the first baseman had to come off the bag to catch the ball, but was still close enough to the batter-runner to tag him.

Second of all, in the text you quoted, I though it was prettly clear that I was talking about slides in general, not slides into first.

Others have already pointed out that a base runner may slide into first base to avoid a tag, so I guess this question’s already been answered. I just thought I’d remind everyone of former Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone. Remember him?

For almost my entire life I listened to Steve Stone do the analysis of Cubs baseball games. And for equally as long, I listened to him vehemently complain whenever someone slid into first base–except when they were avoiding a tag. He would literally get angry on air at the base runner. He always pointed out that you could get hurt doing it, and that sliding wasn’t faster than just running through first base. He always used to say something along the lines of, “For all you youngsters out there, if sliding into first base were faster than running through it, you’d see sprinters sliding across the finish line of a race.” He used to go on and on about it whenever it happened. It was almost as if the act personally offended him. Except, as I pointed out, if the runner was attempting to avoid a tag.

Anyway, I still miss Steve Stone.

Are there any other plays that could (conceivably) be broken up by the batter sliding into first? Seems to me that this could be another reason for a sometime attempt, but it’s not clear (to me, at least) that anyone’s said this exactly - so maybe there aren’t any other such plays?

Possibly, but the out at first is almost always the final out to be recorded in a play so it’s not likely to come up much, if at all. This is both because it is always a force play (so there’s no need to worry about the tag) and because, unlike the other baserunners, the batter can neither take a lead nor get a jump from home. The batter has to start from a standstill in the batters box, so he’s generally the last advancing runner to reach his base, giving the defense plenty of time to get him out. Because of this, the other advancing runners are likely to be either safe at their bases or already put out by the time the batter-runner reaches first, making it unnecessary to try to break up a throw (as no other play exists).

The defense also wants to get the other outs first because, even if they fail to get the out at first, they have at least retired the lead runner(s).

Well, that and the fact that if you get the batter out first, the other runners have to be tagged - a much harder play to execute.

There are a couple of reasons I think a player might slide in spite of the downsides mentioned (slowing down, risk of injury, etc.).

IANAU, but umpires, particularly on force-out plays, rely on the sound of the ball hitting the glove in reference to the sound of the player’s foot hitting the base. Sliding headfirst may not produce the same reliable thud of cleats on rubber, and on a close play this may force an umpire to guess, and they’re expected to do it immediately. In such case a batter who would otherwise be out by a foot may have the increased margin of error go in his favor.

One thing I’ve observed often is when runners slide into a force out at second base to end the inning, is how close the play seems (at least on TV). But everyone will be walking off the field as if it were it were a very obvious out. While some players slide headfirst when stealing a base, most every one will go in feet first in this kind of situation. Again, the sound of a foot hitting the base probably makes the verdict apparent to everyone in the vicinity.

Sliding into first is dumb, but if one is going to do it anyway, head first, while more dangerous (mangled thumbs and such) is more effective in that the umpire must rely on his vision and, in case the first baseman has to step off the bag, it’s easier to curl a hand around to the side of first base to avoid his glove than it is to do the same with one’s leg.

Also, it’s hard not to look like you’re hustling when you slide into first. If the manager is old school (ie, not as cerebral as Steve Stone), then recklessness can be a good way to get on his good side.

cstamets, Roberto Alomar comes immediately to mind when I think of first-base sliders, so he may be the player you were thinking of; it seemed like he did it every other week, in the process thrusting impressive clouds of dust at first base umpires.