Royals

Does a sprinter’s gold-medal winning dive vindicate Eric Hosmer’s head-first slides into first base?

For the Royals’ Eric Hosmer, the question of diving has surfaced in some big situations. In Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, he was called out on a double play — following an umpire review — after diving into first base. Last year, the result flipped — he was safe on a dive during a World Series game in New York.
For the Royals’ Eric Hosmer, the question of diving has surfaced in some big situations. In Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, he was called out on a double play — following an umpire review — after diving into first base. Last year, the result flipped — he was safe on a dive during a World Series game in New York. jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

Late Monday night, Eric Hosmer’s cellphone buzzed inside the visitors’ clubhouse here at Comerica Park. A friend back home in south Florida was watching the Olympic Games and witnessed the frantic final seconds of the women’s 400-meter final. He quickly tapped out a message that doubled as an inside joke among friends.

Hey, maybe Hosmer was right.

In the final meters of a race in Rio, sprinter Shaunae Miller had edged American Allyson Felix with a dive across the finish line. The image of Miller, sprawled out parallel to the track, her hands stretched out, was reminiscent of a baseball player sliding head first into a base. Hosmer and his friends viewed it as a measure of vindication.

For years, he has chosen to dive head first into first base, believing the method is faster than running through the bag. And for years, people have told him he is wrong. Here, perhaps, was proof.

“I have a group text with my buddies back home, and every time we do our speed work or agilities and stuff, they always mess with me about diving into first,” Hosmer said. “I’m convinced I get there faster, I don’t know why.”

Hosmer laughed as the subject came up on Tuesday afternoon. In the minutes after Miller won gold with a dive, his phone lit up with a few text messages with friends. His Twitter timeline was littered with tweets from Royals fans. He showed the video clip to Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz, who organizes the team’s base running. Somehow, over the years, he has become the poster child for diving into first base.

“Pretty funny,” Hosmer said.

By now, conventional baseball wisdom mostly holds that sliding head first into first base is slower than running through the bag. The reason: One has to slow down just a tick to lower their body into diving position. But experts in the field of baseball physics and research say that’s not always the case.

Alan Nathan, a physics professor at the University of Illinois and one of the foremost researchers in the field, has said that sliding into first base can be just as fast as running — if done with perfect timing and technique. The catch, of course, is that it is much easier to repeat the act of running through the bag than it is to execute a perfectly-timed dive.

Kuntz said he has never conducted his own study or research into the subject. But just based on gut, he said, he would likely prefer running through the bag.

“Because of the fact that they have to slow down before they get into a dive,” Kuntz said, echoing the common argument against diving.

For Hosmer, the question of diving has surfaced in some big situations. In Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, he was called out on a double play — following an umpire review — after diving into first base. Last year, the result flipped — he was safe on a dive during a World Series game in New York.

Hosmer also has to worry about the risk of injury, which is why he has often caught flack from Kuntz and other officials in the Royals organization, even back to his days in the minor leagues. But for now, he is convinced that sliding is the way to go — at least, for him.

“My thing is, you’re not running through a base,” Hosmer said. “Technically, you just [have to] touch the base, so I feel like I kind of lean into it and instead of getting that last gallop and waiting for your foot to get down, I just get the hand there and get it out of the way.”

“So I’ve gotten it down pretty good to where I can get my hand out of there and haven’t had injuries going into first like that. If there’s a lot on the line, and I think it’s a close play, I’m going to continue to do it.”

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