Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo has watched two of his players writhe in pain beyond first base after injuring themselves lunging for the bag this year. In April, Adam Eaton tore his anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the season after trying to leg out a groundball. On Saturday, Rizzo and Nationals fans held their collective breath as Bryce Harper clutched his knee on the ground after his foot slid across the damp first base bag. While Harper, who suffered a significant bone bruise, dodged a season-ending injury, the incident has led many to suggest that Major League Baseball explore ways to somehow reduce base-related injuries going forward.
“We’re going to have to do something,” Rizzo said Wednesday during his weekly appearance with the Sports Junkies on 106.7 the Fan. “I think MLB has recognized that this isn’t the first nor the last injury of this sort. We’ve had two horrific ones this year with Eaton and Harper. You know, Harper, [Mike] Trout, all these guys sliding into these hard bases headfirst. Most guys are going headfirst. You see it all the time that guys are throwing thumbs out, that are keeping the stars of our game out for a long time. I think it’s a fairly reasonable fix, I think it’s a fairly easy fix to come up with. These intelligent people at MLB and the players’ association, we’ve got to put our heads together and come up with something a little bit better than this, and I think we will.”
Rizzo’s comments came on the heels of Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, calling for similar changes to improve player safety in the wake of his star client’s injury.
“You start thinking about all the other things that could have happened to prevent these type of things,” Boras said Tuesday on 106.7 the Fan. “I think in sport, sometimes elite athletes and the potentials that come to them through their performance give us a greater indication of what we must do to make the game better. The positive is maybe that we get a better approach to inclement weather and player safety in this area.”
Boras suggested using a different base in inclement weather and taking measures to ensure bases remain dry.
“Obviously, it’s very clear from Bryce’s situation, that that is a very slick surface,” he said. “When you have an elite athlete touching in the very middle of the bag and just sliding across, it’s like ice on cement. It’s really something that we need more clarification and standards and study to ensure player safety.”
Players injuring themselves stepping on or sliding into a base isn’t a new phenomenon, and Nationals fans were already plenty familiar with the damage that 15-inch rubber squares can inflict. In 2014, Ryan Zimmerman broke his right thumb diving back into second base on a pickoff attempt and Harper sprained his left thumb sliding headfirst into third base on a triple within 12 days. Both players missed significant time. Earlier this year, Orioles Manager Buck Showalter mentioned today’s bases as a serious safety hazard when asked by the New York Post’s Joel Sherman what he would change about the game.
“The bases that we use now have no give, they are hard as a rock, often because they get changed so often so they can be auctioned,” Showalter said. “We need a softer base so there is some give so a) players can more easily hold the bag so we don’t have those unintentional over-slides and outs on replay, b) you can see the indent on the bag in replay so you know if a fielder was on the bag and when a runner touched and c) so there is some give when players go into a bag so there are fewer injuries.”
Changing the composition or design of bases could be something for MLB’s joint Safety and Health Advisory Committee to consider. In recent years, the league enacted rules to reduce home plate collisions and dangerous slides into second base, both in response to serious injuries. But speaking on Jim Rome’s CBS Sports Radio show on Tuesday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred described Harper’s injury as a “freak” accident.
“Look, we are always looking for ways to improve the safety of our players on the field,” Manfred said. “Obviously we’ve made a couple of important changes in recent years, the home plate collision rule and then the changes surrounding plays at second base. I think with this one, you know, it’s one of those freak things. You know, two players heading for the bag at the same time and just putting his foot down at the wrong spot in relation to the bag, it’s hard to know how you can prevent an injury like that.”
So how could MLB improve the safety of its bases? Junkies co-host John Auville suggested hologram bags. ESPN’s Steve Wulf noted in a detailed look at base safety in 2014 that Little League Baseball, Cal Ripken Baseball and several college teams use a breakaway base that a study found to reduce injuries by 98 percent. Showalter told Sherman he planned to use canvas bases at spring training in Florida next season.
“Because it rains all the time there, and we have to be thinking about how to make things safer all the time,” Showalter said.