Friday, August 19, 2011

Whatever happened to the hook slide?

In the first inning Thursday night, Trevor Plouffe lined a hit to left-center and tried to stretch the single into a double. Curtis Granderson's throw was to the outfield side of second base, but Plouffe slid straight into the base, and Robinson Cano had just enough reach to tag him for the out.

And I thought — not for the first time — of the old hook slide, a neglected and apparently dead baserunning technique.

(This is not intended as a criticism of Plouffe specifically; I do plenty of that already. This is a general complaint.)

The classic, foot-first hook slide was a staple of Ty Cobb's. The runner, seeing that the infielder is positioned to one side of the base slides feet-first to the opposite side of the bag and "hooks" the corner of the base with his toe as he slides by. In the Plouffe play, he would have hooked the bag with his right foot, giving Cano little to tag.

A variation of this, which I do see on occasion, has the baserunner sliding around the base and reaching back with his hand(s) to grab the base.

I suspect the classic hook slide died out because

  • feetfirst slides have largely given way to headfirst slides;
  • baserunners are more concerned with trying to beat the throw to the base than with eluding a tag;
  • the idea of reading where the throw is going and sliding accordingly to some degree conflict with the teaching of committing early to a slide (to avoid injury).
There are, Nick Punto's fantasies of physics not withstanding, two reasons to slide: to stop quickly without overrunning a base, and to elude a tag. The first point is relevant to first base only when retreating to the base, and not relevant at all to home plate. The second point is relevant to all bases, and since the hook slide is specifically designed to elude the tag, it ought to have a more prominent place in the baserunning bag of tricks than it currently has.

I think that, had Plouffe used a hook slide, he would have gotten his double. Maybe he would have scored on Joe Mauer's subsequent single; maybe the game would have gone in a different direction. 

1 comment:

  1. I always thought Punto was more valuable to the Twins than most other people did, but "Nick Punto's fantasies of physics" is one of the best-ever lines in this blog!