Mike Trout and the dangerous headfirst slide

Mike Trout’s hands are worth perhaps a billion dollars. When you are 25 years old and you can hit a baseball as far and as frequently as Trout can, your earning potential in salary and endorsements falls somewhere between stratospheric and infinite.

Yet, Trout put that all at risk when he dove into second base during a steal attempt in a game against the Miami Marlins. Trout cried out in pain as soon as hit the bag and quickly left the field. Later on, tests revealed tears in the ulnar collateral ligament and dorsal capsule of his left thumb. This week he underwent what the team called successful surgery to repair the damage. He’s expected to miss about eight weeks.

That’s a blow for the Angels, but it could have been worse.

Trout, who is widely considered the best player in the Major Leagues, was having his best season yet. At the time of his injury, the speedy centerfielder had already slugged 16 home runs and was getting on base nearly half of his at-bats.

It’s been demonstrated that head first slides don’t get runners to a base any faster than sliding feet first. It’s also an inherently dangerous move – any Little League coach worth his salt preaches against it.

So why do Trout and so many professional ball players continue to go face first?

“I think it’s a matter of preference for players, especially guys who are a little faster,” says Los Angeles Times baseball writer Mike DiGiovanna. “They’re running into second. Their momentum is sort of taking them toward the ground sometimes and toward the bag and they feel they can get their faster. Certainly the injury risk when you go head first, with your fingers, your hands is much higher. But that’s they way they’ve always competed and it’s really hard once you get to the Major Leagues to change something you’ve done your entire life.”