It turns out that Pete Rose was right to slide head first into the bag for years: It really did help him get to the base faster. WIRED says that a physicist has concluded that baseball players do gain an advantage by sliding head first versus leg first into a base. No word on how much extra time Charlie Hustle picked up by having his aerodynamic, Moe Howard haircut.
The difference, according to Washington University’s David Peters? About 0.02 seconds. While that might not sound like much, when calculated for a baseball player running 90 feet at 15 mph, that’s about five inches - enough to make the difference between beating out a play at steal attempt at second versus getting thrown out.
Of course, this assumes that you actually have the technique to slide head first correctly, since most youth baseball coaches won’t teach it since they consider it too dangerous. You know how I learned how to slide head first? On a Slip ‘n Slide, and apart from a few jammed fingers, a broken wrist, three concussions, one jammed neck and a few weeks of temporary paralysis, I was fine.
The reason sliding head first is quicker? It keeps your center of gravity - and your momentum - moving forward, while sitting down to slide feet first throws your momentum backwards and slows you down. Plus, there’s no question which one looks cooler.
But the advantage doesn’t extend to sliding into first base - Peters told SCIENCE DAILY that it’s still faster to run through the bag rather than slide head first. And this means that Bob Ryan was wrong about head first slides. Although I’m guessing that the amount of head first slides he’s done in his lifetime is pretty minimal, unless you count diving head first into a giant ice cream sundae from the buffet at Sizzler.