Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Headfirst Slide to Base is Faster?

Yes? No? Maybe?

Here in the US, the baseball playoffs will begin today. And as someone who is living in Chicago and only 2 blocks away from Wrigleyfield, I can certainly not ignore such an event even if I tried, especially with both the White Sox and the Cubs in contention.

So it is very timely that we talk a little bit about one aspect of the physics of baseball - the slid into base. The question here is, which one will be faster: a head first slide, or a feet first slide? A Washington University physicist David Peters says that a headfirst slide is faster.

According to Peters, it's simple physics: As a runner slides headfirst, the body's center of gravity -- and therefore its momentum -- is thrust forwards. Slide feet first, and the body's center of gravity falls backwards, away from the base.

"It's basic, fundamental angular momentum and Newton's laws applied to a body in motion being flung through the air," Peters said. Fellow physicist Alan Nathan agreed, noting that it's easier for a runner's churning legs to generate force with head and arms leading, not trailing.

If you read the rest of the article, it points out that there's not a lot of convincing empirical evidence supporting either sliding technique, mainly because this hasn't been done in a controlled manner. Still, from my uneducated guess, I also think that a headfirst slide is faster. But is this worth doing at the risk of a higher probability of injury?


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