VSL:SCIENCE // The quickest way to get to third base

For as long as any of us have been watching baseball, players have slid feetfirst into the bases, hoping that their spiked shoes would intimidate infielders and keeping their own hands out of danger. But in the 1960s, gung ho baserunners like Pete Rose changed tack, arguing that diving gave them a better chance of dodging the tag and (somewhat less convincingly) got them to the bag faster. From a fan’s perspective, diving is undeniably the way to go — it’s far more exciting to watch — but does it really offer a measurable advantage? An engineering professor named Dave Peters claims to have settled the argument for good.

Armed with unwieldy formulas — and more accessible stick-figure diagrams — Peters argues that immutable laws of inertia and gravity do indeed make the headfirst slide faster. His ace argument regards centers of gravity and a length advantage gained by sliding headfirst: Because your center of gravity moves at the same speed in either slide, the key to reaching base fast is getting part of your body as far in front of it as possible. Since the center of gravity is barely above mid-height in men (and lower in women), you reach farther in front of this midpoint by going headfirst and stretching your arms out than you do by sliding feetfirst. You’ll reach base almost an arm’s length sooner. But be prepared to pay the price: When asked why he looked so craggy, Pete Rose replied, “If you slid headfirst for 16 years, you’d be ugly too.”

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