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The game of baseball has many rules which can make learning the sport an intimidating task for new fans. You might notice, for example, a runner run through first base but slide into second base. This may leave you wondering when sliding is allowed and when it’s not. Today, we’re going to shed some light on baserunning, an important but often overlooked part of baseball.
If you’ve watched a few baseball games, you probably haven’t seen a batter hit the ball, run to first, and slide into the bag. This might leave you wondering if players are even allowed to slide into first base. The simple answer is yes, players are allowed to slide into first base.
Slides into first don’t happen often, though. We’ll explain why. Continue reading to find out!
Why Do Players Rarely Slide Into First Base?
Runners almost always slide into bases when they know that the play will be close at the bag. The one huge exception is a play at first base. There are two main reasons why players rarely slide into first base: the ability to run through the bag and the fact that plays at first base are always a force out. We’ll discuss both of these reasons in detail below.
1. Runners Are Able to Run Through First Base
The official rules of Major League Baseball state, “A baserunner cannot be tagged out after overrunning or over-sliding first base if he returns immediately to the base.”
Because the runner knows he is allowed to run through first base, he will almost always choose not to slide into the bag. This is because, in almost all instances, running through the bag at full speed will be faster than sliding into the bag.
To put it simply, the batter’s goal once they hit the ball is to run as fast as they can and touch first base before the ball gets to the base. The quickest and most effective way to achieve this goal is for the batter to run through first base, slowing down only once he has already touched the base.
This rule, however, does not apply to second and third base. If a runner overruns second or third base and is tagged by the fielder with the ball before he steps back on the base, the runner is out. In these cases, the runner has the option to slide into the base or run to the base and come to an abrupt stop on top of it. Because running through the bag is not an option at second or third base, the fastest and most effective way to reach safely is to slide.
2. The Play at First Base Is Always a Force Out
The official rules of Major League Baseball state that, “Any runner is out when he fails to reach the next base before a fielder tags him or the base after he has been forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner.”
The difference between a runner being forced to the next base or not being forced to the next base is important and contributes to why a runner will usually not slide into first base. Let’s consider the example below…
If there is a runner on second base, that runner is not forced to run to third base once the batter hits the ball. He can safely stay at second base if he doesn’t think he will make it to third base safely.
However, the runner may decide to run to third base if he thinks he can get there safely. If he goes to third, the fielder must tag the runner with the ball before he reaches the base to record the out. Simply stepping on the base will not suffice.
This runner, however, is not allowed to run through third base like he can at first base. Even if the runner touches third base safely, he can be tagged out if he steps off the base.
An advantage of sliding into third base in this example is that, by sliding, the runner makes it harder for the fielder to tag him. The runner who is trying to get to first, however, does not have to be tagged because it is a force play. There is usually no tag to avoid at first base, so sliding will not give the runner the advantage that it does on non-forced plays.
Remember, the goal is to get to first as fast as possible. If sliding will not give the runner the advantage of avoiding the tag and it will slow the runner down, the runner will usually decide not to slide into first base.
Does It Ever Make Sense to Slide Into First Base?
We’re glad you asked! There are rare occasions where a runner may decide that sliding into first base will give him a better chance to be safe than if he did not slide.
The time when it makes sense to slide into first base is if the first baseman must jump off the base to catch the ball. Here, the first baseman will usually try to catch the ball and quickly swipe at the runner to tag him because he doesn’t think he can get his foot back on the bag in time.
In these cases, the runner may slide to get below the swipe tag. If the first baseman can’t reach the sliding runner and he cannot get his foot back on the bag before the runner touches first base, the runner is safe!
Why Do Runners Slide Into Home if They Are Allowed to Run Through Home Plate?
Just like at first base, runners are allowed to run through home plate. So, why do they usually slide at home plate?
Plays at home plate are usually not force plays like they are at first base, so the catcher must catch the ball and tag the runner before he is able to touch home plate. By sliding, the runner is better able to avoid a tag and touch home plate safely. There are even some cases where, by sliding, the runner knocks the ball out of the catcher’s glove and is able to safely reach home plate!