Gary Brown: The science of sliding, and why you need a kegerator to care

Gary Brown

With the World Series under way, it’s time for us to tackle one of the most critical non-steroidal questions in baseball.

Who gets there faster, a guy who slides in head-first or the player sliding feet-first?

Hey, during the World Series, this sort of thing is nightly on the minds of people who don’t have lives outside of the Telecast Triangle formed by their kitchens, bathrooms and TV rooms. Welcome to our world.

According to David A. Peters, the smart-sounding McDonnell Douglas professor of engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, it’s a matter of math and physics.

Terrific. He has taken a time-wasting game and turned it into a classroom lecture. Where’s this going? Pretty soon we won’t watch a post-game interview, we’ll take a pop quiz.

“There’s momentum -- mass of the body times how fast the player is moving,” said Peters, who has been able to combine his interest in sports with a doctorate in something.

“There’s angular momentum (mass movement of inertia, times the rotational rate). If it’s feet-first, and you’re starting to slide, your feet are going out from you and you’re rotating clockwise; if it’s head-first, as your hands go down, you’re rotating counterclockwise.

“On top of this is Newton’s Law. Force is mass times acceleration. Then moments of inertia times your angular acceleration.”

Professor, we don’t care

I need to interrupt the sliding scholar because I fear we’re losing even the drunk guys watching games together in somebody’s man cave who actually argue about such things as sliding. Without the benefit of any science, they have opinions about whether it’s more difficult to tag a guy sliding head-first into a base. They even argue over whether it’s better to slide head-first into second or third base than it is to slide head-first into first base and home plate. The more beer, the more opinions.

I use the term “man cave” because it was mentioned in another e-mail I got from a marketing guy who was trying to equip all of the “”man caves” in America, the basement sports sanctuaries of men, with something called a “kegerator.”

“What’s a kegerator?” asked the release. “Part-beer keg, part-refrigerator. No man cave should be without one.”

And so, now that we have most of our male readers wandering back to this column to talk about beer, let’s let our slide scientist finish giving us an answer to a good bar bet.

Laws of physics

Who gets there faster?

“It turns out your center of gravity is where the momentum is,” Peters says. “This is found halfway from the tips of your fingers to the tips of your toes. In the head-first slide, the center of gravity is lower than halfway between your feet and hands, so your feet don’t get there as fast. It’s faster head-first.”

Peters also had a scientific answer for whether you should slide into first base, but to get you to stick around and listen to that lecture, I’d probably have to buy you each a kegerator.

Reach Canton Repository Living Section Editor Gary Brown at (330) 580-8303 or