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Breakaway Bases

Keeping Little Leaguers Safe

by RALPH NADER

As the Little League season gets into full swing for millions of young baseball and softball players across the country, their health and safety on the playing field will significantly benefit from an addition in the Little League rules this year — a requirement for breakaway bases.

Rule 1.06 of the 2006 Little League Baseball and Softball rule books states:

"… Beginning with the 2008 season, it will become mandatory that all leagues utilize bases that disengage their anchor. Leagues are encouraged to begin the process of implementing these types of base systems during the current season on all their fields so that the process is completed by the 2008 season."

Why is this so important?

Baseball and softball at all ages and skill levels have long been plagued, and continue to be plagued today, by injuries due to sliding into stationary bases. Most softball and baseball injuries are base-contact sliding injuries, and include serious injuries such as ankle fractures, knee sprains, wrist and shoulder dislocations, and head injuries.

The stationary bases found all across the country are just that — fixed, immovable objects that are bolted to a metal post, sunk into the ground and fixed in concrete. This can cause a tremendous amount of damage to a player who slides into a base the wrong way.

Breakaway bases consist of a rubber mat attached to a post which is inserted into the ground and a base that snaps onto the rubber mat. Under normal play, breakaway bases separate during just 3% of slides. In such a case, the mat from which the base separated is considered the official base when the umpire is determining if the runner is safe or out, posing little threat to game quality.

Dr. David Janda, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has led the fight in the area of sports injury prevention through his independent, nonprofit Institute for Preventative Sports Medicine (IPSM). Twenty years ago, during his residency at the University of Michigan, Dr. Janda studied the effectiveness of breakaway bases for injury prevention and has pressed for their use ever since.

In his book, "The Awakening of a Surgeon," Dr. Janda documents the findings of his two-year study: "We realized a 96% reduction in injuries…. [and] experienced a 99% reduction in health care expenditures by switching from stationary to breakaway bases." In the conclusion of the study, Janda writes:

"Base-sliding injuries are the result of many factors, including judgment errors by the runner, poor technique and inadequate physical conditioning. But the breakaway base can effectively modify the outcome of these factors as a form of passive intervention — in much the same fashion as an automobile air bag mitigates the outcome of an accident caused by another driver."

In 1988, the study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr. Janda wrote, "Based on their analysis of our study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that if all the [bases on baseball and softball] fields in the United States were switched from stationary to breakaway bases, it would prevent approximately 1.7 million injuries a year and save two billion dollars in associated health care costs a year nationally."

Additionally, Roger Hall — president of Rogers USA, Inc. in Elizabethtown, PA — who invented the breakaway bases tested by Dr. Janda, was awarded a "Chairman’s Commendation" in 1996 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which concluded that breakaway bases could reduce base-contact sliding injuries in children’s organized play.
Breakaway bases still have not been widely adopted and aside from Little League’s recent action, no other organization, including the major and minor leagues, has mandated their use. This despite a simple injury prevention measure that would not interfere with the integrity of the sport but would prevent so many injuries and save billions of dollars in health care costs.

In a letter I coauthored in June, 2005 with League of Fans, the breakaway base research was presented to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission as just one example of the lack of a coordinated and proactive approach toward sports injury prevention in this country.

The letter called for "a proactive national program regarding health and safety in sports, at all levels and age groups, with the goal of minimizing the risk of injury to participants in informal and organized sports, recreation and exercise." The agencies’ responses were lukewarm.

Hopefully, Little League’s proactive decision that benefits young 5-18 year-old ballplayers from its various divisions will influence and push other baseball and softball associations, organizations from other sports, and government agencies to make the health and safety of sports participants a priority.

For more on Little League-approved breakaway base manufacturers and installation, visit www.littleleague.org/common/equipment/view.asp?id=25. For more on the work of IPSM and Dr. Janda, including his most recent book, "The Power of Prevention Handbook," visit www.ipsm.org.

For more on the efforts of League of Fans regarding health and safety in sports, visit www.leagueoffans.org.