From broken fingers and sprained ankles to torn ligaments and blown out knees, baseball players have been clashing with the small but formidable base since the game's inception.
It's estimated that more than $250 million in salary has been lost from players forced out of the lineup due to injury caused by coming into contact with (or missing entirely!) one of the three bases (excluding home plate, which is flush to the ground). So MLB decided it was time to investigate how to protect the players via new and improved base designs.
Boombang set out to determine what, if anything, could be done to improve player interaction with bases without causing unintended harm or adversely affecting the game at large. One of the key complaints players had about existing bases was that they were unpredictable, so we wanted to ensure that players felt like, no matter what happened when a player contacted a base, they knew what to expect.
As with the Half Cap, and Bat Wrap, we researched everything there was to know about the history and current state of MLB bases. We examined how they are made as well as their height, weight, geometry, grip, material, surface coating, texture, compression, and stability. We explored a range of concepts with teams, players, medical staff, trainers, coaches, and groundskeepers. We even tested dry conditions and wet and metal cleats versus turf shoes.
As always, we focused on solutions that would improve the current shortcomings but preserve the player and spectator experience and integrity of the game. And after extensive research, prototyping, and on-field testing, we came up with a few solutions.
First, we expanded the surface of the base from 15 inches square to 18 inches, providing more room for offensive and defensive players to share the base with less risk of contact. At the same time, we reduced the height of the bases to 2.5 inches from 3 inches, which research showed actually works better to accommodate a runner’s natural stride as well as the arch of a player’s foot. In addition, the newly designed internal suspension system allows for an ever-so-slight compression, so even that .5 inch reduction feels like more.
We also created a proprietary polymer that made the surface of the bases more adhesive, so cleated shoes—both metal and turf—had better grip and were less likely to slip off. Each of the four quadrants of the base also has a series of targeted grip diamonds that coincide with where players most likely contact the base. Nearly every square inch of the top surface addresses grip in a unique way. And to address specific weather conditions, we added water-wicking ridgelines to repel wetness.
To improve safety and appeal to players’ desire for equipment predictability, we developed an internal structure that adapted to player impact depending on location. Now, if a runner slides directly into the bag at high speed, the base allows for slightly more compression to more appropriately cushion the blow, while still maintaining enough rigidity for a runner to pop up. And as a player runs through the base there’s predictable rigidity to push off of. The base has a bit of cushion when you’d expect, and structurally solid when you rely on it to get to home a split second sooner.
So now, while at first glance, these new bases might look like they're just sitting there, the truth is they're actually working harder than ever, much like MLB, to prevent player injury and improve the game on the field.