A day after Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper injured his left knee while slipping on a wet first base bag, agent Scott Boras said Major League Baseball needs to take steps to ensure that wet, slick bases aren't a safety hazard for players during periods of inclement weather.
Harper stumbled over the bag in the first inning of Washington's 3-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night. He avoided any ligament or tendon tears, but general manager Mike Rizzo said he suffered a "significant bone bruise'' that will keep him out an undisclosed amount of time.
"We go to great lengths with the soil to make sure it's not wet and there are drying agents on the ground,'' Boras said. "I don't know what technology we apply or the studies that have been done on the composition of having a wet base. That's certainly something we need to look into. This injury was directly related to inclement weather and a player putting his cleat on the bag and it slipping across because the surface was slick.
"In the NBA, when a player hits the floor and there's perspiration on the floor, they clean it up immediately so the surface isn't slick. In baseball, we have no one cleaning the bags between innings during inclement weather. Is there observation as the game goes where they would stop and make sure the bag is dry? We don't do that. We don't take measures like that for player safety that could easily be accomplished by the grounds crew and the umpires' observations.''
Harper, 24, is a five-time All-Star and a candidate for National League Most Valuable Player this season. He is eligible for free agency after the 2018 season, and there has been speculation that he could fetch a contract in excess of $400 million on the open market.
If Harper's scare focuses attention on the bases as a safety hazard, it could have the same impact that Buster Posey's 2011 injury had had on home plate collisions. Posey suffered a broken leg after being bowled over by Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins, and MLB subsequently enacted new rules to help advance catcher safety.
"In every sports league, the elite athletes often bring notice to rules, regulations and behaviors that all of us have to pay very close attention to,'' Boras said. "We're talking about an alteration of the game and the season, and certainly the economics and futures of players and franchises are impacted when this event occurs. It brings to light that we have not examined this to the levels we need to. There are better ways and further things that we can do.''
According to MLB Rule 1.06, major league bases are "marked by white canvas or rubber-covered,'' and are "securely attached to the ground.'' In recent years, the lack of give in bases has been cited as a source of numerous hand injuries incurred by players during head-first slides.
Any change to the composition of bases would fall under the auspices of the joint Safety and Health Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from Major League Baseball and the Players Association. The committee addresses health and safety issues as they arise and monitors the safety of working conditions for players.
Boras suggested that MLB might want to look into the possibility of using a different base in wet weather.
"We're placing players in peril when they have no notice or familiarity with the surface they're playing on,'' he said. "There may be a better solution where you have a base that has a less slick surface in response to precipitation.''
Boras said he was in the stands at the Chicago Cubs-Arizona Diamondbacks game Saturday when he saw the video replay of Harper's injury on his phone. He left the stadium and was later kept apprised of Harper's status by another one of his clients, Washington outfielder Jayson Werth.
"We're fortunate that the landscape for return looks very positive -- within a time frame rather than something that would require surgery,'' Boras said. "The immediate vision was leading you in a different direction. It was a scary moment.''