How Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner made sliding cool

Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner returns home safely against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 10, 2021, at Citizens Bank Park. Video of the smooth move has gone viral, but Turner has been sliding in that direction for years. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Last August, Trea Turner, less than a month into her career with the Dodgers, scored second against the Philadelphia Phillies and slipped into internet lore.

His work of art initially went unnoticed. Dodgers broadcasters, understandably, marveled that most Major League Baseball players wouldn’t have scored from second base on that play. Will Smith batted a single to right field. Bryce Harper, the eventual National League MVP, was not playing deep and fired an accurate shot home. But Turner still scored. It was an important run, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in a 5-0 victory.

Within minutes, however, the sprint was a footnote to the swaggy end of the dash.

Turner’s slide home was smooth as butter. Smooth smooth. Stupid smooth. He went with his right foot leading to the left side of home plate. He bent his left leg underneath and pulled out his gloved left hand. He swept the white slab of rubber, slid a few more feet and popped up with a spin just past Phillies wide receiver JT Realmuto’s tag. It all happened so quickly, so easily with a composed flair.

The clip went viral late in the evening. It was a GIF in the morning. MLB’s YouTube account asked if it was the smoothest slide ever.

Turner has emerged as one of the majors’ best players, a dynamic talent that should break the bank in free agency this winter. He was one of the top five NL MVP picks last year. He is arguably the fastest player at the majors. And he is – unofficially – the best slider in the league.

Turner, 28, has replicated the crafty act multiple times since August, each instance adding to a niche highlight reel. But he didn’t start his on-ice baseball routine in Los Angeles.

He said he didn’t know when he added the slick slide to his arsenal, but his teammates at North Carolina State, in the minor leagues and with the Washington Nationals all noticed his unusual talent before the Dodgers won’t acquire him at last July’s trade deadline. The shortstop recalled posting a compilation of highlights on his Instagram a few years ago, which prompted a reaction from friends.

“I literally do the same slide like 15 times in the video,” said Turner, who returns to Washington this week for the first time since being traded.

The difference, Turner noted, is the uniform he’s been wearing since last summer.

In Los Angeles, as Dodger, those moments are amplified. And the baseball version of a moonwalk shone in Hollywood. Last month, a six-minute video of Turner’s “smoothest slides” was posted on YouTube. It had around 215,000 views on Sunday. Turner took a mundane move done dozens of times in nine innings – and did it cool. He says he is not going for that.

Turner said he had never practiced sliding for any purpose in his life. He thinks his athleticism and coordination allow for smooth routines. But, ultimately, his ability is instinctual with a reasonable motive: to avoid pain. More players, Turner noted, have injured themselves sliding in the bases more than people realize. They slip too close to the bag, get their foot stuck or, worse, hurt their hand. Or, less often, too far. Or they slam too hard on the floor, leaving bruises and raspberries. Attrition accumulates over a season, over several years and has an impact on careers. He makes it look easy because he wants it to be easy on his body.

“It’s fine,” Turner said, “but it’s more so it doesn’t look like a car accident.”

Dino Ebel had a ringside seat for one of Turner’s recent frictionless landings last month. It happened on Jackie Robinson Day against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium. This time Turner reached third base. Ebel, the Dodgers’ third baseman coach, was standing right there. But he was busy looking up, doing his job, so he didn’t notice Turner slipping. It wasn’t until he watched the video after the game that he realized Turner had scored another one.

“He’s, like, the best, for me,” Ebel said. “He’s so fast. He is so light on his feet. When it slips, I don’t even hear it.

Ebel said Turner’s intuitiveness, derived from his havoc on bases at all levels, is unmatched, allowing for soft landings. He knows when to slide, how far he has to go to not only do it safely, but also to make sure he doesn’t get off the bag.

“It’s not talked about a lot, but it’s definitely an art,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, whose base running ability fueled his 10-year playing career. “That’s part of being a complete baserunner.”

Then there is speed. Statistically, Turner’s sprint speed of 30.1 feet per second this season was tied for third in the majors entering Sunday, according to Baseball Savant. He leads the major leagues with 30 bolts – defined as any run where the sprint speed reaches 30 feet per second. For old-school stat heads, he has eight interceptions on nine attempts.

Dodgers' Trea Turner, left, scores past Philadelphia Phillies wide receiver JT Realmuto during a game on August 10, 2021.

Dodgers’ Trea Turner, left, scores past Philadelphia Phillies wide receiver JT Realmuto during a game on August 10, 2021. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

Ebel said Turner was the fastest player he had coached in the majors. Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, players he coached with the Angels, are next on the list. Trout, Ebel said, are a different type of runner. He is noisy. Bourjos was lighter. But not as light as Turner.

Elliott Avent, Turner’s trainer at North Carolina State, had a nickname for his star shortstop: Seabiscuit, named after the legendary 1930s racehorse. Avent recalled Turner scoring so quickly in an ACC championship game that the referee hadn’t watched the game, so he called Turner without noticing what had happened.

“His slides are poetry in motion,” Avent said. “When he runs, it’s like his feet aren’t touching the ground. It’s like watching a deer run through the woods. It’s as if his hooves barely touch the ground.

Turner said it was easy to tell good slides from bad ones. Not necessarily from a smoothness perspective, but whether the slide slowed the runner down. His famous feet-first pop-up slide, when performed correctly, seemingly eliminates all friction. This gives him an advantage. There is no other like him.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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