His work of art went unnoticed initially. The Dodgers’ broadcasters, rightfully so, marveled at the fact that most Major League Baseball players wouldn’t have scored from second base on that play. Will Smith clubbed a single to right field. Bryce Harper, the eventual National League MVP, wasn’t playing deep and fired an accurate throw home. But Turner scored anyway. It was an important scamper, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in a 5-0 win.
Within minutes, though, the sprint was a footnote to the dash’s swaggy ending.
Turner’s slide home was buttery smooth. Oil-slick smooth. Stupid smooth. He went with his right foot leading the way over the left side of home plate. He bent his left leg underneath and stuck out his gloved left hand. He swiped the white slab of rubber, glided a few more feet, and popped up with a spin just ahead of Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto’s tag. It all happened so quickly, so effortlessly with a composed flair.
The clip went viral by the end of the night. It was a GIF by the morning. MLB's YouTube account asked if it was the smoothest slide of all time.
Turner has emerged as one of the top players in the majors, a dynamic talent expected to break the bank in free agency this winter. He was a top-five NL MVP vote-getter last year. He’s arguably the fastest player in the majors. And he’s — unofficially — the league’s best slider.
Turner, 28, has replicated the slick act a few more times since August, each instance adding to a niche highlight reel. But he didn't begin his baseball-on-ice routine in Los Angeles.
He said he doesn’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 skill before the Dodgers acquired him at last July's trade deadline. The shortstop recalled posting a compilation of highlights on his Instagram a few years ago that sparked 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 he was traded.
The difference, Turner noted, is the uniform he has worn since last summer.
In Los Angeles, as a Dodger, those moments are magnified. And the baseball version of a moonwalk has shined in Hollywood. Last month, a six-minute video of Turner’s “smoothest slides” was published on YouTube. It had about 215,000 views as of Sunday. Turner has taken a mundane move performed dozens of times over nine innings — and made it cool. He says he's not going for that.
Turner said he has never practiced sliding into bases in his life. He thinks his athleticism and coordination allow for the slick routines. But, ultimately, his ability is instinctual with a reasonable motive: avoiding pain. More players, Turner noted, hurt themselves sliding into bases more than people think. They slide too close to the bag, jamming their foot or, worse, injuring their hand. Or, less often, too far away. Or they slam too hard on to the ground, leaving bruises and raspberries. The wear-and-tear accumulates over a season, over multiple years, and impacts careers. He makes it look easy because he wants it to be easy on his body.
“It's good,” Turner said, “but it's more so it’s not looking like a car crash is happening.”
Dino Ebel had a front-row seat to one of Turner’s recent friction-free landings last month. It happened on Jackie Robinson Day against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium. That time, Turner coasted into third base. Ebel, the Dodgers’ third base coach, was standing right there. But he was busy looking up, doing his job, so he didn’t notice Turner’s slide. It wasn’t until he watched the video after the game that he realized Turner had pulled another one off.
“He's, like, the best, for me,” Ebel said. “He's so fast. He's so light on his feet. When he slides, I don't even hear him.”
Ebel said Turner’s intuitiveness, derived from wreaking havoc on the bases at every level, is unmatched, allowing for the smooth landings. He knows when to slide, how far he needs to be to not only make it safely but ensure he doesn’t get off the bag.
“It’s not talked about much, but there’s definitely an art to it,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, whose baserunning ability fueled his 10-year playing career. “It’s part of being a complete baserunner.”
Then there’s the 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 the old-school stat heads, he has eight steals in nine attempts.
Ebel said Turner is the fastest player he has coached in the majors. Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, players he coached with the Angels, are next on the list. Trout, Ebel said, is a different kind of runner. He’s loud. Bourjos was lighter. But not as light as Turner.
Elliott Avent, Turner’s coach at North Carolina State, had a nickname for his star shortstop: Seabiscuit, after the legendary race horse from the 1930s. Avent recalled Turner scoring so quickly in an ACC championship game that the umpire didn’t watch the play so he called Turner out without noticing what happened.
“His slides are poetry in motion,” Avent said. “When he runs, it's like his feet don't hit the ground. It's like watching a deer run through the woods. It's like his hooves are hardly hitting the ground.”
Turner said knowing good slides from bad ones is easy. Not necessarily from a smoothness standpoint, but whether the slide slowed down the runner. His famous feet-first pop-up slide, when executed properly, seemingly eliminates any friction. It gives him an edge. There isn’t another one quite like it.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.