The most beautiful play in Major League Baseball exists because its practitioner embraced a long-held axiom: Form follows function. Once upon a time, Trea Turner was a habitual head-first slider, his fingers and wrists and shoulders exposed to all the obstacles that exist when a man launches himself toward stationary objects. As he continued to play -- and to watch teammates and opponents alike get hurt -- he couldn't abide the risk. There had to be a better way, a safer way.

Turner had long studied other experts of the craft, a small fraternity of men who take baserunning every bit as seriously as hitting and glovework. He marveled at Terrance Gore, the stolen-base specialist who would slide at the last possible moment. Perhaps, Turner thought, there was a way to marry his inherent aptitude with a touch of Gore's moxie in a feet-first approach. In 2020, when he was the shortstop for the Washington Nationals, Turner toyed and tinkered until he found something that really worked -- and with it, a way to leverage his most elemental skills, this unique amalgamation of a sprinter's speed, a larger man's power, Gumby's flexibility, a mathematician's mind and a cat burglar's daring.

The world did not take notice until Aug. 10, 2021. It was 11 days after the blockbuster trade that sent Turner and Max Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Turner stood on second. Will Smith laced a single into right field. Bryce Harper fielded it clearly and unleashed a strong throw home. What happened next was form overshadowing function.

About 10 feet from home plate, Turner jumped. His right leg stuck out -- he always slides right leg first -- and his left leg tucked under his right, looking like a backward 4. By the time Turner landed, he was practically past home plate, except for his gloved left hand, which he matter-of-factly swiped across the dish. With momentum already pulling around his torso, Turner embraced the ride, popping up after a 180-degree spin and walking toward the dugout in one uninterrupted motion. The velvetiness, the effortlessness -- the aura of the slide was born that day, even if the slide itself predated it.

"I'm not necessarily trying to be cool or anything," Turner told ESPN in an interview last week. "It's more that I'm trying to slide correctly -- efficiently. I don't slow down."

All of that is true. Turner, now 29, never lays off the afterburners. He wouldn't dare take for granted the position of his body in space. And even if he's not necessarily trying to be cool or anything, the Trea Turner Slide very quickly became A Thing -- and, overnight, became the standard by which slides were judged.

Few attempt to duplicate it, lest they be seen as poor imitations of a patented maneuver. Which, over the past year, it has become. In a sport with gorgeous swings and picturesque pitching deliveries, the humble slide has stolen hearts. Though perhaps that shouldn't be quite as much of a surprise as it is.

On Dec. 21, 1958, Gene Kelly joined the NBC show "Omnibus" to explain to viewers how dance and sports were far more alike than many realized. He asked Johnny Unitas to throw a football and Bob Cousy to play tight defense on the basketball court. When it came around to baseball, Kelly left the choice up to Mickey Mantle.