In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on the home run in professional baseball, both as a spectacle for fans and for record-chasing athletes. Indeed, as one -the more exciting facets of the game, the home run has found favor with fans and players alike, but one of the less common types of home runs has become rarer and rarer as the game has evolved: the inside the park home run is a home run in which the batter does not actually hit the ball out of play, but rather manages to run around the bases and score before the fielders can tag him out.
The inside the park home run was far more common during baseball’s dead-ball era, or the time period between 1900 and 1920, right around the time Babe Ruth began power-hitting. The dead-ball era featured lower scoring games and fewer home runs, but the inside the park home run was more common – partly because stadiums were much larger and had more area to their outfields, allowing batters to capitalize when fielders had to run great distances to field the ball. A batter would have to touch every base, just like a single, double, or triple, and reach home plate in order to score an inside the park home run.
While less common today, inside the park home runs do still happen. An odd bounce off an outfield fence might lead to such a home run; more common, however, is a situation in which two outfielders try to field the same fly ball and end up either colliding or allowing the ball to drop and roll past them, allowing the batter time to round the bases. An inside the park home run is also possible if a fielder misplays a ball and it wanders into a part of the field unattended by any player. Because ballparks are typically smaller today than they have been historically, the occurrence of inside the park home runs has dwindled significantly.
Ty Cobb holds the American League record for career inside the park home runs with 46, and he led the league in home runs in 1909 – all nine were inside the park. He was the first and only player in the modern era to lead the league in home runs without actually hitting a ball out of the park. An inside the park grand slam home run is even rarer; Honus Wagner holds the career record for inside the park grand slam home runs with five.