Inside-the-park homers are baseball's lost art
Once commonplace, feat is becoming an increasingly rare sight on diamond
Brandon Barnes' second inside-the-park homer this month gave the Rockies a ninth-inning lead and a thrilling 5-4 victory over the Giants on Saturday.
It also made Barnes the first player with two inside-the-parkers in the same month since Ruben Sierra did so in August 1987.
In fact, Barnes is the first player to hit two inside-the-park home runs in the same season since 2010, when the Padres' Tony Gwynn Jr. did so. Barnes' first 360-foot dash of the year came in a June 5 victory against the D-backs.
But while two inside-the-park shots in 10 days is certainly a rare feat, several players have done so over a shorter timeframe. Sierra hit his two home runs in a span of three days -- the first coming on Aug. 25, 1987, and the second on Aug. 27.
A year earlier, Jorge Orta circled the bases on an inside-the-park homer on June 26 and did so again on July 2.
Later in that 1986 season, Twins shortstop Greg Gagne upstaged Orta -- and everyone else since 1972 -- by hitting inside-the-park homers in consecutive at-bats of an Oct. 4 contest against the White Sox. Gagne hit his home runs in the second and fourth innings off Chicago's Floyd Bannister, making him the only player in the last 41 seasons with two inside-the-parkers in the same game.
Prior to Gagne, White Sox first baseman Dick Allen was the last player to accomplish the feat. He did so in a White Sox-Twins game started by Minnesota Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven on July 31, 1972. Allen hit inside-the-park homers in both the first and fifth innings of an 8-1 White Sox victory.
With smaller stadiums, more skillful outfielders and, perhaps, less-daring baserunners, the inside-the-park home run has become a rare gem in Major League Baseball. But there was a time when it was almost commonplace.
Cincinnati's Sam Crawford hit a record 12 inside-the-park shots in a single season back in 1901. Eight years later, Ty Cobb set the American League record with nine.
Tom McCreery of the Louisville Colonels became the first player with three inside-the-parkers in a single game in 1897 -- a record that still stands. McCreery played in 140 games that season, and he only recorded two homers in the other 139 combined.
More recently, outfielder Willie Wilson -- who spent most of his career with the Royals -- is the all-time leader for inside-the-park home runs in the post-war era. Wilson had 12 during his 19-year career, including both a leadoff and a walk-off shot.
The last player to hit a walk-off shot without clearing the fence was the Giants' Angel Pagan against the Rockies last May 25. Perhaps fittingly, it was Pagan who misplayed Barnes' line drive on Saturday, allowing it to get to the wall after he dove and missed the ball.
Among active players, Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins currently leads with four inside-the-parkers. After Saturday, Barnes is now halfway to Rollins' mark and only 53 shy of catching the legendary Jesse Burkett, who played from 1890-1905 and hit 55 in his career.
Forget 511 wins or 2,632 consecutive games played. Burkett's is a record that would certainly appear to be safe for quite a while.