It’s one of the most exciting plays in baseball, and often one of the wackiest.
The inside-the-park home run can be a breathtaking display of athleticism. Take Byron Buxton’s Statcast-record 13.85-second sprint around the bases in 2017.
But it’s not purely the domain of the game’s track stars. More often than not, the inside-the-park homer is as much about something going wrong for the defense -- a misplay or simply an unfortunate carom -- as it is about the hitter’s own abilities. And the line between “home run” and “error” can be rather silly. Not that such follies take away from the entertainment value.
In that spirit, here is a (reverse-chronological) look back at some of the most unlikely inside-the-park roundtrippers throughout Major League history, and the strange circumstances that made them possible.
Drew Butera (Royals) -- July 22, 2018 vs. Twins
The unlikely hero: A career-long backup catcher who at the time was about to turn 35, Butera has appeared in 541 big league games over parts of 11 seasons with five teams. He has only 19 home runs, five triples and zero stolen bases in one attempt. (Through 2020, no other active position player has appeared in as many games without swiping at least one bag.) In ‘18, his average sprint speed of 24.9 ft/sec put him in the 16th percentile of MLB players.
The defensive disaster: With the game tied and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Royals had runners on first and second, so when Butera hit a line drive to center field, the Twins’ Jake Cave had incentive to go for the catch and keep a run off the board. Unfortunately for Minnesota, his all-out dive came up short, and the ball slowly trickled all the way to the wall.
The reaction: "I think just like Evel Knievel, he pulled the parachute too early," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "As soon as he hit third base, I mean, he looked like he was running underwater to me. And I thought, 'Man, I don't know if he's gonna make it or not now.'”
Edwin Encarnación (Indians) -- April 2, 2018 at Angels
The unlikely hero: One of the top sluggers of the 2010s, Encarnación is more used to the kind of dinger that allows for taking his parrot on a leisurely stroll. While he previously hit an inside-the-parker back in 2007, he was 24 at the time. By ‘18, he was 35, hadn’t stolen more than three bases in any of the previous four years, and ranked in the 12th percentile of MLB players in sprint speed.
The defensive disaster: Encarnación skied one straight down the left-field line, forcing Justin Upton to run 128 feet in pursuit. Upton whiffed on the catch, and as the ball bounced off the yellow line painted on the wall and back toward the field of play, it took the left fielder quite some time to go after it. "I had no clue the ball was fair," Upton said. "I couldn't hear anything."
The reaction: "It was fun," said Encarnación, whose teammates got him water and fanned him with towels in the dugout after he took nearly 19 seconds to circle the bases. "Everybody was laughing about it. Everybody enjoyed it."
Jhonny Peralta (Indians) -- July 18, 2010 vs. Tigers
The unlikely hero: Even under the best of circumstances, Peralta was no speed demon. He is one of 16 players all-time to collect at least 7,000 MLB plate appearances and steal no more than 17 bases (and was caught 27 times, for good measure). From 2009-11, Peralta played 445 games and stole one base. And he was hardly at 100% for this particular game, having missed Cleveland's previous three contests with a fever.
The defensive disaster: Detroit’s Ryan Raburn raced back on Peralta’s deep drive and made a valiant but futile attempt. Even worse, the panel of wall he slammed into was actually the bullpen gate, which swung open under Raburn’s weight and sent him tumbling through as the ball skittered away.
The reaction: “It was very hard, especially since I’ve been sick,” Peralta said. “I was surprised.”
Prince Fielder (Brewers) -- June 19, 2008 vs. Blue Jays
Fielder (Brewers) -- June 17, 2007 at Twins
The unlikely hero: Yeah, that’s right. Prince hit not one, but two inside-the-park homers, and they came almost exactly one year apart, contributing to his career total of 319 big flies over 12 seasons. (The first of these helped him hit 50 dingers in 2007.) Fielder, listed at 5-foot-11 and 275 pounds, was not exactly built for circling the bases in a hurry. From 2006-16, his -37.2 baserunning runs, per Baseball-Reference, was the lowest total in the Majors.
The defensive disaster: As you might assume, both of these occurred under bizarre circumstances. The first got an assist from the Metrodome when center fielder Lew Ford lost Fielder’s high, lazy fly ball in the white ceiling -- the ball may have hit a speaker as well -- and had it drop far away.
The second was a line drive that rolled into the right-field corner at Miller Park and came to rest under the padding of the wall. Toronto’s Alex Rios mistakenly believed it would be ruled a ground-rule double and didn’t touch the ball for several seconds, waiting for a call that never came.
The reaction: Fielder actually scored easily on both plays. After the first, he told reporters, “I am a little quicker than people think.”
Greg Myers (Blue Jays) -- Sept. 13, 2003 vs. Orioles
The unlikely hero: Myers was a 37-year-old catcher playing on knees that had endured 20 seasons of pro baseball. At this point, he had not stolen a base in 10 years or hit a triple in six years. The inside-the-park job was the second-to-last homer of his career (he hit a traditional one later in the same game).
The defensive disaster: The Orioles center fielder that day, Tim Raines Jr., was playing his first series at SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) and said he had little experience dealing with the springy artificial turf. So when Myers lined what should have been a routine single to center, the ball proceeded to bounce right over the head of the 5-foot-10 Raines, who compounded the mistake by giving chase less than enthusiastically.
The reaction: His Blue Jays teammates apparently enjoyed Myers' efforts, as he recalled after the game, "I was in a fog. I laid down on the bench and heard everybody laughing. I guess it didn't look too smooth."
Sammy Sosa (Cubs) -- Oct. 6, 2001 vs. Pirates
The unlikely hero: Sosa, of course, hit more than 600 home runs in his career. And for the first half of his 18-year tenure in the Majors, he was a threat on the bases as well, averaging 23 steals from 1990-98. But then the running ended abruptly. In 2001, when a bulked-up, 32-year-old Sosa topped 60 homers for the third time in four years, he also stole zero bases in 160 games.
The defensive disaster: Homer No. 63 in 2001 was nothing more than a lazy fly ball to right. But on a bright, blustery afternoon at Wrigley Field, Pittsburgh’s Rob Mackowiak -- despite having sunglasses on -- never saw it. It landed far behind him, and a hustling Sosa was nearly at third base by the time Mackowiak retrieved it in the right-field corner.
The reaction: “I felt as dumb as it looked,” Mackowiak said.
Paul Konerko (White Sox) -- April 11, 2000 at Devil Rays
The unlikely hero: In MLB history, 163 players have come to the plate at least 9,000 times. Among them, Konerko ranks 163rd in steals (nine), 163rd in triples (eight) and 162nd in baserunning runs (-36.7), ahead of only David Ortiz.
The defensive disaster: A quirk of Tropicana Field helped burn the Devil Rays early in their third season of existence, when a deep drive off the bat of Konerko hit right where two sections of wall met in left-center field, and just under the yellow line. Gerald Williams’ attempt at a leaping catch came up short, and the ball rocketed in the other direction.
The reaction: “I remember that night on the bench thinking, ‘That’ll be something that’s a joke for a long time,’” Konerko later recalled to CSN Chicago. “Because I tell people to this day, and they don’t believe me, that that happened, because they’ve seen me run in other situations.”
Dan Wilson (Mariners) -- May 3, 1998 vs. Tigers
The unlikely hero: Like most catchers, Wilson was not especially fleet of foot. The 1996 AL All-Star had 13 triples and 23 steals over 14 big league seasons, but amazingly, he also hit two inside-the-park homers -- both against the Tigers, at the Kingdome, between 1997-98. This one, however, remains MLB’s most recent inside-the-park grand slam hit by a catcher, and only one of six since 1912.
The defensive disaster: Wilson's deep blast hit high off the wall in left-center, where Detroit’s Luis Gonzalez and Brian Hunter were converging. Gonzalez narrowly missed the catch and slammed into the wall as the ball bounced well away from Hunter on the artificial turf, allowing Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus to resume his briefly abandoned grand slam call.
The reaction: “It took me a couple of innings to catch my breath,” Wilson told reporters afterward.
Butch Henry (Astros) -- May 8, 1992 at Pirates
The unlikely hero: Henry remains the most recent Major League pitcher with an inside-the-park homer, and the only one to accomplish the feat since Joaquin Andujar in 1979. What's more, he is the only player from any position to manage one for his first career hit, doing so in his sixth game. Henry never homered again, finishing with a career slash line of .139/.166/.166 in 176 plate appearances.
The defensive disaster: There were two on and two out in the second inning when the left-handed Henry slapped a short, slicing fly ball down the left-field line. Barry Bonds -- who won his third consecutive Gold Glove Award that year -- gave chase and sold out to make the catch. He missed, and the ball rolled all the way to the wall.
The reaction: "I started out slow and ended up slower,” said Henry, who slid in barely ahead of the tag. “I was cussing [third-base coach] Tommy Spencer when he waved me home. I would have settled for a triple and two RBIs."
Bill Buckner (Red Sox) -- April 25, 1990 vs. Angels
The unlikely hero: In his prime, Buckner stole as many as 31 bases in a season. But by 1990, he was 40 years old, two years shy of Honus Wagner’s record for the oldest player to hit an inside-the-park homer, per the Elias Sports Bureau. Buckner batted .186 with just this lone home run in 22 games and played his final career game on May 30 before getting released.
The defensive disaster: When Buckner pulled a shot to deep right, the Angels’ Claudell Washington raced to track it down, only to tumble head-first over Fenway Park’s short wall and into the stands after being unable to make the catch. While Washington remained down, Buckner hobbled around the bases.
The reaction: “He came out of the stands with hot dog and mustard all over him, and the ball came in with mustard on it,” Buckner later recalled in the book “Cubs Forever.” “I made it around the infield in about two minutes.” No player 40 or older has matched the feat since.
Mel Stottlemyre (Yankees) -- July 20, 1965 (vs. Red Sox)
The unlikely hero: In the years before the AL adopted the designated hitter, Stottlemyre had to swing the bat, and the five-time All-Star right-hander wasn’t completely helpless doing so. He’s the only pitcher since Johnny Murphy in 1936 to have a five-hit game, doing so as a rookie in 1964. And in June ‘65, he smacked his first career homer, this one in more traditional fashion. The .160/.213/.223 career batter is the only pitcher since Deacon Phillippe in 1910 to hit an inside-the-park grand slam.
The defensive disaster: The 23-year-old Stottlemyre came up with the bases loaded in the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium and hit what The New York Times called a “lusty line drive” that split left fielder Carl Yastrzemski and center fielder Jim Gosger, who both were playing shallow. The ball rolled all the way to the wall, which in that part of the old Yankee Stadium, at that time, was 460 feet away. Stottlemyre was surprised to find third base coach Frank Crosetti waving him home, and he slid in safely.
The reaction: The only problem for Stottlemyre was catching his breath afterward, as he said he was left with “a cotton mouth,” which didn’t stop him from finishing the complete game victory.
Dick Stuart (Red Sox) -- Aug. 19, 1963 vs. Indians
The unlikely hero: Stuart could slug. He hit 228 career homers, including a career-high 42 in 1963, following a trade from Pittsburgh to Boston. He also acquired the nicknames, “Dr. Strangeglove,” “Stonefingers,” and “The Man With the Iron Glove,” for his clunky defense at first base. As for baserunning, Stuart was 2-for-9 in stolen base attempts over more than 1,100 career games, and had, “all the speed of an ox,” according to the book “Fenway: A Biography in Words and Pictures,” by Dan Shaughnessy.
The defensive disaster: Leading off the bottom of the second, Stuart launched a fly ball to left-center field, which in a Fenway Park quirk, hit either the scoreboard or the ladder that climbs up the Green Monster. Either way, the unexpected carom struck Indians center fielder Vic Davalillo in the head, then rolled past left fielder John Romano into the left field corner, allowing Stuart to come all the way around.
Strangely, it wasn’t Stuart’s first. The year before, a ball he hit rolled into the bullpen down the left field line at Wrigley Field and into the tarp, where Chicago’s Billy Williams failed to dig it out.
The reaction: “[Davalillo] had a big bump on his face and I was out of breath,” Stuart said, according to The Boston Globe, which referred to him as ‘Speed’ Stuart in its tongue-in-cheek headline. Stuart added that he, “ran out of puff going around third,” and nearly tripped over the base.
Gus Triandos (Orioles) -- Aug. 31, 1957 vs. Red Sox
The unlikely hero: A famously slow-footed catcher, Triandos attempted exactly one steal in his career -- four fewer tries than any other player in MLB history with at least 1,200 games. He was under no illusions about his wheels. “They called me the slowest player of the decade," Triandos told The Baltimore Sun in 2009, "but it was more like the century. Of course, I thought I was runnin' like hell -- except that the scenery didn't pass by too fast."
The defensive disaster: The unlikely event occurred at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, where Triandos ripped a drive off the left-field wall. The ricochet eluded Ted Williams, who had to run a long way to track it down. Meanwhile, Triandos’ slow-motion circuit unfolded. He scored standing up.
The reaction: “Winded? Sure,” he told The Sun. “I wasn’t used to stuff like that.”
Ted Williams (Red Sox) -- Sept. 13, 1946 at Indians
The unlikely hero: Speaking of Williams, he is without a doubt one of the greatest hitters of all time. But the Splendid Splinter was not a speedster. He was only 27 in 1946, his first year back after not playing for three seasons to serve in World War II, yet he attempted no steals in 150 games despite an OBP of nearly .500. (He did leg out eight triples).
The defensive disaster: The Indians were burned for being ahead of their time as player-manager Lou Boudreau deployed the “Williams shift,” having his defense concentrate on the right side against the pull-happy lefty (Boudreau wasn’t the first to think of shifting, but the strategy wouldn’t gain widespread popularity for several more decades). Unfortunately for Cleveland, Williams went the other way, through the vacated left side. In the time it took Cleveland left fielder Pat Seerey to get to the ball, Williams chugged all the way around the bases.
The reaction: “We didn’t know whether he was going to make it or not,” Boston pitcher Dave “Boo” Ferriss said of his teammates in the book “I Remember Ted Williams.” “He wasn’t used to running that fast. … We were just all glad he survived.”
Stuffy McInnis (Athletics) -- June 27, 1911 (at Red Sox)
The unlikely hero: This was the Dead Ball Era, so any home run was pretty unlikely, and McInnis hit only 20 in his career, but more than half of those were of the inside-the-park variety. This isn’t about McInnis’ speed, though. (He was 20 in 1911, and he had 23 steals and 10 triples). This is about the circumstances, which are truly unbelievable from a modern perspective.
The defensive disaster: When McInnis stepped to the plate leading off the seventh inning, Boston’s Ed Karger was still throwing warmup pitches. McInnis swung at one and hit the ball into the outfield, where Red Sox fielders were not in position, given that play had not officially resumed. McInnis scored. How is that possible? AL president Ban Johnson, concerned about how long games were taking, had instituted a rule prohibiting warmup pitches and decreeing that the ball would be live once a batter stepped into the box.
The reaction: Red Sox manager Patsy Donovan protested the umpires' decision, to no avail. And Johnson upheld it, along with the A’s victory. That rule, however, did not last long.