Baseball had changed dramatically over the years.
From the pitching dominant era of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax in the 60’s to the steroid-induced home run days featuring Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds in the 90’s.
Even today as the game has cleaned up it’s act, the league leader in homers will still hit 50-plus.
That provides a stark contrast to the days of Ty Cobb in the early 1900’s. Known for his surly attitude and fierce competitiveness, he was never really known for his power. Instead, he led the league in average twelve times and on base percentage seven times.
Yet, on September 13, 1909, Cobb clinched the home run title that season, hitting his 9th homer. His three-run inside the park home run helped the Tigers beat the St. Louis Browns 10-2. That’s right, nine homers lead the American League.
Oh, and they were all inside the park home runs.
Keep in mind that 1909 was directly in the middle of what was considered the “Dead Ball Era” in major league baseball. There are many theories as to why the dead ball era existed. The quality (or lack thereof) of the baseballs, defacing the ball (the throwing of spitballs was allowed), and the general strategy of playing what is today know as “small ball” are a few.
All of that and the fact that Mike Trout and Aaron judge weren’t born yet.
Home runs didn’t become prevalent until the arrival of Babe Ruth some five to ten years later. By 1919 the ball was also said to have been wound tighter.
When Ruth arrived, the landscape changed dramatically. The Bambino wasn’t legging out any inside-the-parkers. He was usually strolling around the bases after jolting the ball over the boards.
Dead Ball era hitters had, to borrow a contemporary term, a different “swing path” than that of Ruth. Cobb’s hand were split on the bat handle and he choked up. Ruth’s approach was quite the opposite. He held the bat down at the knob and his swing featured more of an uppercut.
All of this conspired to vault Ruth’s popularity, as home runs continued to fly off his bat, while Cobb took a back seat.
Still, Cobb’s accomplishments can not be ignored.
Cobb became the only player in the entire century to lead the league in homers without actually hitting one over the fence, even if nine homers is measly by today’s standards.
The Georgia Peach would drive in 107 runs that season. A remarkable feat considering his meager total of nine homers.
My, how the game has changed.
Cobb would drive in 100 runs seven times in his career, and only twice did he reach double digits in homers.
Yet, a lifetime average of .366, perhaps provides a glimpse as to why Cobb drove in so many runs despite a lack of power. He hit as high as .420 in a single season, and twice hit better than .400 in a year.
But, it was Cobb’s 1909 season that provided one of the more crazy statistical oddities in the game.
George Sisler, Hall of Famer and Cobb’s contemporary in the early 1900’s, once said of Cobb, “The greatness of Ty Cobb was something that had to be seen, and to see him was to remember him forever.”
The following is a list of the top 10 career inside the park home run totals:
|Player||Inside the park home runs|
Statistics courtesy baseball-almanac.com