NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 25: 1B SUNNY JIM BOTTOMLEY
Jim Bottomley grew up not 90 minutes northeast of St. Louis, but when he arrived in the big city for his major-league debut in 1922, he was unsure enough about how to find the ballpark that he hired a cab to get him there on time.
Sensing something of a hayseed in the 22-year-old Nokomis, Illinois farm boy, the taxi driver took Bottomley for a ride both literally and figuratively. He weaved through the streets of St. Louis so that by the time they arrived at Sportsman’s Park on the corner of Grand and Dodier, the fare had swollen to $4, or about 58 bucks in today’s money.
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“He was astonished,” Cardinals manager Branch Rickey recalled.
That might have been the last time he’d ever seen his new slugger in a foul mood. It was Bottomley’s perpetually cheery disposition that eventually made him known throughout big-league cities as “Sunny Jim.”
“He wore his baseball cap at a jaunty angle and his mannerisms on the playing field made him a Ladies’ Day favorite here,” reported United Press International. “But he was equally the favorite of the male fans for his slugging prowess.”
As generally good natured as he was, Bottomley was, indeed, a fierce enough figure at the plate to take the job of ill-tempered first baseman Jack Fournier, who had batted .343 in 1922. Rickey liked the 22-year-olds’ defense, too, describing Bottomley’s glove work with all the blustery prose for which “The Mahatma” was known.
“By the sinews of Joshua how he could field!” Rickey proclaimed. “His reach from wrist to ankle was sublime.”
Two years before Bottomley’s arrival, Rickey and the Cardinals sold off Robison Field (aka Cardinal Field, aka New Sportsman’s Park, aka League Park) on Natural Bridge Road to the Beaumont High School Board of Education. The proceeds from that sale were used to purchase a network semi-pro teams that would become baseball’s first minor league system. Bottomley, tempered for a single season with the newly affiliated Houston Buffaloes, was the first of its prospects to pay dividends.
Sunny Jim shined brightly in his first full season, batting .371/.425/.535. And though he “slumped” to .316 with 111 RBIs the following year, it was his record-breaking afternoon on Sept. 16 for which he may be best remembered.
Against the Brooklyn Robins (soon-to-be Dodgers), Bottomley contributed a two-run single in the first inning, an RBI double in the second, a grand slam in the fourth, a two-run homer in the sixth, another two-run single in the seventh, and a one-run base hit in the ninth. He remains one of just 62 major leaguers ever to go 6-for-6 in a game and one of just two (Doc Cramer, Philadelphia Athletics) to do it twice. His 12 RBIs that day remain the record, though it’s since been tied by another Cardinals slugger, Hittin’ Mark Whiten, in 1993.
By 1925, the left-handed Bottomley and right-handed hitting second baseman Rogers Hornsby comprised the most productive middle-of-the-lineup tandem in the National League. At .403, Hornsby had won the last of six straight National League batting championships. Bottomley, meanwhile, hit .367/.413/.578 with a National League-best 227 hits and 44 doubles to go with 21 home runs and 128 RBIs.
The following autumn, that dynamic Cardinals’ duo faced off with its American League equivalent, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees, in the 1926 World Series. Bottomley’s 10 hits matched the series’ high and his 5 RBIs helped St. Louis to the seven-game upset and its first championship of the 20th century.
It wouldn’t be their last.
Hornsby, who rubbed his teammates the wrong way as player-manager, had been traded to the New York Giants for his own protection. But the Cardinals were back in the World Series in 1928 behind another big season from their popular first baseman. Bottomley batted .325/.402/.628 while leading the league in triples (20), home runs (31), RBIs (136) and total bases (362). He also had 42 doubles, scored 123 runs and posted a 1.030 OPS to edge the New York Giants’ Freddie Lindstrom for Most Valuable Player.
Bottomley had just three hits in 14 at bats in the World Series and the Yankees swept St. Louis in four games.
The Cardinals slipped back into fourth place the following year, despite another banner year by Bottomley, whose 137 RBIs were a career best. Though he batted .304 and knocked in 97 runs in 1930, his power numbers had started to wane and he had just one hit in 22 at bats in a six-game World Series loss to Connie Mack’s Athletics.
Injuries limited him to 108 games in ‘31, but he came within .0007 of what would have been his only batting title. Bottomley’s .3482 was third best in the National League behind only Bill Terry’s .3486 and teammate Chick Hafey’s .3489. Still, Bottomley earned his second championship ring in four tries when he and the Redbirds got back at the Athletics in a seven-game series. His RBI double in the 5-2 Game 3 victory helped the St. Louis cause.
After playing in just 92 games the following year, the 33-year-old Bottomley was traded to Cincinnati where he played three seasons before wrapping up his career in the American League as player-manager for the St. Louis Browns. He retired to Sullivan, Missouri where he and his wife raised herefords for more than 20 years.
The Chicago Cubs brought him back to baseball as a scout in 1955 and as a minor league manager two years later. But a heart attack ended his brief coaching career before his club could break an 8-8 tie on opening day. Bottomley died while Christmas shopping in St. Louis in 1959.
The Hall of Fame Veterans Committee cleared space for him in Cooperstown in 1974.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1922-1932
.325/.387/.537 in St. Louis | 2 WS rings | MVP ‘23 | 33.5 WAR | HoF’74
TOP 100 SCORE: 3.90