- 1B, 2B
- Sunny Jim
- May 23, 1900
- 180 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 8-18-1922 with SLN
- Allstar Selections:
- 1928 MVP
- Hall of Fame:
One of the National League’s top run-producers for much of the 1920s, Jim Bottomley spent several of his peak seasons in St. Louis playing in the shadow of the great Rogers Hornsby. Nevertheless, the man who came to be known as Sunny Jim for his pleasant nature and smiling face eventually gained induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame largely on the strength of his propensity for driving in huge numbers of runs. The first baseman averaged 126 runs batted in per-year for the Cardinals from 1924 to 1929, topping the senior circuit in that category on two separate occasions. Bottomley also batted over .360 twice and accomplished the rare feat of compiling more than 20 home runs, triples, and doubles in the same season in 1928, when he captured N.L. MVP honors.
Born in Oglesby, Illinois on April 23, 1900, James Leroy Bottomley grew up in nearby Nokomis, Illinois, where he attended high school. After signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1920, Bottomley spent the next two years advancing through Branch Rickey’s farm system. The left-handed hitting first baseman arrived in St. Louis for the first time in August of 1922 and established himself as the team’s first baseman of the future over the season’s final six weeks by batting .325 and driving in 35 runs, in only 151 official at-bats. Convinced that the 22-year-old first sacker had all the tools necessary to excel at the major-league level, Rickey traded veteran first baseman Jack Fournier to Brooklyn during the off-season to make room for Bottomley in the Cardinals’ starting lineup. Rewarding Rickey for the faith he showed in him, Bottomley had an exceptional rookie season, knocking in 94 runs, amassing 14 triples, 34 doubles, and 194 hits, and finishing second in the league to teammate Hornsby with a .371 batting average and a .425 on-base percentage.
Although Bottomley’s batting average slipped to .316 the following year, he had a solid second season, hitting 14 home runs, driving in 111 runs, and scoring 87 others. He had the greatest day of his career on September 16 of that year when he drove in a record 12 runs against the Dodgers with two homers, a double, and three singles. Bottomley’s six-for-six afternoon was one of two such performances he turned in over the course of his career.
Bottomley developed into one of the National League’s top players in 1925 when he finished among the league leaders with 21 home runs, 128 runs batted in, a .367 batting average, a .578 slugging percentage, and 358 total bases, while topping the circuit with 44 doubles and 227 hits. He followed that up with another big year in 1926, when he led the league with 120 runs batted in, 40 doubles, and 305 total bases. Bottomley also batted .299, scored 98 runs, and placed among the league leaders with 19 home runs and 14 triples. He then performed exceptionally well against the Yankees in the World Series, batting .345 and knocking in five runs, in helping St. Louis upset heavily-favored New York in seven games.
Batting fourth in the St. Louis lineup, immediately behind Rogers Hornsby, certainly provided Bottomley with numerous opportunities to drive in runs. But the first baseman maintained his outstanding run-production after Hornsby left the Cardinals at the conclusion of the 1926 campaign. Bottomley drove in 124 runs for St. Louis in 1927, while also hitting 19 home runs and batting .303. He then had arguably his finest all-around season in 1928, becoming just the second player in major league history to surpass 20 homers, 20 triples, and 20 doubles in the same year (Chicago’s Frank Schulte was the first). In addition to leading the National League with 31 home runs and 20 triples, Bottomley accumulated 42 doubles, scored a career-high 123 runs, batted .325, and topped the circuit with 136 runs batted in and 362 total bases, en route to capturing league MVP honors. The Cardinals won their second pennant in three years but were subsequently swept by the Yankees in the World Series.
Bottomley had one more big year left in him before his skills gradually began to diminish. He finished among the National League leaders with 29 home runs and 137 RBIs in 1929, while also batting .314 and scoring 108 runs. The first baseman wasn’t nearly as productive for the pennant-winning Cardinals in either of the next two seasons, but he still managed to bat .304 and knock in 97 runs in 1930, despite missing almost three weeks of the season with an injury. Injuries limited Bottomley to only 108 games in 1931, but he performed admirably for the eventual world champions, driving in 75 runs and finishing a close third in the N.L. batting race with a mark of .3482 (teammate Chick Hafey batted .3489, while Giants first baseman Bill Terry hit .3486).
After appearing in only 91 games for the Cardinals in 1932, Bottomley was dealt to Cincinnati during the off-season to make room at first base for another choice member of Branch Rickey’s farm system, Ripper Collins. Bottomley spent three years in Cincinnati, never hitting more than 13 home runs, driving in more than 83 runs, or batting higher than .284. He returned to St. Louis in 1936 as a member of the Browns. Reunited with former Cardinals teammate Roger Hornsby, who managed the American League’s St. Louis entry for parts of five seasons, Bottomley had a solid season, batting .298 and knocking in 95 runs. After serving the Browns primarily as a pinch-hitter over the first half of the 1937 campaign, the 37-year old Bottomley was named to succeed Hornsby as manager of the team. He served the Browns in that capacity until the season ended, being replaced at the end of the year by another former Cardinals player, Gabby Street. Bottomley subsequently announced his retirement, leaving the game with a lifetime batting average of .310, 219 home runs, 1,422 runs batted in, 1,177 runs scored, 2,313 hits, 151 triples, and 465 doubles. Bottomley’s 219 homers, 151 triples, and 465 doubles made him the first of two players (Lou Gehrig being the other) to reach the 150-mark in all three categories. Bottomley surpassed 20 homers and 40 doubles three times each, 100 runs batted in six times, 100 runs scored twice, and 10 triples nine times, and he batted over .300 on nine separate occasions, hitting at least .296 three other times. He played for four pennant-winners and two world championship clubs in his 11 years with the Cardinals.
Following his retirement as an active player, Bottomley managed briefly in the minor leagues, before moving to Bourbon, Missouri, where he raised Hereford cattle. He later returned to baseball as a scout for the Cubs and as a minor league manager in the Appalachian League. Plagued by heart problems later in life, Bottomley suffered a heart attack while serving in the latter capacity. He spent the last years of his life in nearby Sullivan, Missouri, where he was eventually laid to rest after dying of another heart attack at the age of 59. The Veterans Committee elected Bottomley to the Hall of Fame posthumously 15 years later, in 1974.
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