James Leroy Bottomley (April 23, 1900 – December 11, 1959) was an American professional baseball player. A first baseman, Bottomley played in Major League Baseball from 1922 through 1937 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, and St. Louis Browns. He also served as player-manager for the Browns in 1937. Playing for the Cardinals against Brooklyn at Ebbets Field on September 16, 1924, he set the all-time single game RBI record with 12.
Born in Oglesby, Illinois, Bottomley grew up in Nokomis, Illinois. He dropped out of high school at the age of 16 to raise money for his family. After playing semi-professional baseball, the Cardinals scouted and signed Bottomley. He won the League Award, given to the most valuable player, in 1928, and was a part of World Series championship teams in 1926 and 1931. He played for the Cardinals through the 1932 season, after which he was traded to the Reds. After playing for Cincinnati for three years, he played two more seasons with the Browns.
After finishing his playing career with the Browns, Bottomley joined the Chicago Cubs organization as a scout and minor league baseball manager. After suffering a heart attack, Bottomley and his wife retired to raise cattle in Missouri. Bottomley was nicknamed “Sunny Jim” because of his cheerful disposition. Bottomley was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 by the Veterans Committee and to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2014.
Bottomley also played semi-professional baseball for several local teams to make additional money, earning $5 a game ($79 in current dollar terms). A police officer who knew Branch Rickey, the general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, saw Bottomley play, and recommended Bottomley to Rickey.
Rickey dispatched scout Charley Barrett to investigate Bottomley. The Cardinals decided to invite Bottomley to a tryout in late 1919, and signed him to a $150-a-month ($2,047 in current dollar terms) contract. Bottomley began his professional career in minor league baseball in 1920. That year, Bottomley played for the Mitchell Kernels of the Class-D South Dakota League, posting a .312 batting average in 97 games, as Barrett continued to scout him. He also played six games for the Sioux City Packers of the Class-A Western League. During his time in the minor leagues, the media began to call Bottomley “Sunny Jim”, due to his pleasant disposition.
The next season, Bottomley played for the Houston Buffaloes of the Class-A Texas League. Bottomley suffered a leg injury early in the season which became infected, and impeded his performance during the season. Bottomley managed only a .227 batting average in 130 games and struggled with his fielding. Unable to sell Bottomley to Houston for $1,200 after the season ($15,920 in current dollar terms), Rickey sold Bottomley to the Syracuse Chiefs of the Class-AA International League for $1,000 ($13,267 in current dollar terms). Fully recovered from his leg injury in 1922, Bottomley batted .348 with 14 home runs, 15 triples, and a .567 slugging percentage for the Chiefs. After the season, the Cardinals purchased Bottomley from the Chiefs for $15,000 ($212,058 in current dollar terms).
Bottomley made his Major League Baseball debut for the St. Louis Cardinals on August 18, 1922 (Box Score). Replacing Jack Fournier, Bottomley batted .325 in 37 games. The Cardinals named Bottomley their starting first baseman in 1923. As a rookie, Bottomley batted .371, finishing second in the National League (NL) behind teammate Rogers Hornsby, who batted .384. His .425 on-base percentage also finished second in the NL behind Hornsby, while he finished sixth in slugging percentage, with a .535 mark. His 94 runs batted in (RBIs) were tenth-best in the league.
Bottomley posted a .316 batting average in 1924. In a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 16, 1924, Bottomley set the major league record for RBIs in a single game, with 12, breaking Wilbert Robinson’s record of 11, set in 1892. Robinson was serving as the manager of the Dodgers at the time. This mark has since been tied by Mark Whiten in 1993. Finishing the season with 111 RBIs, placing third in the NL, Bottomley’s 14 home runs were seventh-best in the NL, while his .500 slugging percentage was good for tenth.
Bottomley hit .367 in 1925, finishing second in the NL to Hornsby. He led the NL with 227 hits, while his 128 RBIs were third-best, and his .413 on-base percentage was seventh-best in the league. Bottomley batted .298 during the 1926 season, with an NL-leading 120 RBIs. His 19 home runs placed second in the NL, behind Hack Wilson’s 21, while his .506 slugging percentage was sixth-best. He batted .345 in the 1926 World Series, as the Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees.
In 1927, Bottomley finished the season with 124 RBIs, fourth best in the league, and a .509 slugging percentage, finishing sixth in the NL. Bottomley hit .325 with 31 home runs and 136 RBIs in 1928, leading the league in home runs and RBIs. He also became the second Major League player in history to join the 20–20–20 club. That year, he won the League Award, given to the most valuable player of the NL The Cardinals reached the 1928 World Series, and Bottomley batted .214 as they lost to the New York Yankees.
In 1929, Bottomley hit 29 home runs, finishing seventh in the NL, while his 137 RBIs were fifth-best, and his .568 slugging percentage placed him in eighth. After having what manager Gabby Street considered a “poor year” in 1930, Bottomley struggled in the 1930 World Series, batting .045 in 22 at-bats, as the Cardinals lost to the Philadelphia Athletics. Following the series, Bottomley described his World Series performance as “a bust as far as hitting goes”.
Amid questions about Bottomley’s status with the Cardinals heading into the 1931 season, he demonstrated renewed hitting ability during spring training. Despite the presence of Ripper Collins, a superior fielder who transferred to the Cardinals from the Rochester Red Wings of the International League, Street announced that Bottomley would remain the starting first baseman. However, Bottomley suffered an injury and struggled early in the 1931 season after returning to the game, and it appeared that he might lose his job to Collins, who filled in for Bottomley during his injury. Bottomley returned to form after his return, and he finished the season with a .3482 batting average, placing third behind teammate Chick Hafey’s .3489 and Bill Terry’s .3486, the closest batting average finish in MLB history. His .534 slugging percentage was the sixth best in the league. The Cardinals reached the 1931 World Series, with Bottomley batting .160, as the Cardinals defeated the Athletics. That offseason, other teams began to attempt to trade for either Bottomley or Collins. Bottomley batted .296 in 1932, though he only played in 91 games.
Hall of Fame
Bottomley was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 1974 by the Veterans Committee. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America charged that the Veterans Committee was not selective enough in choosing members. Charges of cronyism were levied against the Veterans Committee. When Bottomley was elected, the Veterans Committee included Frankie Frisch, a teammate of Bottomley’s with the Cardinals. Frisch and Bill Terry, also a member of the Veterans Committee at the time, shepherded the selections of teammates Jesse Haines in 1970, Dave Bancroft and Chick Hafey in 1971, Ross Youngs in 1972, George Kelly in 1973, and Freddie Lindstrom in 1976. This led to the Veterans Committee having its powers reduced in subsequent years. In 2014, the Cardinals announced Bottomley among 22 former players and personnel to be inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum for the inaugural class of 2014.