Jim Bottomley Game Used Bat

Posed batting of St.Louis Cardinals James Bottomley, c.1923

1925 Hillerich & Bradsby Jim Bottomley

On a mid-September afternoon in Brooklyn in 1924, Cardinals third–year first baseman Jim Bottomley came to bat six times and delivered six hits, including two home runs, a double, and three singles off the Robins’ pitchers. Bottomley drove in 12 runs that day, and set a major league record for most Runs Batted In (RBIs) in a single game that still stands (shared with the Cardinals’ Mark Whiten in 1993). The previous record of 11 had stood since 1892 and, ironically, had belonged to Brooklyn’s manager, Wilbert Robinson. Uncle Robbie’s record stood for 32 years. Bottomley’s record stands to this day, and his performance was a milestone on his road to Cooperstown.


Bottomley played for several local semipro baseball teams in order to make extra money. He caught the eye of a local policeman who had the ear of St. Louis Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey. He convinced the GM that the 19-year-old slugger merited further investigation. Rickey dispatched scout Charley Barrett to take a closer look.  Barrett invited Bottomley to a Cardinal tryout camp. After a tryout at Cardinal Field in late 1919, Jim immediately signed his first contract, earning $150-a-month.


In 1920, he split time between the Class D Mitchell Kernels of the South Dakota league, where he batted.312 in 97 games and the Sioux City Packers of the Class A Western League. The latter stint was only for six games, and he managed one hit in 14 at-bats. He remained in ‘A’ ball for the 1921 season, where he batted only .227 in 130 games with the Houston Buffaloes of the Texas League.


Despite his difficult year in Houston, Bottomley moved to AA the following year and enjoyed a breakout campaign. In 119 games with the Syracuse Chiefs, of the International League, he batted .348, slugged .567, and added 14 home runs and 15 triples against competition that included players ranging from an ascending Lefty Grove to a declining Fred Merkle. His performance forced Branch Rickey to make a fundamental change to the existing relationship between St Louis and their minor league affiliates.


By the time Bottomley joined Syracuse, the Cardinals owned half the team, the other portion owned by Earnest Landgraf. After Bottomley’s stellar 1922 season, Landgraf advised Rickey that he was considering auctioning Bottomley to the highest bidder. . Had the tactic worked, the viability of the major/minor league team relationship, vital to Rickey’s organizational vision, might have foundered. Rickey bought Bottomley’s contract from Landgraf for $15,000, a large sum, since Bottomley was technically Cardinals’ property. St Louis owner Sam Breadon followed up by buying out Landgraf entirely.


Bottomley made his major league debut on August 18, 1922, and played at first base for the rest of the season, replacing veteran Jack Fournier. In 37 games, he batted .325.


The Cardinals named Bottomley the starting first baseman in 1923, and the rookie did not disappoint. He managed only eight home runs, but batted .371 to finish second in the National League batting race, 13 points behind teammate Rogers Hornsby’s 384 mark. The next season, Jim’s average fell to .316, but he established his record on September 16, in Brooklyn.

Against the Robins that afternoon, Bottomley came to bat in the top of the first inning with the bases loaded and drove in two runs with a single off pitcher Rube Ehrhardt. The next inning he doubled to drive in teammate Willie Sherdel. In the fourth, Bottomley delivered a grand slam, and followed that in the sixth with a two-run homer. In the seventh, he smacked another single to drive in his tenth and eleventh runs on the day, and capped his afternoon by driving in Hornsby with a base hit in the ninth.


At some point during his minor league time, the press had dubbed Bottomley “Sunny Jim,” in part because of his irrepressible good nature and cheerful disposition. He was widely considered a nice man. He was perhaps a bit quirky, given his fascination with astrology, but he also had a sense of fun, wearing a constant smile that earned him his sobriquet. His 1959 obituary in the New York Times later described the player:


“He wore his baseball cap at a jaunty angle and his mannerisms on the playing field made him a Ladies’ Day favorite. But he was equally the favorite of the male fans for his slugging prowess.”


"Sunny" or not, Bottomley wreaked havoc with opposing pitchers in 1925, leading the league in hits as his average climbed back to .367.


Both Bottomley and the Cardinals tasted World Series play for the first time in 1926. He hit .345 in the Series to help the Cardinals defeat the Yankees in a seven-game classic that featured the Grover Cleveland Alexander’s legendary relief work in Game Seven, and ended with Babe Ruth being thrown out attempting to steal second. Bottomley earned a $5,584 winner’s share that would, later become the seed money for his retirement. Jim returned to the World Series in 1928, when those same Yankees swept St. Louis in four straight, and in 1930, when Connie Mack’s Athletics dynasty beat the Cards four games to two.


That 1928 season was Bottomley’s career best, as he hit 42 doubles, 20 triples, 31 homers, and led the league in RBIs with 136. The numbers, along with the Cardinals’ team success, convinced voters to select “Sunny Jim” over Freddie Lindstrom as the National League Most Valuable Player. Bottomley became the first MVP developed in his team’s own farm system to win the award.


Jim kept his average over .300 into the 1930s. In 1931, though limited by injuries to only 108 games, Bottomley finished third in the closest batting race in National League history. His average of .3482 trailed runner-up Bill Terry’s .3486 and champion Chick Hafey’s .3489 A seven-game triumph in the Cardinals’ World Series rematch with Philadelphia softened the blow of not wining the batting title. It was Jim’s second championship and fourth series. It was also, as it turned out, his last. Over the course of four series, Jim earned an additional $17,770, which became seed money for his post-baseball career.


Bottomley managed to play in only 91 games in 1932, and although he batted a credible .296, the Cardinals traded him to the Cincinnati Reds on December 17, for slugger Ownie Carroll and Estel Crabtree. Two months later, on February 4, 1933, Bottomley wed Elizabeth “Betty” Browner, and although there were no children from the marriage, the couple remained together happily for the remaining years of his life.


Father Time eventually caught up with ‘Sunny Jim’s’ bat. Over the next three seasons with the Reds, he never hit higher than .284, and did not drive in more than 83 runs in any season. On March 21, 1936, the Reds traded the infielder to the St. Louis Browns, where Bottomley’s former Cardinal teammate Rogers Hornsby was managing, in exchange for Johnny Burnett. That year Bottomley’s average climbed to .298, but the next year it fell to .239 in only 65 games.

Early in 1937, the Browns fired Hornsby after a 25-52 start and named Bottomley as the interim replacement. ‘Sunny Jim’ was able to manage only 21 more wins out of the hapless Browns, en route to a 46-108 record, 9 ½ games behind the seventh place A’s, and a whopping 56 games out of first. On September 16 of that year, one day shy of the thirteenth anniversary of his 12-RBI classic, Jim Bottomley went 1-for-4 in what proved to be his final major league game, a 4-3 Browns loss to the Athletics in Philadelphia. He never again took the field as a player.


Thus an outstanding career came to an end. In addition to his career .310 batting average and his National League MVP award in 1928, he led the league twice in total bases, doubles, and RBIs, once each in hits, triples and home runs. He also drove in over 100 runs six times and has one of baseball’s longest-enduring records.


(Excerpt from SABR Article by Bill Johnson)

Jim Bottomley lumber is a must have in a Hall of Fame bat collection. Bottomley signed his signature endorsement contract with Hillerich & Bradsby in April of 1926. Labeling period is 1925-28 which narrows down the year of issue of this bat to 1925 or early 1926 since it is block letter last name only. The bat measures 34" and weighs 37.4 oz. Since Bottomley's listed orders for 1926 are both for 35" bats it is presumed that the bat be from an order of either "His 8/1/22 Model" or "His 7/9/25 Model". Both of those models shipped in 1925 at n/s" (unspecified length) and 39oz-40oz. He also ordered a Rogers Hornsby model in 1925, but it was indexed at 35" in length.


As alluded to above, Bottomley's 1925 season was a monster. He led the National League in hits with 227, had 21 home runs, and 128 RBI. He also had a career high 44 doubles and batted an astounding .367 which was good for 2nd in the National League that year, behind Hornsby's .403.


Ty Cobb's Hillerich & Bradsby C28 model is indexed at 34 1/2" and I believe the majority of his bats in the hobby are found to be that length. Certainly, at nearly 36", this particular bat is a definite deviation from the norm. In the "Complete Reference Guide to Louisville Slugger Professional Player Bats" by Vince Malta, the details of Cobb's bat orders are shared. In that chart, his entry for 1927 references "Model(s) Not Clearly Designated in Shipping Record, as they were chosen by Morrow (H&B employee Henry Morrow)." There is no length listed (listed as n/s", non specified length). Weights listed are 36, 38, 40, and 42 oz. My bat, at 35 7/8" and 41.3 oz would fit an order of unspecified length and 42 oz.


Additionally, the image below provides photographic proof that Cobb had access to longer bats. It just so happens that those longer bats also share this unique "Burnished Finish". The apparent difference in length as well as the unusual finish displayed by two particular bats in the photo is what makes the image a very exciting and important bit of evidence when considering the use of this bat by Tyrus Raymond Cobb.

April 12, 1927 - Cobb selects his bat of choice.

The photo shown at left remains the single greatest piece of evidence of Cobb having used (or at least having had direct access to) a bat with this burnished finish and length longer than 34 1/2" (at least in theory). The image, taken at Yankee Stadium on April 12, 1927, shows Cobb as he carefully selects his weapon of choice before facing Yankee hurler Waite Hoyt.

The photo below highlights two bats on the ground in front of Cobb. Both of those bats have a virtually identical finish (darkened barrel, tan lower handle, no tape). For modern day bats this would be considered a very strong "style match". Unfortunately there aren't any distinguishable markings on the bats in the photo that are visible on my bat which would make it an exact "photo match".

Also noted in the photo is that the top highlighted bat has a distinct offset in placement. The knob of the 2nd bat appears to be around 2" or so to the left of the knob of the 3rd bat. However, the end of the barrel of the 2nd bat looks to be at least 4" to the left of the end of the barrel of the 3rd bat.


If the 3rd bat was shifted to the left so that the knobs of bat 2 and bat 3 lined up I would expect that the 3rd bat would still be at least 2"-3" longer. If the 2nd bat is a Cobb model presumed to be 34 1/2" in length (as indexed) then the length of the 3rd bat could easily be 35 1/2" to 36 1/2".


This photo shows very clearly that Cobb had direct access to bats with this unique burnished finish, un-taped handles, and lengths believed to be longer than his 34 1/2" index length. The bat was acquired in St. Louis, MO. The Philadelphia Athletics played against the St. Louis Browns in St. Louis in May, July, and August in 1927. It's very possible after a such a long career and many trips to St. Louis that Cobb became friendly with some of the residents there. That he may have gifted the bat to one of the locals toward the end of the 1927 season knowing his career was soon to be coming to an end would not be out of character for Cobb.