“Sunny Jim” was the first MVP to emerge from a team’s own farm system. A product of Branch Rickey’s Cardinal chain, he arrived at the parent club in 1922. Within a year, he replaced Jack Fournier at first base, as expected, and held the job until traded to Cincinnati after the 1932 season to make room for another farm boy, Ripper Collins.
A lefty cleanup man with a career slugging average of .500, Bottomley had a pleasant nature and smiling face, and the habit of wearing his cap tilted over his left eye. He batted his career-high .371 in his first full season (1923). On September 16, 1924, against the Dodgers, he drove in a record 12 runs with two homers, a double, and three singles. The MVP in 1928, he batted .325, led the league in triples (20) and RBI (136), and tied Hack Wilson for the home run lead (31). He contributed mightily to the Cardinals’ triumph in the 1926 WS, but did poorly in three others. In 1931, though limited by injury to 108 games, Bottomley finished third in the closest batting race in NL history (Chick Hafey – .3489; Bill Terry – .3486; Bottomley – .3482).
At 32 and no longer the .300 hitter he had been, the Cardinals sent Sunny Jim to Cincinnati for pitcher Ownie Carroll and outfielder Estel Crabtree – a trade of washed-up players. The Reds dealt him in 1936 to the Browns, where he was doing mostly pinch-hitting when, in 1937, he was named to succeed his old friend, Rogers Hornsby, as manager. The hopeless Browns were last when he took over, and last when the season ended, eighty games later. He was bounced in favor of another old Card, Gabby Street.
Bottomley managed a bit in the minors, but no longer needed baseball. With savings from his salary ($15,000 tops) and World Series winnings (another $22,000), he bought a Missouri cattle farm. Shortly before his death, he returned as a scout for the Cubs and manager in the Appalachian League. On the basis of strong career marks in doubles, hits, RBI, putouts, chances, and DP, he was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame.