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Original Issue

Sunny Jim Sweeps the Bases

A remarkable record was set in the major leagues 39 years ago. It has never been surpassed

In 1960 Bobby Richardson of the New York Yankees won himself a sports car and a pay raise with a record-breaking feat—12 runs batted in during the seven-game World Series with the Pirates. It was an extraordinary effort, but it hardly compared to the performance put on by another ballplayer in a single game on a midweek September afternoon in 1924. He batted in 12 runs that day, to set one of the most remarkable records in baseball—one that still stands today, 39 years later. His name was James Leroy Bottomley, but everyone called him Sunny Jim.

There never was any mistaking Sunny Jim when he swaggered jauntily onto the field at Sportsmans Park in St. Louis during the 1920s The rangy Cardinal first baseman exuded good humor, from the way he walked to the way he wore his cap—at a rakish angle on his head, the bill cocked high over his left ear.

Sunny Jim, happy-go-lucky personality notwithstanding, was one of the most feared hitters in the majors during his 11 years with St. Louis (1922-1932). In nine of those seasons he batted over .300—once reaching .371, another time .367. In 1928 he tied for the home-run lead with 31 and won the Most Valuable Player award.

However, the RBI record Bottomley set on that September afternoon was scarcely noted by most of the country's newspapers at the time. The headline news the next day was the U.S.'s defeat of England in an international polo match on Long Island, with the Prince of Wales watching.

Wilbert (Uncle Robbie) Robinson was the manager of the Brooklyn team that day, and he was plenty concerned with what was happening. His club had won 15 straight games in a streak that had ended 10 days earlier. Brooklyn was only a game behind the league-leading New York Giants when Bottomley went wild in Ebbets Field on September 16. From a more personal viewpoint, Uncle Robbie was even more upset over the record Bottomly was to establish that afternoon. For Robinson, as a catcher with the old Baltimore Orioles, had set the old record of 11 RBIs in a single game 32 years earlier, and he was extremely proud of it.

Bottomley warmed up with a single in the first inning that drove in two runs and a double in the second, good for one RBI. In the fourth inning two men were on base when Rogers Hornsby came up to the plate. The Dodgers were behind by four runs, and Robinson didn't want the score to get any worse. He ordered Hornsby purposely walked to get at Bottomley. The strategy was fairly sound, for Hornsby was hitting .428 and Sunny Jim a mere .320. But Bottomley embarrassed Robinson by hitting the second pitch high over the right-field wall for a grand-slam home run.

When Sunny Jim came up again in the sixth inning there was only one man on base. He hit another homer, to bring his total RBIs for the day to nine. In the seventh, Bottomley got a single that scored two men and tied him with Robinson's RBI record. Another single in the ninth drove in his 12th run.

Sunny Jim had been up six times and had three singles, a double and two home runs off five different pitchers. The Cardinals, of course, won easily 17-3 and, despite all the scoring, the game was over in less than two hours. That included the time needed to revive the field announcer, who had collapsed on his megaphone while the Cardinals were scoring four runs in the first inning before a man was out.

Uncle Robbie never forgave Sunny Jim for his performance. The next afternoon Bottomley stopped by the Brooklyn dugout to borrow some chewing tobacco from Robinson. Uncle Robbie chased him away, shouting angrily after him, "You'll get no more chews from me. Do you know what you did to me yesterday? You chased me right out of the record book."