August 28, 2014

The Day “Sunny Jim” Made History

February 22, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

One of the great things about going to a baseball game is you’ll never know what you will see. Perhaps you might witness a no-hitter or a triple play. Or, as was the case for roughly 8,000 fans in Brooklyn on Sept. 16, 1924, a record which has yet to be broken.

Certainly there were few indicators that at Ebbets Field on that day the Cardinals’ Jim Bottomley would knock in 12 runs. However, things would conspire for the St. Louis first baseman which would allow him to make history.

Bottomley had proven to be a run-producer upon his entry to the majors. He arrived in St. Louis in August 1922 and was inserted as the cleanup hitter. He didn’t disappoint, batting .325/.358/.523 with 35 RBI in 37 games.

He followed that up in 1923 by hitting .371/.424/.535 with 94 RBI, again usually hitting fourth.

And thus it was again in 1924, Bottomley batting fourth for the Cardinals and hitting .318/.363/.502 with 92 RBI entering that Sept. 16 game.

Still, of course, there would be no predicting Bottomley’s incredible performance, especially when you consider other factors: St. Louis was languishing in sixth place with a record of 59- 83, while Brooklyn was fighting for the pennant, its mark of 86-57 placing the Robins just one game behind the New York Giants.

In addition, on the mound for Brooklyn was rookie Rube Ehrhardt. Ehrhardt hadn’t joined the Robins until mid-July and wasn’t a permanent part of the starting rotation until mid-August. However, at this point he started to dominate, throwing five consecutive complete-game victories from Aug. 17-Sept. 10, including two shutouts. He allowed just seven runs – three earned – in this span.

Ehrhardt had pitched since Sept. 10, however, tossing the final inning of a 6-5 loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 13.

Despite his recent success, against the Cardinals, Ehrhardt wouldn’t even retire one batter. In fact, he would load the bases without a ball leaving the infield.

Ehrhardt began the game by walking Heine Mueller – an ominous sign as Mueller would finish the season with just 19 walks and a .312 on-base percentage. Taylor Douthit then reached on an infield single to shortstop Johnny Mitchell while Rogers Hornsby, batting .426, beat out a bunt to fill the bases.

Bottomley then stepped up and delivered a ringing single to center field, scoring both Mueller and Douthit. A Chick Hafey triple would chase Ehrhardt from the game.

Bonnie Hollingsworth, making just his third appearance of the season for Brooklyn and what would turn out to be his last in the majors until 1928, replaced Ehrhardt. He was still on the hill in the second, with the score 4-0, and he helped Bottomley’s cause by walking pitcher Bill Sherdel and Mueller.

Douthit would pop out on a bunt attempt, but there was still an RBI chance for Hornsby, who certainly had the advantage against a pitcher like Hollingsworth. But fate was on Bottomley’s side in this game, and Hornsby struck out – just one of 32 times he did that during his .424 season.

Now with two out, the left-handed hitting Bottomley hit one down the third-base line for a double, Sherdel scoring.

In the fourth, with the score now 5-1, Hollingsworth, as he did in the second, put Sherdel and Mueller on base to start the inning, Sherdel doubling and Mueller, incredibly, walking for a third time (he would walk only two more times the rest of the season).

With the game still within reach, Wilbert Robinson chose to replace Hollingsworth with Art Decatur, who had alternated between the rotation and bullpen all season. Decatur had only pitched four innings since a Sept. 1 start, however, and this, like Hollingsworth, would turn out to be his final game of the season.

The first man Decatur would face was Douthit, and he bunted the runners over. With two men in scoring position, but first base open, the Robins elected to walk Hornsby intentionally and take their chances with Bottomley and the bases loaded.

“It was a bad move,” wrote Thomas S. Rice of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Jim caught one of Decatur’s pitches squarely on the end of his bat and poled it far over the right-field wall …”

The score was now 9-1 Cardinals, and Bottomley had driven in seven runs.

In the sixth it was still 9-1 and Decatur remained on the mound. Douthit led off with a walk and, perhaps speaking to the times, stole second. Again, Hornsby had an RBI opportunity but he could only loft a deep fly ball which advanced Douthit to third.

He could have stayed at second. Bottomley greeted Decatur with another home run over the right-field fence, giving him nine RBI and the Cards an 11-1 lead.

It was 13-1 in the seventh when Robinson sent in Tex Wilson, a 23-year-old rookie who had pitched just once previously, allowing three runs in 1 2/3 innings in a 12-9 Brooklyn win over Philadelphia on Sept. 2.

With this game out of hand, and Brooklyn in a pennant race, it would be reasonable to assume that Robinson wouldn’t put in his reliable, veteran pitchers, saving them for future games.

Just one more advantage for Bottomley, who would get a couple of more in helping his cause this inning.

Mueller led off with an infield single to Mitchell at short. Even leading 13-1, Douthit bunted. Wilson, though, tried to get Mueller at second base and was unsuccessful.

Up stepped Hornsby yet again with a chance to drive in some runs. Instead, like Douthit, with a 12-run lead he bunted. The sacrifice moved the runners over and gave Bottomley two runners in scoring position and he came through yet again.

Depending on which version you read, the single was either to left (New York Bureau of the St. Louis Globe Democrat), right (Brooklyn Eagle via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) or unknown (New York Times). Either way, it drove in two more, giving Bottomley 11 RBI – tying the record set June 10, 1892 by a man sitting in the opposite dugout, Brooklyn manager Robinson (who also had a major-league record seven hits that day).

In the ninth inning, with the score now 16-2, Robinson inserted another rookie, Jim Roberts, who, like every Brooklyn reliever before him in this game, wouldn’t pitch again in 1924 (Roberts would pitch just once more in the majors, appearing in relief in Brooklyn’s third game of the 1925 season and lasting just one inning).

Bottomley would get a chance to break Robinson’s record, but once again he would need some help as he batted second in the inning. However, the baseball gods were smiling on Sunny Jim this day.

Hornsby led off by lacing a triple off Roberts down the left-field line, putting Bottomley’s record just 90 feet away. Robinson didn’t take the bat out of the St. Louis first baseman’s hands with an intentional walk, even though Bottomley already was 5-for-5 and one RBI away from breaking his record.

Bottomley again took full advantage, completing his incredible day by singling to right field for his sixth straight hit and a record 12th RBI. He then left the game for pinch runner Jack Smith.

Writer Rice concluded his game article by stating that it was “an afternoon that should long be remembered. Breaking a record that has withstood the attempts of 32 years is something not accomplished every afternoon. It is as likely to be 32 more years more before the stunt is duplicated.”

Rice was off by more than 30 years. On Sept. 7, 1993, just nine days shy of the 69th anniversary of Bottomley’s feat, another Cardinal, Mark Whiten, had 12 RBI against the Reds (and tied another record by hitting four home runs in the process).

Much like those in attendance at Ebbets Field in 1924, surely fans attending that game in Cincinnati weren’t expecting to see something like that occur, either.

Comments

One Response to “The Day “Sunny Jim” Made History”
  1. Chip Greene says:

    Dave, love to hear about the ’24 robins. My grandfather, Nelson Greene, was sent to Little Rock that year after four appearances for Brooklyn. Interestingly, the press clipping that announced the transaction indicated that Jim Roberts was ambidextrous.

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