During Tuesday night’s game at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols knocked in his 129th runner of the 2009 season. That had both current-year and historic ramifications.
The RBI enabled Pujols for one day to again tie the Milwaukee Brewers’ Prince Fielder for the Major League lead in the category with 129. The race between the two first basemen has been back and forth for some time now.
Despite all his successes and honors, Albert has yet to pace even the National League in runs batted in over a season, let alone Major League Baseball. His career best was 137 in 2006, which would have tied him for the American League lead, while St. Louis native Ryan Howard took the NL and MLB crown with 149 RBI.
In fact, Howard has strongly entered the mix this season with a late-September tear. With 12 RBI in his last six games, including four on Wednesday, the Phillies’ first baseman is now sitting between Fielder’s 131 and Pujols at 129. It is a shame that Howard and Pujols can’t pitch the ninth innings for their respective clubs, too.
The at-bat race favors Howard as the Phils have 11 games remaining, the Brewers ten and the Cardinals just nine.
Pujols’ 129th RBI in 2009 was also the 1,106th of his almost-nine year career. That enabled him to break a tie with another Cardinals first baseman from long ago. “Sunny” Jim Bottomley at 1,105 is now fourth on the club’s all-time RBI list with Pujols having taken over third.
Enos “Country” Slaughter is next at 1,148 with Stan “the Man” Musial of course on top with 1,951.
I want to stop there for a moment.
I think most fans would agree that even if Albert Pujols never played another inning, he would not only be a Hall of Famer, but would also be remembered as one of the greatest players to even put on a baseball uniform.
Surely no one else will ever wear number five for the St. Louis Cardinals. Just this very morning, Sporting News named Albert Major League Baseball’s Player of the Decade.
No one says those kinds of things about Jim Bottomley, who briefly wore number four in the earliest days of uniform numbering. Despite having been enshrined into Baseball’s Hall of Fame back in 1974, his number is among those never retired by the club.
It greatly disappoints me to see lesser players from more recent years like Bruce Sutter and Willie McGee receive groundswells of fan support for retired number status while true past Cardinals greats and Hall of Famers Bottomley, Joe “Ducky” Medwick and Frankie Frisch are ignored by the fans and club alike.
Bottomley played 11 seasons for the Cardinals from 1922 through 1932. The .325-career hitter with St. Louis won the 1928 National League MVP Award as the first premier prospect of the Cardinals’ farm system.
Bottomley finished second twice in the batting race and third once, hitting .371 in 1923, .367 in 1925 and .348 in 1931. He led the NL in hits, triples and home runs once plus doubles, extra-base hits, total bases and RBI twice.
Along with Rogers Hornsby, Bottomley was a key leader in the Cardinals’ first world championship in 1926. After Hornsby’s departure, he led them to a second World Series win in 1931 after also taking the Cards to the Series in 1928 and 1930.
Overall, his clubs were 2-2 in four World Series before the popular player was dealt to Cincinnati after the 1932 season. Following three seasons with the Reds, Sunny Jim finished his career back in St. Louis with the 1936 and 1937 Browns.
In our 2007 ranking of the top 40 Cardinals players of all time at Scout.com, Bottomley ranked 13th. That was a blended score from four voters, artificially dropped down by one ranker inexplicably rating Bottomley at number 38.
The first baseman was ninth on my personal top 40 list, ahead of retired-numbered ex-Cardinals players Ken Boyer and Red Schoendienst. That is how much I admire Bottomley’s many accomplishments with St. Louis.
Bringing this discussion full circle, we know that Pujols just passed Bottomley in career runs batted in with the club. I bet you didn’t know that Sunny Jim actually accumulated his RBI total in 30 fewer plate appearances than Albert, 6008 to 6038.
In other words, in terms of run production, Bottomley was just as efficient as the great Pujols, who is 1-1 in his two World Series to this point.
It is a crying shame that past Cardinals greats like Jim Bottomley are virtually forgotten today. They shouldn’t be.
Update: I learned our friends at KSDK Channel 5 ran a segment in their “Cardinalography” series on Sunny Jim recently. Check it out: “How Jim Bottomley smiled his way to the Hall of Fame”.
The only part I disagree with is Cardinals Manager of Stadium Tours and Museum Outreach Brian Finch suggesting that Bottomley’s number could not be retired because he played before numbers were regularly used. That didn’t stop them with Hornsby, Gussie Busch or Jack Buck.
In addition, Finch says Bottomley didn’t play with the club as long as some. Let’s see. The player with the most recent number retired, Bruce Sutter, spent four years with St. Louis and Bottomley had 11. In fact, as players, Hornsby, Ken Boyer and Bottomley had the exact same number of years on the field with the Cardinals.
I don’t mean to be overly hard on Finch as he has the unenviable job of trying to defend the irrational decisions of others, but some of us do know the truth. Ownership decides which numbers are retired. It isn’t a democracy.