The only man to have ever been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and also win a seat in Congress (both in the House and the Senate) has passed away at the age of 85 – Jim Bunning’s career can only be described as truly unique.
From 1955 until 1971, he played for four MLB teams (Tigers, Phillies, Pirates, and Dodgers). Unless you saw him pitch, it would be hard to describe accurately just how domineering he was with his side arm deliveries. By the conclusion of his career, Bunning was the second pitcher (Cy Young being the first) to record at least 1,000 strikeouts, win at least 100 games, and throw no hitters in both leagues. His 224 victories and 3.27 ERA merited him a 1996 induction into the Hall of Fame.
Of all of his feats, Bunning was perhaps proudest of the perfect game that he threw on Father’s Day June 21, 1964 against the New York Mets: it was a perfectly appropriate day for this to occur because Bunning had 7 children at the time (two more children came later). Prior to the game he attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and later said he felt nothing special about the day until Tony Taylor made a terrific defensive play in the 5th inning.
Ironically, even though Bunning was known as a pitcher who was not afraid to throw inside at the batter and would later prove to be a blunt, even aggressive member of Congress, he displayed a shrewd reasonableness when it came to contract negotiations. One general manager recalled that negotiations were lengthy because Bunning could go over a season pitch by pitch.
After he retired, Bunning managed in the minor leagues for four seasons before being elected to office in 1977 to the Fort Thomas, Kentucky city council. He went on to serve in the Kentucky State Senate in 1979, and in 1986 won his first congressional election to the House of Representatives. He was to be re-elected five more times.
In 1998, Bunning won his first term in the U.S. Senate, where he served two terms before retiring in 2010.
Perhaps the most supreme incongruity of his life was that as a politician Bunning was very conservative – and yet as a baseball player he was active in the player’s union and helped recruit Marvin Miller as executive director. Miller’s term resulted in massive changes to the game, none of which can be construed to be old-fashioned.
Following a funeral mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky, Bunning will be buried is St. Stephen Cemetery in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.
The other legacy he leaves behind is his prodigious family: 35 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.
Quite a story. RIP Jim Bunning.
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