First of all, I realize that it has been over one month since the beloved baseball player & elected official from Kentucky passed away, but Jim Bunning is the kind of man that stays positively in your mind for years to come.
James Paul David Bunning was born in Southgate, KY on Friday, October 23rd, 1931. He was raised in the Catholic faith and chose to attend Xavier University in Cincinatti, OH. Starting in his freshman year, Jim became the pitcher for the Musketeers. During this time, he was noticed by the Detroit Tigers. After four years and a Bachelor’s degree in economics, Jim left Xavier to pitch for a Tigers-affiliated minor league team. He was there for five seasons. And then on July 20, 1955, Jim Bunning was asked to play with the official Detroit Tigers. As a Tiger, Bunning was recognized for having “an excellent curve ball, a confusing delivery and a sneaky fast ball.” And three years to the day of his MLB game, Jim Bunning pitched one of his two career no-hitters. In August 1959, while still with the Tigers, Bunning became only the tenth MLB pitcher to reach a nine-pitch/three-strikeout half-inning (around seventy pitchers have done so since then.)
As a Major Leaguer, Jim Bunning was certainly ahead of his time. For the 1964 season, Bunning was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. On Sunday, June 21st, 1964, Bunning led the Phillies to a perfect game against the New York Mets. This was the National League’s first perfect game in 84 years. But more significantly, Shea Stadium erupted in applause for Bunning (even from Mets fans!) Following his four seasons with the Phillies, Bunning also played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the L.A. Dodgers, before returning to Philadelphia for Bunning’s final two seasons.
Six years after retiring from a successful MLB career, Jim Bunning ran for the Fort Thomas (KY) City Council. In 1983, Bunning was the Republican nominee for Kentucky Governor, but ultimately lost the election to Martha L. Collins. However, three years later, Bunning won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He would serve in the House for six terms, before narrowly being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998. During his two terms, Senator Bunning served on four committees: the Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs committee, Energy & Natural Resources committee, the Budget committee, and the Finance committee.
As a father of nine children (five daughters, four sons) and a husband of close to sixty-five years, it’s not hard to believe that Jim Bunning was as equally dedicated to his family as he was to his careers in sports and public service. In the years since, Bunning stated that he was honored that his 1964 perfect game occurred on Father’s Day. Around the time of his 85th birthday, former Senator Bunning suffered a stroke. And roughly seven months later (on May 26th), the Phillies’ perfect game hero became a legend.
In the future, there will most likely be more athlete-turned-politicians. But few of them could be as prolific or decent as Jim Bunning was. To quote The Sandlot: Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.
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