The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MATT SCHUDEL matt.schudel@wash­

Jim Bun­ning, Hall of Famer and for­mer U.S. sen­a­tor from Ken­tucky, dies at 85.

Jim Bun­ning, a hard-throw­ing Hall of Fame pitcher who once threw a per­fect game and who took his in­tim­i­dat­ing, com­bat­ive style from the base­ball di­a­mond to Capi­tol Hill as a Repub­li­can mem­ber of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and later as a two-term U.S. sen­a­tor from Ken­tucky, died May 26 at a hos­pice fa­cil­ity in north­ern Ken­tucky. He was 85.

His for­mer chief of staff, Jon Deuser, con­firmed the death. The cause was com­pli­ca­tions from a stroke sev­eral months ago.

Mr. Bun­ning first gained ac­claim as one of the most reli­able pitch­ers of the 1950s and 1960s, first with the Detroit Tigers and later with the Philadel­phia Phillies. He was the start­ing pitcher for the Amer­i­can League in three All Star games and on June 21, 1964 — Fa­ther’s Day — he hurled a per­fect game for the Phillies against the New York Mets.

He could be dis­mis­sive of re­porters — as a base­ball player and as a con­gress­man — which some said kept him from be­ing se­lected for the Na­tional Base­ball Hall of Fame by vot­ers of the Base­ball Writ­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. He was elected by the Hall of Fame’s Vet­er­ans Com­mit­tee in 1996.

Dur­ing his ac­cep­tance speech, he was char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally blunt.

“For over four years now base­ball has been rud­der­less,” he said. “For God’s sake and for the game’s sake, find a rud­der.”

Even as a ballplayer, Mr. Bun­ning had shown an in­ter­est in pol­i­tics and off-the-field is­sues. He was a leader in the found­ing of the play­ers’ union, the Ma­jor League Base­ball Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, and in 1968 headed a group called Ath­letes for Nixon.

Af­ter his re­tire­ment from base­ball in 1971, he man­aged for five years in the Phillies’ mi­nor­league sys­tem be­fore en­ter­ing pol­i­tics, first be­ing elected to the city coun­cil, then to the state Se­nate. He was Ken­tucky’s Repub­li­can can­di­date for gov­er­nor in 1983, los­ing to Demo­crat Martha Layne Collins.

Mr. Bun­ning was elected to Congress in 1986 and served six terms. As a con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can, he voted to re­duce fund­ing for the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and to kill the U.S. Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment out­right.

“He’s a good guy, very prin­ci­pled, but a tough hom­bre,” Rep. Robert Borski (D-Pa.) told the Philadel­phia In­quirer in 1997. “He’s not out there to make friends.”

The same rep­u­ta­tion fol­lowed Mr. Bun­ning to the Se­nate af­ter his elec­tion in 1998. He nar­rowly won re­elec­tion in 2004, af­ter a nasty cam­paign in which he said his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Daniel Mon­gia­rdo, “looked like one of Sad­dam Hus­sein’s sons.”

In 2006, Time mag­a­zine named Mr. Bun­ning one of the coun­try’s five worst se­na­tors and dubbed him “the un­der­per­former.” He was dis­cour­aged from run­ning for a third term by se­nior Repub­li­can lead­ers, in­clud­ing his fel­low sen­a­tor from Ken­tucky, Mitch McCon­nell.

Af­ter an­nounc­ing he would not seek re­elec­tion in 2010, Mr. Bun­ning an­gered many when he blocked $10 bil­lion in fund­ing for ex­tended un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

“It only adds to the frus­tra­tion of the Amer­i­can peo­ple when we are un­able to act on a mea­sure that has over­whelm­ing sup­port,” Sen. Su­san Collins (R-Maine) said at the time. “He’s hurt­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

When he de­scribed his im­pres­sions of his fel­low Re­pub­li­cans who rec­om­mended that he re­tire, Mr. Bun­ning re­called his base­ball days.

“When you’ve dealt with Ted Wil­liams and Mickey Man­tle and Yogi Berra and Stan Mu­sial,” he said, “the peo­ple I’m deal­ing with now are kind of down the scale.”

James Paul David Bun­ning was born Oct. 23, 1931, in Covington, Ky., and grew up in South­gate, a Ken­tucky sub­urb of Cincin­nati. His fa­ther worked for a com­pany that made lad­ders.

Mr. Bun­ning at­tended a Je­suit high school in Cincin­nati, where he ex­celled in sports. He went to Cincin­nati’s Xavier Uni­ver­sity on a bas­ket­ball schol­ar­ship, but the Detroit Tigers rec­og­nized his skill in base­ball and signed him to a mi­nor-league con­tract in 1950.

He was al­lowed to com­plete his ed­u­ca­tion at Xavier, from which he grad­u­ated in 1953, while pitch­ing in the mi­nor leagues. Mr. Bun­ning joined the Tigers in 1955 and be­came a star two years later, when he led the Amer­i­can League with 20 wins.

It was his only 20-win sea­son, though he would win 19 games four times.

On the mound, the 6-foot-3 Mr. Bun­ning was a men­ac­ing pres­ence, es­pe­cially with an al­most sidearm de­liv­ery. He was known for a lively fast­ball, a hit­ter-freezing curve­ball and a ten­dency to throw at hit­ters who crowded the plate.

Af­ter be­ing traded to Philadel­phia be­fore the 1964 sea­son, Mr. Bun­ning — who had seven chil­dren at the time — found per­fec­tion on Fa­ther’s Day at New York’s Shea Sta­dium. He set down all 27 Mets hit­ters on a mere 90 pitches.

He de­fied base­ball cus­tom by speak­ing about his per­for­mance in the dugout be­tween in­nings.

“I said, ‘Guys, we have a per­fect game here. Do what­ever you have to do. Dive for the ball. What­ever is nec­es­sary,’ ” he told the In­quirer in 2004.

It was the first reg­u­lar-sea­son per­fect game in the ma­jor leagues since 1922. (The New York Yankees’ Don Larsen pitched a per­fect game in the 1956 World Se­ries.)

Mr. Bun­ning won 224 games dur­ing his 17-year ca­reer and had an earned run av­er­age of 3.27. He was the first pitcher of the 20th cen­tury to pitch no-hit­ters and to win more than 100 games in both the Amer­i­can and Na­tional leagues. When he re­tired in 1971, his 2,855 strike­outs ranked sec­ond in base­ball his­tory, be­hind only Wash­ing­ton Se­na­tors great Wal­ter John­son.

Sur­vivors in­clude his wife of 65 years, the for­mer Mary Theis; nine chil­dren; 35 grand­chil­dren; and 21 great-grand­chil­dren.

Dur­ing his em­bat­tled 2004 Se­nate cam­paign, Mr. Bun­ning said, “Sure we made mis­takes. Every­body makes mis­takes.”

Then he added, “The only time I’ve ever been per­fect was for about two hours and 10 min­utes on June 21, 1964.”


Three-time All Star pitcher Jim Bun­ning hurled a per­fect game for the Philadel­phia Phillies against the New York Mets in 1964.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.