Thursday, October 23, 2008

Senator Jim Bunning

On this day in 1931, Jim Bunning entered the world in Southgate, Kentucky. He would eventually end up in Cooperstown and the hallowed halls of the US Senate. Not too bad for a backwoods boy.

The lanky pitcher went to Xavier University, and the Tigers signed him as a free agent in 1950. He began his big league career with Detroit on July 20, 1955, and ended up playing nine seasons with them.

The 6'3" righthander's unusual pitching style, a sweeping sidearm delivery that finished with his glove hand touching the ground well in front of the mound, made him especially difficult for righthanded batters. He used a great curve and sneaky fastball, and although he was known for giving up the long ball, he could eat up the innings.

Bunning won 20 games for the Tigers in 1957 and threw a no-hitter on July 20th, 1956, against the Boston Red Sox. He was an All-Star five times with Motown.

On August 2, 1959, Bunning struck out three batters on nine pitches in the ninth inning of a 5-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox. He became the fifth American League pitcher and the 10th pitcher in Major League history to accomplish the nine-pitch/three-strikeout half-inning.

After the 1963 season, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. Bunning won 19 games in three of his four seasons there and earned two more All-Star Game appearances. He threw a perfect game on June 21, 1964, against the New York Mets, the first in the National League in 84 years. In 1967, he set a ML record with five 1-0 losses.

Bunning is remembered, perhaps unfairly, for his role in the pennant race of 1964, in which the Phillies held a commanding lead in the NL for most of the season, only to eventually lose the title to the St. Louis Cardinals when they blew a 6-1/2 game lead on September 20 by losing their last 10 games. Sounds like today's Mets.

Manager Gene Mauch used Bunning and fellow hurler Chris Short heavily down the stretch, and the two became flat worn out as September went on. Still, Bunning was the team ace, going 19-8, throwing 5 shutouts with 13 complete games. He struck out 219 and walked just 43 batters.

Bunning came to Pittsburgh in 1968 for Don Money, Woodie Fryman, Bill Laxton, and Harold Clem. He was 4-14 with a 3.88 ERA in his first year at Forbes Field, and 10-9 with a 3.81 ERA in 1969.

They were decent Pirate clubs under the direction of Larry Shephard, laying the foundation for the powerhouse 70's squads, and Bunning was a dependable arm for them.

But Pittsburgh was looking for young blood to go with Pops, Scoops, Sangy, Big Red, Steve Blass and Dock Ellis, so he was sent to the Dodgers in an August deadline deal for Chuck Goggin, Ron Mitchell, and cash (not that they helped much).

He retired three years later, after 17 seasons in the bigs with 3,759 innings worked, a 224-184 record, and ERA of 3.27. And Bunning didn't just start. He'd come out of the bullpen four or five times a year between outings to keep his team in games.

Besides throwing a no-hitter in both leagues, Bunning was the second pitcher in history (Cy Young was the first) to record 1000 strikeouts and 100 wins in both the American League and the National League (118-87 with Tigers, and 106-97 in the NL for Philly, Pittsburgh, and LA). When he retired in 1971, Bunning was second on the all time strikeout list to Walter Johnson with 2,855.

After his playing career, Bunning managed the Reading Phillies, Eugene Emeralds, Toledo Mud Hens and Oklahoma City 89ers. He was also instrumental in forming the Player's Association and worked as a player rep.

Bunning returned to his old Kentucky home in 1977 and entered Republican politics. He served on the City Council of Fort Thomas and was then elected to the State Senate in 1979.

After serving there for four years, he moved on to the United States House of Representatives from 1987 to 1999. In 1999, he was elected to the United States Senate, and he won reelection in 2003. He's still there, representing Kentucky at the age of 77.

Happy birthday, Senator and Pirate (if ever so briefly) Hall of Famer Jim Bunning.

His MLB achievements:
7-time All-Star (1957, 1959, 1961-1964 & 1966)
AL Wins Leader: 20 (1957)
2-time Innings Pitched Leader: 267-1/3 (1957/Detroit) & 302-1/3 (1967/Philly)
3-time Strikeouts Leader: 201 (1959/Detroit), 201 (1960/Detroit) & 253 (1967/Philly)
2-time NL Shutouts Leader: 5 (1966/Philly) & 6 (1967/Philly)
15 Wins Seasons: 8 (1957, 1959, 1961, 1962 & 1964-1967)
20 Wins Seasons: 1 (1957/Detroit)
200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 13 (1957-1967, 1969 & 1970)
300 innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1966 & 1967/Philly)
200 Strikeouts Seasons: 6 (1959, 1960 & 1964-1967)
Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1996 (Veteran's Committee)

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