Tags: Sen. Jim Bunning

Jim Bunning — Pitcher, Politician and Patriarch

Jim Bunning — Pitcher, Politician and Patriarch
Sen. Jim Bunning (AP)

By Sunday, 28 May 2017 07:54 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., was to baseball what the late Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., was to football and former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., was to basketball.

A star pitcher who made the Baseball Hall of Fame, Bunning, who died Friday at age 85, had a distinguished career as state senator (1979-86), U.S. Representative (1986-98) and U.S. senator (1998-2010).

But Kemp and Bradley both came to be identified with policy and national politics more than they had been with sports. Both sought their respective parties' nomination for president. Bunning, however, was such a living legend from his pitching career that he was remembered more for sports career than his accomplishments in Frankfort and Washington.

"Al Kaline, Stormin' Norman Cash, Rocky Colavito, Al Kaline, and Jim Bunning — they were the line-up of the Detroit Tigers in the early 1960's and revered throughout the state," recalled a former Michigan legislator immediately after hearing of Bunning's death.

James L. Martin, president of the SixtyPlus Seniors Association, was interviewed on his crusade to kill the estate tax by the "Washington Times" Magazine in 1998. When the interviewer reminded Martin he had begun his career as a sportswriter and asked "who I would emulate athletically if I could," Martin told Newsmax, "I [Washington Wizards great] Michael Jordan in basketball and ‘Big Jim' Bunning in baseball!"

Martin pointed out "that while more than one pitcher has thrown a no hitter in both the American and National Leagues only Bunning in all baseball history had one of his no-hitters a perfect game--nobody on base through walks, errors or hit by pitch." (June 21, 1964, when he pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies against the New York Mets)

As a fiercely conservative senator, Bunning himself demonstrated where he came from as Republican colleagues were suggesting he retire in 2010.

"When you've dealt with Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and Stan Musial," he told reporters, "the people I'm dealing with now are kind of down the scale."

After retiring from baseball, Bunning returned to his home of Fort Thomas, Ky. He served two years on its city council, was elected state senator and quickly rose to be minority leader. In 1983, he lost a bid for governor to Democrat Martha Layne Collins.

"He was a political rookie who had to be talked into running," venerable Louisville Courier Journal political columnist Al Cross told us, "and the Republican Party wasn't strong then. This was the year before Mitch McConnell got elected to the Senate."

Three years later, Bunning easily kept the seat of retiring Rep. Gene Snyder in Republican hands. In 1998, with a big assist from McConnell, Bunning won a nail-biter of a Senate race by half a percentage point over Democrat and fellow Rep. Scotty Baesler.

As senator, Bunning left no doubts he was not out to be "Mr. Congeniality" in "the world's most exclusive club." He freely admitted "I get all my information from Fox News" and opposed the popular nominations of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernacke and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

In 2009, he objected to a proposal to extend unemployment benefits for 30 days because they were not being funded and would add to the deficit.

Urged to drop his objections by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Bunning retorted: "Tough s---!" (He eventually did drop his objections and the measure passed.)

Ironically, it was behind-the-scenes opposition from McConnell that resulted in traditional Republican donors not supporting Bunning for re-election in 2010. The senator later announced his retirement, denounced McConnell as a "control freak," and supported insurgent Republican Rand Paul (who beat McConnell's favorite candidate and is senator today).

For all of his accomplishments in sports and politics, Bunning always insisted that his family came first in everything. The proud patriarch spoke often of Mary, his wife of 65 years, and their nine children, 35 grand-children and 21 great-grandchildren.

Upon learning of his father's death, U.S. District Judge David Bunning tweeted: "Heaven got its Number One starter today. Our lives and the nation are better off because of your love & dedication to family."

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John-Gizzi
Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., was to baseball what the late Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y., was to football and former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., was to basketball.A star pitcher who made the Baseball Hall of Fame, Bunning, who died Friday at age 85, had a distinguished career as state...
Sen. Jim Bunning
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2017-54-28
Sunday, 28 May 2017 07:54 PM
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