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Jim Bunning

A card of Jim Bunning.

James Paul David "Jim" Bunning (October 23, 1931 – May 26, 2017) was an American politician and pitcher in Major League Baseball. He was elected to the United States Senate from Kentucky in 1998 and has served there since 1999 as the Republican junior U.S. Senator. He previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Kentucky's 4th Congressional District from 1987 to 1999. Bunning is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Education and family[]

Bunning was born in Southgate, Kentucky to Gladys Best and Louis Aloysius Bunning.[1] He graduated from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati in 1949 and later received a bachelor's degree in economics from Xavier University.

In 1952, Bunning married Mary Catherine Theis. They had five daughters and four sons.

Major League Baseball career[]

Bunning's first game as a major league pitcher was on July 20, 1955, with the Detroit Tigers, after having toiled in the minor leagues 1950–1954 and part of the 1955 season, when the Tigers club described him as having "an excellent curve ball, a confusing delivery and a sneaky fast ball".[2] Bunning pitched for the Detroit Tigers from 1955 to 1963, moving to the Philadelphia Phillies from 1964 through 1967, to the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1968 through the middle of the 1969 season, finished the 1969 season on the Los Angeles Dodgers, and returned to the Phillies in 1970, retiring in 1971. He wore uniform number 15 on the 1955 Tigers, switched to 14 in 1956, which was the number he wore for the Tigers, Phillies, and Pirates until he was traded to the Dodgers in 1969. For the Dodgers, he wore number 17, but returned to number 14 when he returned to the Phillies, who retired the number upon his election to the Hall of Fame.

Bunning is remembered for his role in the pennant race of 1964, in which the Phillies held a commanding lead in the National League for most of the season, only to eventually lose the title to the St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Gene Mauch used Bunning and fellow hurler Chris Short heavily down the stretch, and the two became visibly fatigued as September wore on. The collapse of the 1964 Phillies remains one of the most infamous in baseball history, as they enjoyed a six and a half game lead as late as September 21, only to lose 10 games in a row and finish tied for second place.

Bunning pitched his first no-hitter on July 20, 1958, for the Detroit Tigers against the Boston Red Sox. His second, for the Philadelphia Phillies, was a perfect game, which came against the New York Mets on June 21, 1964, Father's Day. Bunning's perfect game was the first in the National League in 84 years. He is one of only five players to throw a no-hitter in both leagues. He played in the All-Star Games in 1957, 1959, every year from 1961 through 1964, and in 1966.

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. Bunning became the fifth American League pitcher and the 10th pitcher in Major League history to accomplish the nine-pitch/three-strikeout half-inning. At the time of his retirement in 1971, Bunning stood 2nd to Walter Johnson on the career strikeout list. In 1996 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame via the Veterans Committee. Bunning had received the most votes cast by the BBWAA during the course of all players' Hall of Fame eligibility periods (narrowly surpassing Gil Hodges), prior to Jim Rice (who was elected by the BBWAA in his 15th and final shot in January, 2009) collecting well over 3,000 votes. Jim Bunning was the starting and winning pitcher in the Phillies" 1st game played at Veterans' Stadium in 1971.

Career stats[]


Political career[]

Political views[]

Bunning is one of the Senate's most conservative members, gaining high marks from several conservative interest groups. He was ranked by National Journal as the second-most conservative United States Senator in their March 2007 conservative/liberal rankings, after Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)[3].

Kentucky state politics[]

First elected to office in 1977, Bunning served two years on the city council of Fort Thomas, Kentucky before running for and winning a seat in the Kentucky Senate as a Republican. He was elected minority leader by his Republican colleagues, a rare feat for a freshman legislator.

Bunning was the Republican candidate for governor in 1983. He and his running mate Eugene P. Stuart lost in the general election to Democrat Martha Layne Collins.


In 1986, Bunning won the Republican nomination in Kentucky's 4th District, based in Kentucky's share of the Cincinnati metro area, after 10-term incumbent Republican Gene Snyder retired. He won easily in the fall and was reelected five more times without serious opposition in what was considered the most Republican district in Kentucky. After the Republicans gained control of the House in 1995, Bunning served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security until 1999. Bunning aligned himself with the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican party.

First Senate term[]

In 1998, Senate Minority Whip Wendell Ford decided to retire after 24 years in the Senate — the longest term in Kentucky history. Bunning won the Republican nomination for the seat, and faced fellow Congressman Scotty Baesler, a Democrat from the Lexington-based 6th District, in the general election. Bunning defeated Baesler by just over half a percentage point. The race was very close; Bunning only won by swamping Baesler in the 4th by a margin that Baesler couldn't make up in the rest of the state (Baesler barely won the 6th).

Among the bills that Bunning sponsored is the Bunning-Bereuter-Blumenauer Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2004.

2004 Senate Race[]

Bunning was heavily favored for a second term in 2004 after his expected Democratic opponent, Governor Paul Patton, saw his career implode in a scandal over an extramarital affair, and the Democrats chose Daniel Mongiardo, a relatively unknown physician and state senator from Hazard. Bunning had an estimated $4 million campaign war chest, while Mongiardo had only $600,000. However, due to a number of controversial incidents involving Bunning, the Democrats began increasing financial support to Mongiardo when it became apparent that Bunning's bizarre behavior was costing him votes, purchasing more than $800,000 worth of additional television airtime on his behalf.

During his reelection bid, controversy erupted when Bunning described Mongiardo as looking "like one of Saddam Hussein's sons." Public pressure compelled him to apologize. Bunning was also criticized for his use of a teleprompter during a televised debate with Mongiardo where Bunning participated via Satellite link instead of in person. [4]Bunning was further criticized for making an unsubstantiated claim that his wife had been attacked by Mongiardo's supporters.[3]

The race turned out to be very close, with Mongiardo leading with as many as 80% of the returns coming in. However, Bunning eventually won by just over one percentage point. Some analysts felt that had it not been for George W. Bush's 20% victory in the state, Mongiardo would have won.

Second Senate Term[]

As was expected in light of Bunning's previous career as a baseball player, he has been very interested in Congress's investigation of steroid use in baseball. Bunning has also been outspoken on the issue of illegal immigration taking the position that all illegal immigrants should be deported.

Bunning was also the only member of the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs to have opposed Ben Bernanke for Chief of the Federal Reserve. He said it was because he had doubts that he would be any different from Alan Greenspan.

In April 2006, Time magazine called him one of "America's Five Worst Senators".[5] The magazine dubbed him The Underperformer for his "lackluster performance", saying he "shows little interest in policy unless it involves baseball", and criticized his hostility towards staff and fellow Senators and his "bizarre behavior" during his 2004 campaign.[6]

On December 6, 2006, Bunning was one of only two senators (along with Rick Santorum), to vote against the confirmation of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense claiming that

Mr. Gates has repeatedly criticized our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan without providing any viable solutions to the problems our troops currently face. We need a secretary of defense to think forward with solutions and not backward on history we cannot change.

Jim Bunning reportedly has blocked[7] the move to restore public access to the records of past United States Presidents which had been removed under Executive Order 13233.

A statewide opinion poll said Bunning had a 45% approval rating, with 43% disapproving as of December 2007. Some polls showed Bunning as the United States' worst Senator.[4] Bunning announced in July 2009, as expected, that he would not run for re-election in 2010.


Bunning died at a Southgate, Kentucky hospital on the night of May 26, 2017 at the age of 85 following a stroke he suffered in October 2016.

See also[]


  1. Learning Centers at
  2. Official Profile, Photo and Data Book, Detroit Tigers (1957), p. 13.
  3. [1]
  4. [2]
  5. Massimo Calabresi and Perry Bacon, Jr., "America's 10 Best Senators", Time Magazine, April 16, 2006
  6. Massimo Calabresi and Perry Bacon, Jr., "Jim Bunning: The Underperformer", Time Magazine, April 24, 2006, page 36.
  7. Court Rules Delay in Release of Presidential Papers is Illegal

Further reading[]

  • Joe Biesk. "Bunning Apologizes for Saddam Remark." Associated Press. October 11, 2004.
  • Mike Espo. "Democrats Take Aim at Bunning in Kentucky." Associated Press. October 22, 2004.
  • Paul Nussbaum. "Bunning's Mental Health Questioned." Philadelphia Inquirer. October 17, 2004.

External links[]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by:
Frank Lary
American League Wins Champion
(with Billy Pierce)
Succeeded by:
Bob Turley
Preceded by:
Early Wynn
American League Strikeout Champion
1959 – 1960
Succeeded by:
Camilo Pascual
Preceded by:
Don Larsen
Perfect game pitcher
June 21, 1964
Succeeded by:
Sandy Koufax
Preceded by:
Sandy Koufax
National League League Strikeout Champion
Succeeded by:
Bob Gibson
Preceded by:
Billy Williams
Major League Player of the Month
June, 1964
Succeeded by:
Ron Santo