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Jim Bunning - Pretty in Pink

November 25, 2009

by William Szczepanek

Topps 1958 #115 jim BunningThis card of Jim Bunning is fairly plain and not too interesting overall, except for the fact that it is pink. Why Topps chose this color for a select few cards in 1958 is a little odd.  I bet if you asked them why they chose the color they would say it is rose or violet instead of pink, but those color choices wouldn't be much better. Others who awarded this distinction in 1958 included Bob Shaw of the Tigers,  Jerry Kindall of the Cubs, Frank Lary of the Tigers, Paul Foytack of the Tigers, Ryne Duren of the Yankees, Hank Aguirre of the Tigers, Art Ditmar of the Yankees, Tom Morgan of the Tigers, Charlie Maxwell of the Tigers, Bob Smith of the Red Sox, and Vito Valentinetti of the Tigers.  It seems like kids from Detroit had to put up with a lot of flak that year. Oh well, it builds character.

Character is something that Jim Bunning exudes.  He went on to establish himself as a stopper for both the Tigers and the Phillies and ultimately was elected to the Hall of Fame.  He is also currently a U.S. Senator from Kentucky.

Topps 1958 #001 Ted WilliamsJim's rising slider from his sidearm delivery fooled batters in both leagues year after year. One person who Jim Bunning fooled for awhile was Ted Williams, striking him out 3 times in one game on May 16, 1957.  In his book, My Turn at Bat, Williams said he was so mad that after the game he ripped off his uniform, buttons and all and looked for a schedule to see when he would face the Tigers again. "I'll get you Bunning."  And Ted did so, hitting two solo home runs off of Bunning in the next meeting on July 12, 1957.  The first homer struck the facade of the third porch in right field. The second was a screaming line shot that struck the front of the second porch. However, Bunning won the game 5-3. Bunning continued to challenge Williams throughout his career, striking him out more than any other pitcher over a 6 year period.  Williams also hit more home runs off of Bunning than any other player. Bunning remains one of two pitchers to strike out Ted Williams three times in a game. The other was Bobo Newsom of the Browns who did it on May 7th 1939, one month into Williams' rookie season. Williams also struck out 3 times in a single game one other time, but it was against multiple pitchers.

Topps 1958 #463 Vito ValentinetteTopps 1958 #445 Bob SmithTopps 1958 #380 Charley MaxwellTopps 1958 #365 Tom MorganTopps 1958 #354 Art DitmarTopps 1958 #337 Hank AguirreTopps 1958 #296 Ryne DurenTopps 1958 #282 Paul FoytackTopps 1958 #245 Frak LaryTopps 1958 #221 Jerry KindallTopps 1958 #206 Bob Shaw

Bunning went 20 - 8 with an ERA of 2.69 in 1957.  He led the league in wins and in innings pitched with 267. My first recollection of Jim Bunning was in 1958, the year after he established himself in the Tigers rotation. On Tuesday, April 15, 1958 Jim Bunning started the Opening Day game against the Chicago White Sox and Billy Pierce in Comisky Park. I don't know why I was home on this date and not in school.  Maybe I was sick, but in any event I got to watch a terrific game.

The boxscore for this game does not reflect the weather conditions, but I distinctly remember a cold, clammy day with occasional drizzle ─ typical April weather in Chicago.

Bunning went the distance and held the Sox to seven hits and 3 runs, all three runs scoring in the third with 2 coming from a home run by Sherm Lollar. The game is remembered for the fact that Bunning then kept the White Sox in check for the rest of the game while the Tigers scored single runs in the fifth,  sixth and seventh and the Tigers went on to win 4 - 3. I believe it was the first White Sox game I saw in its entirety. The White Sox lineup changed very little the next year as they went on to win the pennant.

On July 20, 1958 Bunning had a no-hitter going against the Red Sox. In the ninth Bunning struck out Gene Stephens and Ted Lepcio for his 11th and 12th strikeouts. The next batter would be Ted Williams. Bunning had walked 2 and had a runner reach base because of a Al Kaline error, so a perfect game was not a consideration.  Pitching around Williams was not to be considered by Bunning.  Williams had a fly out to right , a fly out to center and a ground ball for a force out.  The first pitch to Williams pushed him off the plate.  Bunning then went to his fast ball and Williams, with a mighty swing, sent a high fly ball to right field, but he got under it slightly and Kaline pulled it in.  Bunning had his first no-hitter.

Bunning continued to pitch superbly for the Tigers for 5 more years, being traded to the Phillies where he dominated the National League for another 7 years with brief stints with the Pirates and Dodgers before retiring. In trading Bunning the Tigers gave Philadelphia a run for the pennant, but Bunning was overused down the stretch and the Phillies passed Cardinals in a devastating fashion.

On June 21, 1964 Bunning pitched a perfect game against the Mets. Of his 90 pitches, 79 of them went for strikes.  When he retired Bunning ranked second in the major league in strikeouts with 2,855 behind Walter Johnson. He now ranks 17th. Bunning is only one of six pitchers to pitch a perfect game and another no-hitter. In 1959 Bunning struck out 3 batters in one inning on 9 pitches.  Only a handful of pitchers have accomplished that feat. He was the first pitcher to reach 1,000 strikeouts and 100 wins in both leagues since Cy Young.

Bunning serves as a great role model for kids today, showing that a good education can be combined with athletic prowess for success in sports as well as out of sports. Whether a question about baseball or politics, Bunning had no problem letting a reporter know that a question was dumb. Being abrasive, direct and brutally honest are not the usual traits of someone going into politics, but after retiring from baseball Bunning was elected to a city council position, and then served as minority leader in the state senate in Kentucky. In 1986, Bunning was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served from 1987 to 1999. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998.  Bunning was voted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1996.

You can check out Bunning's stats at Baseball-Reference.com.

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