Jim Bunning: Player Showcase

Jim Bunning passed away in May 2017. Most people in the US would remember him as a politician rather than a baseball player, but before he entered the Republican stage of his life, Bunning was shaping the baseball world.

Jim Bunning: Player Showcase

Pitching For The Xavier Musketeers

Jim Bunning started his pitching dreams with his high school team. He went to University to study economics, and played for the Xavier Musketeers.

Bunning was an instant star, and although he received his bachelor’s degree, he clearly had a strong career opportunity in playing baseball.

Many people expected Bunning to put more effort into his game than his classes, but Bunning didn’t want to put all his eggs into one basket.

Professional Contract While Still In Class

Bunning’s dedication to this education was so impressive, that he would play for the Minor League at the same time as attending class.

Focusing on two opposing skills didn’t damage his abilities in either aspect. In fact, Bunning was able to play from 1950 to 1954, evening balancing his education and his professional baseball career.

Bunning was playing for the Detroit Tigers from 1955 when he first joined the Major League. Even though he was still a new player the managers commented on his ability.

They said “an excellent curveball, a confusing delivery, and a sneaky fastball”. Bunning was a cunning player and a great asset to the team.

In 1958, Bunning pitched his first “no-hit” game, allowing the Tigers to win against the Boston Red Sox.

It didn’t take long for this kid to become the 5th American League pitcher to complete an “immaculate inning”.

The 1963 Trade

From 1955 to 1963 Bunning played for the Detroit Tigers, but as the last season ended, this all changed.

The Tigers decided to trade their star pitcher (along with Gus Triandos) for Jack Hamilton and Don Demeter. The team needed some extra coin and this was how they were going to do it. 

The trade put Bunning into the Philadelphia Phillies, where he stayed for 3 years.

The change didn’t negatively impact Bunning. In fact, during his face game, he created a doubleheader, and during his first 4 innings, Bunnings created 4 strikeouts from 12 batters.

Their play was so good that the match ended with a perfect game. They were up against the Mets, and by the end, even the Mets fans were cheering Bunning on.

The Father’s Day Game

At this point in time, “Father’s Day” wasn’t a national holiday. Instead, it was a socially enjoyed concept. Still, on Father’s Day that year, Bunnning had something to celebrate.

He was the proud father of 7 children, and he said the encouragement of his kids is what helped him pitch the best game of his life.

Bunning said it was reminiscent of the first ever no-hitter he had pitched 6 years ago with the Detroit Tigers.

The Perfect Game

This amazing Father’s Day game was also his first perfect game. But that’s not all. It was also the first perfect game from a Philadelphia player since 1992.

The first perfect game from a National League pitcher since 1880. It was the first no-hitter from a Philadelphia pitcher since 1906.

Jim Bunning was breaking records left right and center.

He is still one of only 7 pitchers to have both a perfect game and a no-hitter game all in one. His fellow champions were Mark Buehrle, Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Cy Young, Addie Joss, and a fellow Phillie player Roy Halladay.

Jim Bunning: Player Showcase

Jim Bunning’s Awards

That perfect game wasn’t Jim’s only accomplishment. He was the AL Wins Leader of 1957, the Strikeout Leader in 1959, 1960, and 1967, and he was entered into the All-Star games in 1957, 1959, 1961-1964, and 1966.

All of these accomplishments put Bunning into the Philadelphia Phillies Wall of Fame, and the Baseball Hall of Fame, and the Philadelphia Phillies retired his No 14 jersey when he finally bowed out of the team.

Jim Bunning In Stats

Bunning left professional baseball in 1971. By that time he had played in 591 games, and completed 1527 runs, with 3433 hits. 

Bunning won 224 games in his career, and lost just 184, giving him a career-winning average.

He played for the Detroit Tigers between 1955 and 1963. Then was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies between 1964 and 1967.

He moved again to the Pittsburgh Pirates between 1968 and 1969, before taking one season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Bunning’s final seasons were with the Philadelphia Phillies between 1970 and 1971.

Although Bunning played for multiple teams he will also be considered as a Phillies pitcher.

The Drive For A Player’s Union

Around 1965, Bunning became an active MLBPA member. That stands for the Major League Baseball Players Association. This means he was advocating for baseball players’ rights (see also “Why Baseball Is Purposely Boring?“).

From his support, the players had better pay, benefits, and working conditions at a time when club owners were taking everything from the players.

From Bunning’s interactions, the players had suitable locker rooms, and realistic working times (for training) and were offered first-rate employee benefits such as sick pay.

By the time Bunning retired from this role, the average salary had doubled and players were able to veto trades which forced them to move from one team to another. Now the players had autonomy over their careers.

From Player To Politician

The impact Bunning had over the MLBPA made him search for a career in politics. He became a local politician, entered the house of representatives, and became a senator in 2004.

Final Thoughts

Jim Bunning was an amazing pitcher. He broke records, built reputations, and even had his opponents cheering for him.

No matter what you thought about his political life after baseball, his contribution to workers’ rights and player autonomy massively affected MLB for the better.

Bunning was an amazing player and advocate for Major League Baseball.

Michael Stewart
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