Sunday, May 28, 2017

Jim Bunning, Rest in Peace

           Hall of Fame Baseball Player and Former United States Senator James “Jim” Paul David Bunning died Friday in Fort Thomas, Kentucky at the age of 85.  The conservative Republican was remarkable for his great success in two different careers.

            Born in Southgate, Kentucky in 1931, Bunning graduated Xavier University with a degree in economics in 1953.

            Bunning began his professional baseball career in 1950, pitching in the Detroit Tigers organization.  Detroit called him up to the major leagues in 1955.  He pitched for the Tigers through 1963, the Philadelphia Phillies from 1964-1967, the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1968-1969, the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1969 and again in Philadelphia from 1970-1971.  Bunning, a perennial All-Star, achieved a number of firsts in regard to pitching in both leagues and was a league leader in several categories.  The highlight of his career was his perfect game on Father’s Day of 1964 at New York.  At the time of the rare feat, Bunning had seven children.  He and his wife of 65 years would go on to have two more.  Bunning was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.  The Phillies retired his uniform number in 2001.  He was one of the founders of the major league players union.

After his major league career, Bunning managed in the Phillies minor leagues for five years, starting with the Double-A Reading Phillies in 1972, working his way up to the Triple-A level.  He was later a major league player agent.             

After his sports career, Bunning worked as a stock broker, which he had done in the off-season, as players were not as richly-compensated at the time, before starting his political career.  In 1977, he was elected to the City Council of Fort Thomas.  Two years later, the Republican Bunning was elected to the State Senate, becoming minority leader as a freshman.  He was nominated by the GOP for Governor in 1983, but was not elected. 

Bunning was elected United States Representative in 1986 and was reelected five times.  He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998 and reelected six years later, serving until 2011.  Bunning thus served in Congress for a total of 24 years, evenly divided between its lower and upper chambers.  During his congressional service, just as he was a dominating defensive athlete, Bunning staunchly defended Kentucky’s interests, including tobacco, coal and its military bases.  

            As one of the most conservative members of the Senate, Bunning was especially opposed to wasteful spending.  He was the co-author of the 2004 flood insurance reform legislation, which reduced the costs of federal flood insurance.  Although unsuccessful, Bunning took a stand against increasing unemployment compensation without paying for it with offsetting spending cuts, as I posted in March of 2010, Bunning’s Heroic Stand and Update,  His stand nevertheless served as a good example.  Spending offsets for increased unemployment compensation have become typical ever since.  

            Bunning was also known for his interest in the 2009 congressional investigation into steroid abuse in Major League baseball, over which Congress had extra leverage because of its anti-trust exemption.  The combination of the outspokenness of President George W. Bush, who had been the owner of a major league team, the Texas Rangers, and the congressional investigation over the national pastime led to improved testing of major league players.  Baseball has since been cleaner and safer and thus a better example to younger athletes.  Ironically, pitching has become more dominant as a result.

            The blunt-spoken and stalwart conservative Bunning once remarked that the experience of having been booed by 60,000 fans at Yankee Stadium while standing on the pitcher’s mound had led him not to be overly concerned with negative opinions during his political career.  His fierce competitiveness in sports also carried over to his political career.  

           Few people have achieved such career success in two different careers as did Jim Bunning.  It is noteworthy that, just as he began his sports career in college and the minor leagues, he began his career of elected public service by first getting elected to local office, which is an example for others to follow humbly.  Although he will probably be best remembered for his baseball accomplishments, Bunning’s significant service to his state and country and to conservatism and his party will long be remembered and appreciated.  

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