When I was a kid Jim Bunning was most famous as pitching a perfect game on Father’s Day in 1964. As he had seven kids a big deal was made of this. It also helped it was the first perfect game in the National League since 1880. Quite a day for Mr. Bunning.
Jim Bunning was a Representative in the U.S. Congress for six terms or 12 years and was a Senator for two terms for another 12 years. Imagine being a major league baseball player for 17 years and serving in the U.S. house and senate for 24 years. That is 41 years living the dream.
However, it wasn’t all glorious. He did have some bumps in the road as follows:
- Bill James wrote that according to his calculations Bunning was the best pitcher in the American League in 1960. He also led the league in Baseball Reference WAR that year. However, he didn’t have much to show for it as he ended up with an 11-14 record, which is what everybody looked at is those days. He did get 3 MVP votes that year, so somebody recognized what he did.
- The same year Bunning pitched the perfect game, the Phillies had a 10-game losing streak at the end of the season to blow the pennant race. Bunning lost three of the games. On the Phillies 150th game Bunning won 3-2. Then his next start came after 3 days rest. He pitched a fair game in his first start 3 runs in six innings. However not a normal Bunning performance. Then on 2 days rest twice he pitched terrible both times. Finally, on 3 days rest he pitched the last game of the season, shutting out the Reds and eliminating them from the pennant race as the Cardinals won that day to beat both the Phillies and Reds by one game. It was a devastating end of the season for Bunning and the Phillies.
- In his first full season as a pitcher Bunning won 20 games as a starter. That was a really big deal at this time. He never won 20 games again, but won 19 four times, including his first 3 years with the Phillies (1964 to 1966). Yes, if would have won 20 in 1964, the Phillies would have tied the Cardinals.
- Bunning started acting strange running for his second term in the Senate. I think he might have had early Alzheimer’s. He did some really strange things when running for a third term before dropping out. By that time, he was 79 years old.
Just saying we all have constant struggles in our journey through life.
Another interesting thing about Bunning’s career is he had his best seasons the four years he was with the Phillies the first time. These seasons he was age 32 to 35. They weren’t his four best seasons, but he had some of his best four years in a row and two of the seasons were definitely his best. After that he never pitched at an all-star level for a season again.