Jim Bunning, tough pitcher, hard-nosed senator, dies at 85

In 1986, Bunning was elected to the first of six terms representing Kentucky's Fourth Congressional District on Capitol Hill.

Jim Bunning, an imposing Hall of Fame pitcher and a cantankerous, resolutely conservative U.S. Senator from Kentucky, died Friday at age 85.

Bunning's death Friday was confirmed by Jon Deuser, who served as chief of staff when Bunning was in the Senate.

"Words can not express my gratitude to the people of Kentucky for giving me the distinct honor of serving them for 12 years in the House of Representatives and 12 years in the U.S. Senate", said Bunning in his farewell address on the Senate floor. Deuser said Bunnings family notified him about the ex-pitchers death. Throwing in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader, Bunning needed just 90 pitches to complete the National League's first ideal game since 1880 when he struck out Mets' pinch-hitter John Stephenson.

He's still the only pitcher to throw no-hitters in both the National and American leagues.

Bunning was also one of the leaders of the Major League Baseball Players Association and one of four players that hired Marvin Miller, who became one of the sport's defining figures for helping to change the game and grant players free agency.

A Kentucky Republican, he was the only member of the Baseball Hall of Fame to serve in Congress.

Republican state Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said in an interview Saturday that Bunning had "an intellect that engendered loyalty from people all across this state".

Longtime U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, R-Kentucky, said Bunning was "an indomitable force on the pitcher's mound" and a "stalwart champion" for Kentucky as a congressman and senator.

Then-Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher, delivers a pitch prior to a game in Arlington, Tex., in 2003.

Bunning's survivors include his wife, Mary, their nine children and numerous grandchildren. Bunning's death was announced by Major League Baseball on Twitter Saturday afternoon. In February 2010, he single-handedly held up a $10 billion spending bill in Congress because it would add to the deficit.

Senator Bunning also used his political status to speak out about the game he loved. He co-authored legislation calling for stiff punishment for professional athletes caught using steroids.

His career highlights included a no-hitter for the Tigers in 1958 and a ideal game for the Phillies on Father's Day in 1964. Bunning was inducted into the Hall in Cooperstown, NY., in 1996.

He began a very successful political career when he was elected to City Council in Fort Thomas, Ky., in 1977.

Bunning played baseball at a time when players' salaries were not enough to make ends meet year-round, prompting him to find work in the financial sector during the off-season. His proposal was put up for a vote but was ultimately defeated.

  • Julie Sanders