Jim Bunning was one of baseball’s all-time greatest pitchers. The former Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies star passed away today at age 85.
In 1996, Bunning was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee. He won 224 games during his big league career, and was the first to win more than 100 games in the National and American Leagues. The right-hander was also the first to strikeout over 1,000 batters in both.
He also pitched a no-hitter in both leagues. With the Phillies in 1964, he tossed the seventh Perfect Game in Major League Baseball history. It came at Shea Stadium against the host New York Mets. He was the father of seven children at the time.
Bunning was born on August 23, 1931 in Southgate, Kentucky. He attended high school in Cincinnati and was a star multi-sport athlete. He then attended Xavier University.
BUNNING WITH THE TIGERS
As Ralph Berger wrote for SABR, the Detroit Tigers wanted Bunning. Therefore, the club made a unique arrangement with his parents. The Tigers allowed Bunning to finish his schooling while pitching in the minors.
In May of his freshman year, Detroit Tigers scout Bruce Connatser told Jim’s father that the Tigers were interested in signing Jim. The parents had no objection to his playing professional baseball, but they wanted him to finish college. The Tigers agreed to let Jim finish the spring semester before reporting for baseball – meaning he would miss spring training for the next three years. The club also agreed that his first minor-league team would be Richmond, Indiana, of the Class D Indiana-Ohio League, less than an hour from home. The Tigers gave Bunning a $4,000 signing bonus and a $150-a-month salary. With the bonus, he bought an engagement ring for Mary Theis, his childhood sweetheart. Now that he was under contract to a professional baseball team, his basketball scholarship at Xavier was canceled, and his parents paid for the balance of his college education.
Bunning would go 118-87 over parts of nine seasons with Detroit. He tossed his first career no-hitter in 1958 against the Boston Red Sox. Bunning won 17 games for a 101-win Tigers in 1961. That club finished second in the American League pennant race.
“Senator Jim Bunning led a long and storied life. From his days in the major leagues to his years as my colleague in the Senate — and the many points in between, from the City Council to the House of Representatives — Jim rarely shied away from a new adventure. This Hall of Famer will long be remembered for many things. A perfect game, a larger-than-life personality, a passion for Kentucky, and a loving family. Elaine and I offer our sincere condolences to Mary and the entire Bunning family.”
Bunning is survived by the former Mary Catherine Theis. The couple was married for 65 years. Per Wikipedia, the couple had five daughters and four sons. They also had 35 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren as of 2013.