Jim Bunning - pitcher's mound to Capitol Hill

October 04, 1998|By John Steadman | John Steadman,SUN STAFF

"Jim Bunning - Baseball and Beyond," by Frank Dolson. Temple University Press. 298 pages. $27.95. His competitive charge set him apart. It enabled him to pitch no-hitters in both major leagues - one a perfect game - and record more than 100 wins in both the American and National leagues. On to the Baseball Hall of Fame. An independent thinker.

Jim Bunning never gave in to hitters or club owners. He'd have been the ideal commissioner because of his knowledge of the game, integrity and intelligence. But Bunning, in something of an all-time upset, the most non-political individual you could imagine, entered politics.

After six terms in the Congress of the United States, he's running for the senate as the Republican nominee from Kentucky. Bunning, father of nine, with, at last count, 29 grandchildren, wasn't your typical baseball player. He graduated from Xavier University with a master's degree in finance and later became a stockbroker, players' agent and a minor league manager for five seasons.

Author Frank Dolson, retired sports editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, provides an enlightening look at Bunning from all aspects of his multi-career. A huge assist goes to Mary, the vivacious sweetheart he met in elementary school and married, who understood her husband's intense approach to whatever he was trying to do and was always there - win or lose - in his quest for success.

Bunning never courted the media and is the same in politics. He was an aggressive leader of the Players Association and helped create a pension plan that stands alone when compared to other sports.

Bunning made an impressive physical appearance on the mound. Baseball to him was not a game; it was more akin to going to war and he didn't know what it was to surrender.

Dolson spent time with Bunning in his post-major league days when Bunning asked to manage in the Phils' farm system, making a comparatively meager salary and putting up with conditions that are a rude awakening in coming from the luxurious environment of baseball at its best and then having to endure the drudgery of the minors. It was here that Bunning disciplined players and earned respect ... but not for his diplomacy.

The Phils were close to letting Bunning manage in Philadelphia. When it appeared as if it might happen, Bunning was fired. Dolson tells us, "As their top minor league manager, he was the logical choice to become their next big league manager, and they were reluctant - 'frightened' might be a better word - to give him the job. He was too brutally honest for their taste, too quick to say what he thought, too likely not to follow the party line when he felt the party line wasn't worth following."

Back home in Fort Thomas, Ky., friends convinced him to run, and win, a seat on the city council. He later went to the state legislature, then the House of Representatives and now possibly the U.S. Senate. Politics has never quite known anyone with the intensity and staying power of Jim Bunning. No curve balls. Only the high, hard one.

John Steadman is a sports columnist for The Sun. Previously, he was sports editor of the Baltimore News American for 28 years and, before that, an executive of a pro football team and, for a season, a minor league baseball player.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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