Jim Bunning was a good, and sometimes excellent, pitcher back in the day. He threw a couple of no-hitters, (one in each league), and tossed a perfect game on Fathers’ Day in 1964. When the Tigers brought him to the Bigs in 1955 they said he had “an excellent curve ball, a confusing delivery, and a sneaky fast ball.” He was elected into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1996.
I remember Jim Bunning from my days in Delaware. My father was a big Phillies fan and I heard for years about Bunning’s Fathers’ Day perfect game. It meant a lot to my dad because he had just become a father for the first time three days before Bunning’s feat and he posited some sort of connection between Bunning and the birth of my older brother, Jerry.
I wish Jim Bunning lived in my mind as a childhood memory that could make my dad smile.
Sadly, life went on for Mr. Bunning and shortly after retiring from professional baseball he went back to Kentucky and parlayed his fame into a career in politics. His career in politics has taken him to the United States Senate, where he has done…nothing. Time magazine has called him one of America’s “Five Worst Senators.” He skipped 21 floor votes in December 2009 alone, including the Senate’s Christmas Eve vote on Health Care reform. (Just as a point of reference, the 92-year old, sickly Senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, missed fewer votes that month.)
In his 2004 bid for re-election to the Senate Bunning’s behavior was erratic and led the National Republican Party to withdraw support for a run in 2010. Bill Clinton once described Jim Bunning as “so mean-spirited that he repulsed even his fellow know-nothings.”
Ticking off the people whose support he needs seems to be a pattern for Senator Bunning. According to Clay Dalrymple, Phillies catcher through the 1960s, Bunning would routinely shake off catchers' pitch signs that he knew to be signaled into the game from the dugout by Manager Gene Mauch. As you might surmise, this did not sit well with the manager.
Now, without the support of his own party and having already decided not to run for re-election in 2010, Jim Bunning has nothing to lose. Apparently, he has decided to just let it all hang out and be who he really is. Against his party leadership’s wishes, Bunning has decided to block a bill that would extend eligibility for enhanced unemployment benefits and subsidized health insurance for laid-off workers by 30 days. He is also holding up a stop-gap 30 day extension for several other expiring laws, including funding for highway projects that employed 2000 people until Monday, improved Medicare reimbursement rates (known as "doc fix"), flood insurance, and licensing that allows satellite TV providers to carry local channels in rural areas where they are unavailable with an antenna.
I know that you, the people of Kentucky, have chosen Jim Bunning to be one of your two Senators and part of me believes that you deserve the representative you choose, but now that we are all stuck dealing with the tantrums and venom of this bitter old man I can’t help but wish he had gotten into the broadcast booth or the coach’s box instead of the Senate. Do you think maybe you can talk him down and find something to keep Senator Bunning off the floor while the rest of the Senators try to take care of business? We would all appreciate that.
Oh, and Kentucky, please try a little harder next time. Thanks
The Rest of Us
*Much of the information in this letter was obtained from the “Jim Bunning” entry on Wikipedia.