Bunning always held the respect of his peers in the clubhouse. He was the player representative in both Detroit and Philadelphia, and he was one of the founding fathers, as it were, of the players' revolution in the early '70s that resulted in the hiring of Marvin Miller as president of an increasingly militant players union. He has already demonstrated his standing in the cloakroom. During orientation last December, Bunning's fellow Republican freshmen elected him to an important post on the executive committee of the Committee on Committees. That sounds almost Kafkaesque, but the executive committee decides on committee assignments, and Bunning was chosen to look after the interests of the freshmen. For himself, Bunning saved assignments to the banking committee—finance is his area of expertise—and to the Merchant Marines and Fisheries Committee, which tackles issues that are important to his district.
Bunning is a staunch supporter of the President, and, in fact, the careers of Ronald Reagan and Bunning have several parallels. Both had Democratic upbringings, both made big names for themselves outside politics, both were strong members of their professional unions, and both entered politics at the urging of influential friends.
The product of a Democratic household, Bunning registered as a Republican in college and was at one time a conservative ideologue. "Everything was black and white to me, but as time goes on, things are getting a little grayer," he says. "I think I understand the other side more. I'm more willing to compromise. Still, I guess you can say I come down right of center."
He does wear his partisanship on his sleeve. He took obvious glee, for example, in what might be described as a Republican "quick pitch" during that first session of Congress. Republican whip Trent Lott of Mississippi introduced a motion, tacked on to a routine rules package, that the 100th Congress commit itself to no further tax increases. The motion was easily defeated, but Bunning says with a cackle, "We got the Democrats on record as favoring a tax increase."
Although Bunning has taken the floor in Congress just once—he spoke in opposition to a raise for congressmen—he is not afraid of speaking his mind. At a congressional briefing on Nicaragua with Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams, Bunning pointed out that the Administration had not delivered as good a public relations pitch in behalf of aid to the Contras as their opponents had.
Bunning delivered his first pitch in 1955 with the Tigers. He had signed with Detroit in 1950, but only on the proviso that he be allowed to skip spring training until he finished college. He got his degree in business administration from Xavier in Cincinnati in 3½ years.
In the meantime, Jim and Mary began adding to the census. Barbara was born in 1952, and after the 1954 season, a set of twins, Joan and Jim Jr., arrived. Seeing that their family was progressing faster than Jim's pitching career, the Bunnings began thinking of an alternative. The Tigers called him up in '55, but he was back in the minors in '56, and Mary was pregnant with Cathy. "We were going to give baseball one more year," says Mary.
But in 1957, Bunning won 20 games and pitched three perfect innings as the All-Star Game starter. And on July 20, 1958, against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, he pitched what was then called "the gabbiest no-hitter of all time"—he talked about the possibility as early as the sixth inning. The last batter he faced was Ted Williams. His first pitch to the Splinter tells you all you need to know about Bunning as a competitor. With a no-hitter within reach and a legend at bat, Bunning brushed him back. On the next pitch, Williams lifted a fly to Al Kaline for the final out. Mary, who was home in Kentucky with five kids—William was born in March—listened to the game on the car radio. She got so excited that she nearly drove into a tree.
From 1959 to 1962, Bunning gave the Tigers some pretty good years. Mary also gave him two more kids, Bridget and Mark, raising the total to seven. Following a mediocre '63 season, the Tigers traded him to the Phillies. On June 21, 1964, in New York, he pitched the first National League perfect game since John Montgomery Ward had one in 1880. That Bunning, a father of seven, did it on Father's Day, gave the feat an added shine.
But heartbreak awaited Bunning and the Phillies at the end of the '64 season, when they blew a 6½-game lead with 10 games to play. Still, Bunning had four brilliant years in Philadelphia, going 74-46 (including five one-run losses in '67) with a 2.48 ERA. He also had a burgeoning second career as a stockbroker, and in July '66 he became the father of another set of twins, Amy and David. That's all, folks.