During this time, Bunning became more involved in the Major League Baseball Players Association. He was instrumental in setting up the pension plan, and even today he says, "I am as proud of that as anything I did on the field."
In his curtain-call year, 1971, Bunning started and won the first game in Veterans Stadium, and later moved ahead of Cy Young into second place on the all-time strikeout list. On Sept. 28, the Phillies held Jim Bunning Day and gave him a Volkswagen bus, out of which popped all nine children. Nowadays, of course, Bunning buys American, and you wouldn't dare give him an import.
Although Mary had a feeling it wouldn't work out, Bunning decided to try managing, and he started with the Phillies' Double A team in Reading in 1972. He wasn't so much a manager as he was an unstinting taskmaster. Dane Iorg, who would go on to a 10-year major league career and heroics in two World Series, played for Bunning that first season. "I didn't like him at first, and a lot of the guys plain hated him," recalls Iorg. "He had this tape recorder with him, and every time you did something wrong, you'd see him talking into the microphone. We were so worried we'd be on that thing, we couldn't play."
During the next four years, Bunning grew more comfortable with the job and with his players. For example, he developed a close relationship with Lonnie Smith, who came to the minor leagues distrustful of whites, and to this day, Bunning remains Smith's agent. Smith even campaigned for Bunning when he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Kentucky in 1983.
"I had him his last year as manager, and he was great," says Iorg. "But he could still scare people, and I think that's why he didn't get a chance. He intimidated the Phillies."
Had it not been for Bunning's inability to play politics in baseball, he might never have become a politician. His baseball career came to an end in Oklahoma City in 1975, when the Phillies let him go after repeated assurances that his job was safe. The decision was made by assistant general manager Dallas Green, Bunning's closest friend. "I just didn't think he was cut out to be a major league manager," says Green. "He could have stayed in baseball, and he very well could have gotten a major league job. and maybe I was wrong. Anyway, the country is much better off with him in Congress."
According to Bunning, "I just said, 'Baseball, you've been my life, but now it's time to say goodbye.' " He is sitting in his congressional office in Fort Wright, signing all the Jim Bunning pictures in the Topps Baseball Cards book, no small task considering he has 27 separate cards. He's doing it for the son of a constituent, but he allows that he has yet to find the perfect balance between his baseball life and his political life. "I loved baseball, and I'm grateful for the name recognition it gave me." he says. "But I don't want to be autographing balls on my way to a vote in the House."
In June '76, when Bunning was concentrating on his new business as a player agent, friends talked him into getting on a slate of candidates, the People's Ticket, for the Fort Thomas city council. He wrote "We need your help" on 6,000 postcards, signed them and sent them out. He was easily elected. "I enjoyed it." he says, "and Mary and I decided we might like a life in public service."
Next he challenged Campbell County's Democratic state senator. Donald Johnson, a 16-year incumbent. Bunning knocked on enough doors to defeat Johnson by a scant 400 votes. In the process, he was getting over the shyness he hid behind during his playing days. "You spend so much time guarding your privacy in baseball that I found it hard to go up to people and ask for their votes." says Bunning. He had another major political asset besides his name. Mary more than made up for Jim's seeming lack of warmth.
Once in the state senate, where the Republicans were outnumbered 29-9, Bunning came to be known as Dr. No for his contentious opposition to Democratic programs. But he did his homework, and the Republican senators made him the minority leader in January '83. After trying to talk other prominent Republicans into running for governor in '83, Bunning decided to run himself. His opponent. Democratic Lieutenant Governor Martha Layne Collins, was a heavy favorite. Collins spent a great deal more money ($5.4 million to $1.3 million), but Bunning, who had been behind in the polls by as much as 32%, wound up losing by a less lopsided 9%.