Born in Kentucky in 1931, Jim Bunning represented his state proudly. A Major League pitcher for 17 years, Bunning was the first pitcher to throw no-hitters in each league. After he retired from baseball, Bunning spent the rest of his life in politics.
Bunning broke in with the Detroit Tigers in 1955. His first full big league season came in 1957 when he led the league with 20 wins. That year he played in the first of his seven All Star games. In 1958 he threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox.
Starting in the 1960s, Bunning was active in the Major League Baseball Players Association. Serving on the union’s executive board, Bunning fought for wage and pension increases. Bunning later joined with the union’s founder Robin Roberts to hire a full-time union executive. The MLBPA hired Marvin Miller who revolutionized the game.
After nine years and 118 wins with Detroit, the Tigers traded him to Philadelphia where he continued his winning ways. In his first four seasons with the Phillies, Bunning was outstanding. His first year in Philadelphia he tossed a perfect game on Father’s Day on his way to a 19-win season. In doing so, Bunning became the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter in both the AL and NL.
An AL all star with Detroit in five seasons, Bunning played on the NL squad in both 1964 and 1966. From 1964-1967 with the Phils he won 74 games, leading the league twice in shutouts and once in strikeouts.
In 1968 and ’69, Bunning played for the Pirates and the Dodgers before closing his career back in Philadelphia in ’70 and ’71.
When he retired from the game, Bunning got into politics. It was a natural transition after his work in the players’ union. The former pitcher first served as a councilman in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. In 1980 he was elected to his state’s senate and served as minority leader in his first year.
Bunning soon expanded his political ambition, running successfully for the United States House of Representatives. He served there from 1987 through 1999 before switching to the US Senate. Bunning remained a US Senator until 2010.
Six years into retirement, Bunning suffered a stoke. He passed away in Fort Thomas, Kentucky in 2017 at age 85.
In the collection is this letter on Detroit Baseball Company letterhead. Dated September 19, 1960, it is written to baseball’s first player agent Frank Scott. With the players union just ten years and mostly powerless, Scott worked on player endorsements.
Bunning writes that he has enclosed a list of the Tiger players winter addresses. Scott corresponded with players from every club in his attempt to elevate their earning power. The letter provides a nice glimpse into Bunning’s early involvement with the players union that morphed into a career in politics.