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Jim Bunning, MLBPA Founding Father

   06-02-2017
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Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, one of the founding fathers of the Players Association, was imposing, tough and determined -- traits that served him well on the mound, as a union leader and later representing his native Kentucky in Congress.

Born into the Great Depression, Bunning, who died May 26 at age 85, leveraged hard work and perseverance to succeed in baseball as well as his second career in politics, where he rose from city councilman to become a tenacious, no-nonsense representative for Kentuckians first in the House of Representatives from 1986 through 1996 and then during two terms in the U.S. Senate before his retirement in 2010.

On the mound, the 6-foot-3 right-hander was a hard-throwing workhorse who never gave in to a hitter. He pitched over 200 innings his first 11 full seasons in the majors (1957-67) and he led the National League in hit batters in four straight seasons (1964-67).

Relying on a lively fastball, slider and a knee-buckling curve that he threw from a three-quarter arm angle, Bunning excelled over 17 seasons in the major leagues, during which he pitched an astounding 3,760.1 innings, won 224 games (including more than 100 in each league), was selected for nine All-Star Games, pitched a no-hitter and a perfect game. When he retired in 1971, his 2,855 strikeouts ranked second in baseball history behind the Senators' Walter Johnson.

Jim Bunning reflects on his playing career:

 

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Bunning emerged in his first full season with the Tigers, 1957, when he won 20 games, pitched three perfect innings in the All-Star Game and placed second in the American League in strikeouts. While he never won 20 games again, he won 19 in 1962 and, following his trade to the Phillies, he won 19 for three straight seasons, between 1964-66.

It was Bunning's tough, hard-nosed approach that led his fellow players to name him one of their pension representatives in talks with Major League Baseball in the early 1960s, an eye-opening experience that eventually led he and other player leaders to transform the Major League Baseball Players Association into a bona fide labor union with the hiring of Marvin Miller in 1966.

 

Jim Bunning recalls the hiring of Marvin Miller:

 

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Although he was an established star by the mid-1960s, Bunning knew what it was like to come up through the minor league ranks and succeed in baseball. He played three years of college baseball at Xavier University in Cincinnati then spent nearly five years in the minor leagues before discovering his three-quarter arm slot and reaching the majors with the Detroit Tigers in 1955.

Bunning and the other player leaders of the Players Association had become increasingly frustrated with baseball owners' intransigence about offering players an employer-funded pension as well as more than a decade of stagnation in salaries, leading to their decision to search for a full-time executive director in 1965.

With Bunning and the union's other founding fathers providing the player support Miller needed in terms of organizing and direction, the MLBPA became a transformative force in securing exponential improvements in players' rights, salaries, pensions and benefits.

Bunning retired from his playing career in 1971 leaving the game in better condition for the players who came after him.