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Non-Random Baseball Card Of The Day: 1964 Jim Bunning May 27, 2017

Posted by Jim Berkin in Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Hall of famer Jim Bunning died today at age 85. Bunning pitched for the Tigers, Phillies, Dodgers and Pirates during his career, and compiled some impressive stats along the way. When he retired in 1971, his career strikeout total was 2nd only to Walter Johnson (both have been passed by numerous pitchers since).  He had a great curve ball and solid fastball and much like Greg Maddux, would fool batters mixing up pitches, speeds and locations.

He’d pitch a perfect game in 1964, and had thrown an additional no-hitter back in 1958, making him one of a very few pitchers who had pitched a no-no in both leagues. While he never led the league in stats, he’d always be up there in the top 3-5 pitchers, year in and year out from the late ’50s to the late ’60s.

The bridesmaid-never-a-bride motif carried over into the post-season, however. Bunning’s teams never made it, the 1964 Phillies being the most heartbreaking. The Phillies led the NL from opening day onwards in 1964, but collapsed spectacularly in the last 2 weeks of season. Up by 6 1/2 games with only 12 to go, they’d drop 10 straight games and lose out to the Cardinals. Manager Gene Mauch took the blame, mostly for overusing pitchers Bunning and Chris Short down the stretch and exhausting both of ’em. I still remember the 1976 All Star game, played in Philly, when Gene Mauch was announced as one of the NL coaches and the entire stadium erupted in the loudest boos I’d ever heard. The Phillies had only made the series twice in their entire history at that point, losing both times in 1915 and 1950. They wouldn’t win one until 1980.

Bunning retired from baseball and went into politics back in his homestate of Kentucky, first in local offices, then the House of Representatives and then in the Senate. His popularity within the state waned and he retired from politics, succeeded by current Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who has never thrown a no hitter.

While it might have been more fun to watch Bob Gibson or Bill Lee become a Senator and scare the shit out of opponents or simply confuse them, respectively, Bunning’s stellar baseball career clearly contributed to his popularity.

Why did I pick the 1964 card? Well, it’s the year of his perfect game, it’s the oldest card I have of him, and I miss when guys had that Johnny Unitas haircut. RIP, Jim.

CORRECTION: It is NOT the oldest card I have of him! Had a little brain itch when I said that, so I went through a couple of the boxes and, sure enough, I have the 1959. Yay for hazy memories of buying giant lots of old cards at yardsales twenty-plus years ago!

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