It has long been the official stance here at Finger Food that ex-big league pitcher and soon-to-be ex-senator, Jim Bunning, was (indeed) crazy. We don’t mean that in a clinical sense, because to make such a diagnosis would require an advanced degree, and really… who has the time?
No, Bunning, the first man to pitch a perfect game for the Phillies, toss a no-hitter and win 100 games in both leagues, is simply batbleep crazy. Generally, batbleep crazy folks are the kind we like. After all, these are people who are not only extremely entertaining and sometimes have savant-like talents, but also they are harmless.
Remember when Chad Ochocinco was Chad Johnson? The dude went down to the courthouse, filled out all the paper work, hired a lawyer, went to court and legally had his name changed. In fact, we loved it. America loved it and accepted it very quickly. Rarely will an announcer accidentally drop a “Chad Johnson” when addressing Ochocinco the way they kept calling Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lew Alcindor. There is no grand statement involved when a man who wears the uniform number, 85, changes his last name to Ochocinco because it’s just crazy.
And because of this most folks wouldn’t vote for Ochocinco for county dog catcher if he were to run. You can’t have a guy as crazy as a loon holding an office. Look, there are plenty of precedents but that doesn’t make it right. Just look at what the people in the Commonwealth of Kentucky did by electing ol’ right-hander Jim Bunning to congress.
Maybe the good folks of Kentucky simply have a warped sense of humor? That has to be the case… right? Why else would Bunning be elected to anything aside from a well-heeled player representative for the Major League Baseball Players Association? In fact, Bunning was instrumental in the early days of MLBPA when he advocated player strikes and work stoppages. The truth is the MLBPA might not have been what it was if it were not for the hard work of guys like Bunning.
It’s also true that Bunning likely turned to politics because he couldn’t hack it in baseball. Oh sure, Bunning is pretty good at revisionist history about his playing career like we all are. In his day ballplayers were tougher, smarter and the game was better… just ask him, he’ll tell you.
See, Bunning is one of those old ballplayers who walked uphill for 10 miles in a driving snow storm just to be able to pitch in a ballgame. In an interview with Politico.com about Washington’s ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg, Bunning could not resist taking shots at the kid who struggled throw a couple of arm injuries in his first pro season. The news on Friday was that Strasburg will need Tommy John Surgery, but before he had even an inkling of the facts, Bunning, the old MLBPA leader, ripped a current member of the union.
“Five hundred twenty starts, I never refused the ball,” Bunning told Politico.com. “What a joke!”
It was 519 starts, but that’s probably just an oversight from a senator who has made a career of whitewashing his real record. To hear the stories from the old days, Bunning was equal parts crazy and jerk. My favorite story comes from the book Temporary Insanity, written by former Phillie Jay Johnstone. To set it up, here is a story I wrote for our pal Mike Meech over at The Fightins:
On my way to the press box lavatory, I literally ran into Jay Johnstone. No one was hurt, but the first thought that popped into my head when nearly trampling the Dodgers’ broadcaster was, “Hey, I read your book when I was a kid.”
The book was called Temporary Insanity and it wasn’t too bad for jock-lit. There were plenty of good stories about all the crazy things baseball players like to do in their free time, including some of the finer details about Johnstone’s time as a Phillies farmhand where he spent most of his energy terrorizing his manager Jim Bunning.
Bunning, of course, is currently the senior Republican senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and based on a conversation I had with him in 2003, he still has not let go of the mental anguish Johnstone caused him. Maybe that’s why he was screwing the unemployed of his state, but I digress.
My favorite story from the book was when Johnstone caught wind that Bunning had been trying to nail him for any team rule infraction he could. So just to steam his manager even more than already necessary, Johnstone spread the word that he was organizing a wild, beer-drinking and card-playing night in his room at the team hotel. As it was told, Johnstone wanted everyone to spread word that the party would be a bona fide rager to end all ragers and to make sure that the manager found out, too. Don’t invite the dude, but just make sure Bunning knew all about it was the plan.
Bunning, as planned, got wind of the party and thinking he was finally going to get his chance to burn Johnstone once and for all, the manager showed up at the room after curfew only to find Johnstone sitting on his bed and reading a book.
Oh yes, the wild rager turned out to be nothing but a rouse. Johnstone set it up so that Bunning would show up only to catch him reading a book.
More exasperating for Bunning was when Johnstone looked up from his book at the angry figure in the doorway and said something like, “Hiya, skip! You’re out kind of late, aren’t you?”
As the story goes, Bunning stormed out of there chapped that he couldn’t finally stick it to Johnstone. However, later the future senator got the last laugh. During that conversation with Bunning in 2003, I asked him about Johnstone and he told me that when the Phillies’ brass called him about the best player on his team he immediately told them about the guy who had been a veritable bee in his bonnet. As a result of that, the Phillies called up Johnstone from the minors and he went on to be a valuable left-handed bat for the team.
“I was finally rid of him,” the senator said.
Oh yes, a win-win for all.
It doesn't sound the least bit unreasonable to surmise that because Bunning couldn't hack it as a minor-league manager or control Jay Johnstone, he went on to be a U.S. Senator.
Bunning was in Philadelphia on Thursday to fete Roy Halladay for throwing the second perfect game in team history with all the pomp and circumstance reserved for the last time the team had a ceremony for Halladay for throwing the second perfect game in team history. That one was in June, I think, only Bunning couldn’t be there.
This time, Bunning turned up and told the team’s official web site about how great Halladay’s perfect game was as it related to his perfect game in 1964.
That was the year when Bunning was the ace pitcher for the team that experienced the worst late-season collapse in baseball history.
“After [Halladay's] eight years in the American League there has been no loss in effectiveness,” Bunning noted. “I had the same kind of experience, I had nine years in the American League before I got here. Now, I had a no-hitter in the American League first, but he's come close an awful lot of times.
“I watched the tape of that game and he ran a lot of 3-2 counts. I had just two when I had a perfect game, and truth be told, I faced much weaker competition. But the focus it took to battle through was amazing.”
In other words, Halladay was pretty perfect, but not as perfect as Bunning.
If that was all the craziness we got from the senator, it wouldn’t be anything to bat an eye at. However, the reporter Bunning spoke to was doing some stringer work for MLB.com and has been unemployed since December of 2008 because of cutbacks at his former newspaper. As the tale was told, the writer was introduced to the senator as an old newspaper writer who was unemployed because of the state of the economy.
Bunning’s response to this information?
“I can’t wait until they are all gone,” the senator said about newspapers.
Oh yes he did!
Bunning, of course, is the same guy who held up unemployment benefits to guys like this reporter last February. In a stance that was a head-scratcher to members of both political parties, Bunning did everything he could to deny folks unemployment benefits.
On the floor Thursday night, he breached Senate protocol when he shouted out: “Tough s—” as Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley pleaded with him to drop his objection.
Or this gem from the ol’ ballplayer himself:
I want to assure the people that have, heh, watched this thing until quarter of twelve — and I have missed the Kentucky-South Carolina game that started at 9 o’clock, and it’s the only redeeming chance we had to beat South Carolina, since they’re the only team that has beat Kentucky this year — all of these things that we have talked about and all the provisions that have been discussed, the unemployment benefits, all these things. If we’d have taken the longer version of the job bill…we wouldn’t have spent three hours plus telling everybody in the United States of America that Senator Bunning doesn’t give a damn about the people that are on unemployment.
So the fact that there was an unemployment rate pushing toward 11 percent in Kentucky is of less importance than the regular-season matchup between Kentucky and South Carolina to Bunning. He also can’t wait for newspapers to go out of business.
He says he's getting a plaque from his friends for "dealing" with newspapers for 60 years, too.