Posts Tagged ‘Jim Bunning’

Hope for Hall of Fame Pitchers

December 14, 2017

Ferguson Jenkins

There are two relatively new trends occurring in Hall of Fame voting (both BBWAA and the various Veteran’s Committees) that bear watching closely. Both may, and I stress “may,” lead to new candidates getting a better shot at election, and “Old Timers” getting a better second look. To me, they are hopeful signs.

In 1991 Ferguson Jenkins made the Hall of Fame. In 1992 the Veteran’s Committee of the day elected Hal Newhouser. In 1996 the Vets again elected a pitcher, Jim Bunning. Then it took all the way to 2011 to elect Bert Blyleven. Other than those four (and a number of relievers and Negro League pitchers, both of which are different from starters) the Hall elected only 300 game winners. It seemed that the key to getting your ticket stamped for Cooperstown as a starter was to win 300 games. Then came 2015 and John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez, and now Jack Morris. None won 300 games (none got overly close–Morris had 254). I think that’s a hopeful sign that the reliance on 300 wins as the metric for election is going away. I suppose there are a number of reasons why (like all the 300 winners are already in and you still want to put in a starter or two now and then just because you can) but to me it’s most important not for the reasons why but because it opens up the possibility of other non-300 game winners reaching Cooperstown. I’m one of those that believes Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina ought to be enshrined and neither got near 300 wins. So the new willingness to add in pitchers with lower win totals makes that much more possible.

Whatever you think of Morris making the Hall of Fame, he has one positive for pitchers still waiting, an enormous ERA. His 3.90 ERA is well above what you normally see in a Hall of Fame pitcher. There are a lot of Deadball guys with ERAs under three and several later starters with ERA’s in the mid-threes, but Morris is an outlier and that to me is a hopeful sign also. Because now it becomes more difficult to dismiss a pitcher simply because he has a high ERA. Andy Pettitte with his high ERA is on the horizon (and I mention him here without reference to steroid issues). Wes Ferrell, an excellent pitcher from the 1930s with an ERA over four suddenly has a better chance for Cooperstown (without reference to his bat, which I believe few voters will consider). There is also Mel Harder and George Earnshaw (neither of which I’m convinced are Hall of Fame quality, but ought to get another look) and a number of others like Eddie Rommel (whose ERA is near Mussina’s) and Bill Sherdel deserve another look (and again I’m not convinced either is up to Hall standards).

It is sometimes very difficult to be hopeful when discussing the Hall of Fame voting. But these are good signs moving forward. It will be interesting to see if either is maintained.




Another RIP

May 27, 2017

Just saw that Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning died today. He was 85.

Bunning’s Hall of Fame plaque

Bunning pitched primarily in the 1950s and 1960s winning 224 games, including a perfect game. He was part of the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies team that infamously squandered a big lead in the last two weeks of the season to cede the pennant to St. Louis. After baseball, he went into politics serving a couple of terms as U.S. Senator from Kentucky. He was a Republican and was known as one of the more conservative members of the body. In 1996 he was elected to the Hall of Fame.


A Dozen Things You Should Know About Jim Bunning

December 27, 2016
Jim Bunning with Philadelphia

Jim Bunning with Philadelphia

Sticking with the theme of combining sport and politics, here’s some things you should know about Jim Bunning.

1. James Bunning was born in Southgate, Kentucky in 1931.

2. He was both a good ball player and a good student. He graduated from Xavier University (Norwood, Ohio) with a degree in economics.

3. He went to the minors as a Tigers prospect in 1950 as a D League right-handed pitcher. By 1955 he’d earned a stint in the big leagues with Detroit. He went 3-5 with an ERA north of six, and went back to the minors.

4. In 1956 he made the Tigers roster late in the season, went 5-1 with an ERA of 3.71, and remained in the Major Leagues through 1971.

5. He stayed with Detroit through the 1963 season, winning 20 games once (and 19 one other time), leading the American League in strikeouts twice, becoming a five time All Star and amassing 118 wins, 1406 strikeouts, an ERA of 3.45 (ERA+ of 116), a no-hitter, and 29.5 WAR.

6. After the ’63 season he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, where he  became the first man to throw a perfect game in the regular season (Don Larsen had thrown one in the 1956 World Series) since 1922 (first by a Phillies pitcher since 1906).

7. During the 1964 season he won 19 games, was an All-Star, and teamed with lefty Chris Short as twin aces for the 1964 Phillies who infamously faded in the last two weeks of the season to lose the National League pennant on the last day of the season.

8. He remained with the Phils through 1967, winning 89 games, picking up another strikeout title (1967), two shutout titles (1966 and ’67), posting a 2.93 ERA (ERA+ of 122), went to two All Star Games, and produced 31.4 WAR.

9. In 1969 he split time between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, then went back to Philadelphia for 1970 and a career ending 1971. He finished his career 224-184 with an ERA of 3.27 (115 ERA+), 2855 strikeouts, and even 1000 walks, 40 shutouts, and 60.3 WAR.

10. After leaving baseball, Bunning entered politics. He was elected to the Fort Thomas, Kentucky city council in 1977, then to the Kentucky state senate, becoming minority leader. He ran for Governor of Kentucky in 1983 and lost.

11. In 1986 he was elected to the US House of Representatives and then to the US Senate in 1998. He served in the Senate through 2010 (two terms). He was considered one of the Senate’s most conservative members.

12. In 1996, while a sitting member of the House of Representatives, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. To date he is the only Hall of Famer to serve in the US Senate.


The Count of Philadelphia

March 6, 2010

Count Sensenderfer

When I was growing up there was a gag going around to the effect that are three things you can never discuss: politics, religion, or sports. You don’t discuss them, you argue them. And putting any two together was even more dangerous to keeping friends. Some day I’m going to do a post on Billy Sunday and combine sports and religion, but not today. Today I’m going to combine sports and politics.

Baseball has a long tradition of mixing with politics. Many of the moguls who put together the National and American Leagues had local, regional, and/or national political ties. In baseball, Presidents get to throw out the first pitch. A number of former ballplayers have made their way to the halls of congress, including current US Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky. Early baseball was no exception.

John Phillips Jenkins  “Count” Sensenderfer was born in Philadelphia in 1847. He graduated from Philadelphia Central High School where he was a noted athlete. By 1866 he was a well known baseball player in the area, appearing for the partially amateur Philadelphia Athletics. Yes, it’s the same team that I talked about in an earlier post on Lip Pike and professionalism. Sensenderfer and Pike were teammates for a while. Sensenderfer was an outfielder who stood 5′ 9″ and weighed 170 pounds. Although there is no evidence that I can find indicating whether he threw right-handed or left-handed (or which way he batted), I’ve discovered that if the man is left-handed, it’s usually noted. But because this may be the exception, I won’t be dogmatic about it. He and the Athletics joined the National Association in 1871,  where he played center field for the champions. He hit .329 in 25 games picking up 41 hits and scoring 38 runs, which is a heck of a hits to runs ratio. His fielding percentage was .814, which isn’t real good, but isn’t all that bad for the era. He played only one game for the A’s in 1872 going two for five, scoring two runs, and having one RBI. In 1873 he was back for 20 games, all but one in the outfield (he played first base the other time). He hit .279 with 24 hits, 12 runs, and eight RBIs. He finished his career in 1874 playing five final games with the Athletics. He hit a buck-88, with three hits, three runs, and two RBIs. For his career he went 70 for 234 for a .299 average and a .342 slugging percentage with, 55 runs, and 34 RBIs in 51 games. Not a bad career, but nothing to write home to Mom about. Somewhere along the line he picked up the nickname “Count.” I can’t find out where or how, so if anyone knows, I’d appreciate getting the information.

When players of the era finished playing  baseball they ended up in a variety of  jobs. Unlike today, salaries made it necessary to work beyond their professional career (and of course the same is true of marginal players today). There are a lot of coaches, a bunch of pool hall owners, a big group of bartenders and bar owners. Sensenderfer picked a totally different career. He went into politics. (Whether that’s a step up or down from baseball, pool halls, and bars is  open to debate.) He became a member of the Philadelphia Democratic Party machine in his hometown. If he followed the traditional route of machine members, and in a couple of years in the late 1870s it’s tough to track him down, he went from worker, to wardheeler, to ward delegate. By the 1890s he was a “County Commissioner.” The information I can find from looking at the newspapers on line seems to indicate this job is akin to the current position called “City Councilman” around where I live. He was apparently reasonably popular, getting himself reelected to a second four-year term. At the time, the commissioner’s salary was $5000 a year, a great salary in the 1890s, and much greater than anything he ever made as a ballplayer. In the Presidential election year of 1892, he was a delegate to the state of Pennsylvania Democratic Convention, whose job was to pick delegates to the Democratic National Presidential Nominating Convention. One source indicates he was chosen a national delegate, but I’ve been unable to determine if that’s true via any second source. If it is true, then Sensenderfer is the first ballplayer who actually helped nominate a President of the US. The convention nominated Grover Cleveland for President. Cleveland won, but lost Pennsylvania to Republican Benjamin Harrison.

After two terms in City Hall, Sensenderfer retired from office. It doesn’t appear he was defeated for reelection, but the information is sketchy.  He died in 1903 at age 55.

Sensenderfer is unusual for a couple of reasons. First, his baseball career seems to have been secondary to his political ambitions. If that’s not entirely true, it’s certainly true that the political career was more successful. Secondly, his choice of a political career after baseball is also different from his contemporaries. It’s not a usual occupation for ex-ballplayers, but it’s not unheard of at all. As mentioned above, Jim Bunning, former pitcher, is currently in the US Senate and there have been a number of other former Major Leaguers that have gone into politics from the local to the national level. Apparently, Sensenderfer was the first.