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Original Issue

Jim Bunning, Righthander MARCH 1, 1965

Twenty-five years ago it was inconceivable. Jim Bunning a
politician? Jim Bunning on the campaign trail schmoozing with
strangers, smooth-talking the media, smooching babies? Fat
chance. The Hall of Fame pitcher (far left, with Bo Belinsky) a
polished Capitol Hill veteran? "Never dreamed of it," the
Republican junior senator from Kentucky says. "I was shy. I
didn't know how to handle the media. I had to force myself to
become more outgoing."

It wasn't easy. In his early days of campaigning Bunning was so
terrified of going door-to-door that he insisted on having his
wife, Mary, at his side. Bunning had stumbled into politics in
1977 after friends suggested he run for a modest city council
post in Fort Thomas, Ky. With his dream of becoming a major
league manager going nowhere--he had spent five years managing in
the minors--Bunning felt it was time to give public service a
shot. Two years after winning that council seat, Bunning was
elected to the state senate. Nine years after entering politics
he was a U.S. representative, and in 1998 he won his seat in the

A staunch conservative (he called Bill Clinton "the most corrupt,
the most amoral, the most despicable person I've ever seen in the
presidency," and that was before Monica Lewinsky), Bunning is now
ready to go to bat for a Republican president. "I'm astounded by
what we can accomplish," says the distinguished gentleman, 69,
who sponsored the 1995 legislation that raised earnings limits
for senior citizens collecting social security. Bunning credits
Mary, with whom he has nine children and 35 grandchildren, for
his successful transition to politics. "She has been my strongest
and best asset," he says.

Bunning baffled major league hitters for 17 years, most notably
with the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies, using an
unorthodox sidearm motion. Although never a power pitcher, when
he retired in 1971 Bunning was second to Washington Senator
Walter Johnson with 2,855 career strikeouts. Still a fan--he roots
hard for his Phillies, for whom he pitched a perfect game in
'64--his voice sours when he speaks of baseball's looming labor
showdown. "It took four years for the game to come back," says
Bunning, who in '94 spoke out against the league's antitrust
exemption. "Baseball can't afford another strike. It would
absolutely kill the game."

Bunning, meanwhile, is already gearing up for reelection in 2004.
"There's a governor from Kentucky [Paul Patton, a Democrat] who
wants to run against me," says Bunning, always a fierce
competitor. "I don't want him in the Senate, so I'm going to run
against him."

--Albert Chen



Though not a power pitcher, when he retired the future senator
was second to Walter Johnson in career strikeouts.