Editors note: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered the following remarks Monday on the Senate floor honoring the life of former U.S. Senator and Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning:
On May 26, my home state of Kentucky lost a legendary figure with the passing of Senator Jim Bunning. For more than two decades, Jim was my colleague here in Congress. Before that, he was a storied Major League Baseball pitcher, earning him a spot in Cooperstown. Today, I want to remember Jim Bunning: a Hall of Famer in Life.
Jim’s career in the majors spanned 17 seasons, where he pitched primarily for the Tigers and the Phillies. In that time, he earned 224 career wins and 2,855 strikeouts. Of his many impressive accomplishments on the diamond, Jim’s two greatest pitching achievements were his no-hitter in 1958 and the perfect game he threw in 1964, a feat that has only been accomplished 23 times in all of baseball history.
In recognition of his career with the Phillies, the team retired Jim’s number 14 jersey, and his baseball career was finally capped off by his election to the Hall of Fame in 1996 by the Veterans Committee. Anyone would be proud of such a resume, but for Jim, it was only the first act.
Jim moved back to his beloved Fort Thomas in northern Kentucky. Over the next three decades, he served at all levels of government — from the Fort Thomas City Council to the Kentucky State Senate, to both chambers of the U.S. Congress, including 12 years in the House and 12 in the Senate. Jim dedicated his life to serving the people of Kentucky, and Kentuckians are grateful for his work.
Jim was a man of principle from start to finish. He stayed true to himself. As Congressional Quarterly once wrote: "all agree…that [Bunning] is unafraid to go his own way.: Throughout his career, Jim took many principled stands, even if it meant standing alone.
In his farewell address to the Senate, he said, "I have been booed by 60,000 fans in Yankee Stadium, standing alone on the mound, so I have never cared if I stood alone in Congress, as long as I stood by my beliefs and my values." But in his life, Jim never really stood alone. Through trials and hardships, he always had his loving wife Mary by his side. Jim would have been the first to tell you that his success in life wouldn’t have been possible without Mary. She stood with him through both the glory and the hardships of his baseball career and was, in Jim’s words, his "rock," his "best fan," and his "best friend." Together, they helped raise the nine children Jim is survived by today. He is also survived by 35 grandchildren — one of whom, by the way, once worked in my office — and 21 great-grandchildren. It’s clear that the two most important things to Jim were always his family and his deeply held Catholic faith.
Jim was a man of strong beliefs and good character. Never one to make excuses, he worked hard at whatever he put his mind to: first in baseball as a legendary pitcher, and then as a voice for the people of Kentucky for over 30 years. With an unshakeable commitment to his family and the firm principles guiding him, Jim was truly a hall of famer in life.
On behalf of the entire Senate family, I would like to offer heartfelt condolences to Mary, their family, friends, and all who knew and loved Senator Jim Bunning.