If you know anything about the life of current United States Senator (KY) and 1996 Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee Jim Bunning, you will know that he is used to adversity, whether it’s sports related or on the political front.
Despite recent fundraising difficulties, and the fact that State Senate President David Williams has been pondering a run at Bunning’s seat, he made a bold statement in an exclusive interview with the News Journal on Tuesday.
Bunning said, despite the rumors, he has no opposition in the 2010 primary, saying that Williams’ entry into the race will not happen, nor will Bunning’s friend, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, oppose him.
"I don’t have any opponents right now," Bunning said. "David Williams is not going to run, are you kidding me.
"Grayson is not going to run as long as I am in the race," he added. "We have talked it over and he is my good friend and he will not run unless I decide I am not going to finish this race. So, in spite of what has been written, I am not going to have a Primary opponent."
Considering what he has dealt with on the playing field and what he may have in front of him regarding his political office, Bunning is still up for the challenges he may face in the upcoming election, thanks in part to his experiences on the baseball field.
As a young athlete, Bunning struggled his way through a 1-5 season as a high school senior on the pitcher’s mound before receiving a full scholarship to play basketball at Xavier University.
He continued to play baseball in college where his freshman basketball coach Ned Wulk, who also happened to be the varsity baseball coach, first gave Bunning the idea that he could pitch in the big leagues.
"I pitched my first year in college and we had a pretty big schedule, I think it was 15 games, but I was 3-1 in my freshman year," Bunning said. "After the season was over, Wulk called me into his office and said "this is my opinion and you can take it for what it’s worth, but I think you got a chance to pitch Major League Baseball.
"He told me there were a couple scouts following me around and that I should talk to them," he added. "I did that, and remember, I had a full scholarship in basketball, so I had to get enough of a signing bonus from them to make up for that, so I got $4,000 bonus for signing with Detroit."
After making his way through every level of the minor leagues, Bunning started his Major League Baseball career with a 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, on July 20, 1955. After that, Bunning went on to be one of the best pitchers of his time and when he retired, was second on the all time strikeout list (2,855) with only Walter Johnson in front of him. Bunning also posted 224 wins, threw a no hitter (July 20, 1958 against Boston) a perfect game (June 21, 1964 against the New York Mets) and tallied seven All Star appearances along the way, finishing his career with a 3.27 ERA.
Politically, Bunning has had some hard times as well, but has managed to come out on top since being elected to the United States Senate.
In 1998, Senator Wendall Ford retired after 24 years in the Senate. Bunning won the Republican nomination for the seat and faced fellow Congressman Scotty Baesler, a Democrat from the Lexington based Sixth District, in the general election. Bunning defeated Baesler by just over half a percentage point (49.8 to 49.2 percent) and only won because he had swamped Baesler in the 4th District by a margin that couldn’t be made up in the rest of the state.
Bunning was heavily favored for a second term in 2004 after his expected Democratic opponent, Governor Paul Patton, saw his career implode in a scandal over an extramarital affair and the Democrats chose Daniel Mongiardo, a relatively unknown physician and state senator from Hazard.
Bunning had an estimated $4 million in his campaign war chest, while Mongiardo had only $600,000. However, due to a number of controversial incidents involving Bunning, the Democrats began increasing financial support to Mongiardo when it became apparent that Bunning’s behavior was costing him votes, purchasing more than $800,000 worth of additional television airtime on Mongiardo’s behalf.
Since then, Bunning has taken stands on several controversial issues like Congress’s investigation of steroid use in baseball and illegal immigration, taking the position that all illegal immigrants should be deported. Bunning was also the only member of the United States Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs to have opposed Ben Bernanke for Chief of the Federal Reserve. He said it was because he had doubts that Bernanke would be any different from Alan Greenspan.
Bunning stands behind his decisions and during his interview, reminded those interested that he is not afraid to put his name next to what he believes in.
"If you go to my Web site, we have to put everything on there these days," he said. "You will see what we are doing if you go there.
"I am not afraid to put my name next to the things we have done I never will be," he added. "The way things are going is not the way we want our country to be ran and we have to continue to try and change that."