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Rick Robinson: The Day Jim Bunning Was Perfect

It seems we all strive for perfection in our lives. However, baseball may be the only place where such precision can be judged in an objective fashion – a pitcher facing 27 batters and besting them in succession.

On Father’s Day, 1964 – 50 years ago – future Congressman/Senator Jim Bunning achieved perfection. With his wife Mary (and one of his nine kids) in the stands, Bunning took the mound against the New York Mets and the Philly side-arm hurler sent each man who stepped to the plate sulking back to the dugout of S­hea Stadium.

At the time, it had been 84 years since anyone had tossed a perfect game in the National League. Known to his fellow teammates as the “Lizard,” Bunning did it that day with style – striking out ten along the way.

Bunning’s Hall of Fame baseball career paved the way for a second career in politics. Just like in baseball, he started out in the instructional league (City Council) before moving up to the minors (Kentucky State Senate). The voters of Kentucky sent him to the big leagues (US House and Senate) on multiple occasions.

Bunning took his high-and-tight baseball persona with him from the mound to the Halls of Congress – a place where perfection is hard to define and rarely, if ever, achieved. The career change didn’t seem to bother the old right-hander too much. The attitude he took with him to D.C. was pretty much the same. If someone took his portion of the plate, he was going to stick one in their ear.

One time when Bunning was speaking out on an issue before the Republican caucus, he heard a few of his fellow Senators hissing behind his back. Bunning turned and informed them as he’d been booed by 50,000 at Yankee Stadium, and he was unimpressed.

When I worked for Jim Bunning on Capitol Hill, people always used to drop by our office to tell him where they were on Fathers Day, 1964. They’d detail their stories about watching on television or attending the game in person with their own father. One day after such an exchange, Bunning told me Shea Stadium couldn’t hold all the people who had shaken his hand and said they were there that day – a quote I’ve heard him repeat in nearly every interview about the game.

Still Bunning never questioned their claim. I think he always appreciated their desire to be a part of something exceptional he had accomplished. I know I did.

So this Fathers Day, as you spend the day with your own pop (or the memory thereof), raise a glass to the Lizard and the day he achieved perfection.

Rick Robinson is a Northern Kentucky-based attorney and author. Check out his award-winning books by clicking here.