Former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher who parlayed his sports fame into a political career as an uncompromising advocate for conservative causes, has died. He was 85.
Bunning's family said the ex-senator and baseball great died late Friday night of complications from a stroke suffered in October. Bunning was the patriarch of a large family that included his wife, Mary, and their nine children, 35 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.
"The family is deeply grateful for the love and prayers of Jim's friends and supporters," his family said in a statement. "While he was a public servant with a Hall of Fame career, his legacy to us is that of a beloved husband, caring father and supportive grandfather."
Bunning pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers over a 17-year career from 1955 to 1971. The nine-time All-Star, one of 23 players in major league history to throw a perfect game in the modern era, was selected to the Hall in 1996 by the Veterans Committee.
Known as a no-nonsense pitcher who threw hard and knocked batters down when necessary, the big right-hander finished his career with a 224-184 record, 3.27 ERA and 2,855 strikeouts, which ranks 17th on the all-time list.
Bunning was the second pitcher to record 100 wins and 1,000 strikeouts in the American and National Leagues. He also was one of 34 pitchers to throw two no-hitters, and just one of seven to do it for two different teams.
We mourn the passing of Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher and former U.S. Senator. He was 85. pic.twitter.com/NVTdhQuYmr— MLB (@MLB) May 27, 2017
"Jim Bunning led an extraordinary life in the National Pastime and in public service," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "He was a consistent winner and workhorse pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies. Jim threw no-hitters in both leagues, pitched a perfect game on Father's Day in 1964 and, at his retirement, had more strikeouts than any pitcher in history except Walter Johnson.
"In his baseball career, Jim was proud of always taking the ball. The work ethic that made him a Hall of Famer led him to the House of Representatives and the United Stated Senate. He served the state of Kentucky for more than two decades and became the only Hall of Famer ever to serve in Congress."
In a statement, Phillies chairman David Montgomery called Bunning "an incredible competitor" who was "determined to maximize his ability and make the most of everything he did in life. He clearly succeeded in doing so."
Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark lauded Bunning for his assistance in hiring Marvin Miller as the union's first director.
"Jim, as those within the baseball community know, is one of the most important figures in the history of the Major League Baseball Players Association," Clark said in a statement. "...Recognizing the need to ensure that all players receive fair representation in their dealings with major league club owners, Jim, along with a number of his peers, helped pave the way for generations of players.
"That responsibility of leaving the game better for those who follow remains in place today, 51 years later. All players -- past, present and future -- will forever owe Jim a debt of gratitude."
Bunning retired from baseball in 1971 and then carried his success to politics.
The Kentucky Republican served 12 years in the U.S. House, from 1987 to 1999. Bunning entered the Senate in 1999, but his ornery nature forced Republican leaders to push him to retire after two terms. He was a staunchly conservative voice in the Senate and a fierce protector of state interests such as tobacco, coal and military bases. He did not seek re-election in 2010.
Bunning suffered a stroke last fall. Jon Deuser, who served as Bunning's chief of staff when Bunning was in the Senate, said he was in hospice care when he died.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Bunning's longtime colleague from Kentucky, remembered him on Saturday as someone who led a "long and storied life."
"From his days in the major leagues to his years as my colleague in the Senate -- and the many points in between, from the City Council to the House of Representatives -- Jim rarely shied away from a new adventure," McConnell said in a statement. "This Hall of Famer will long be remembered for many things, including a perfect game, a larger-than-life personality, a passion for Kentucky and a loving family."
Bunning's son, David, a federal judge, said in a tweet: "Heaven got its No 1 starter today. Our lives & the nation are better off because of your love & dedication to family."
Bunning's competitive side was also evident during his political career. In February 2010, he single-handedly held up a $10 billion spending bill in Congress because it would have added to the deficit.
"The main qualities it takes for professional athletes and politicians is to have a very thick hide, a thick skin, and to be able to meet and greet people," he said in July 2000.
Bunning also used his political status to speak out about the game he loved.
He declared that athletes who use steroids should be kept out of the Baseball Hall of Fame and have their records nullified. He co-authored legislation calling for stiff punishment for professional athletes caught using steroids. The proposal, which sought a lifetime ban for a third positive test, would have applied to baseball, football, basketball and hockey players.
"He was a great American," Hall of Famer Phil Niekro said. "He was a great Senator, and I know that anyone that knows anything about baseball is going to miss him."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.