May 27 (Reuters) – Jim Bunning, who showed much of the same combativeness as a U.S. congressman as he had during his Hall of Fame career as a deceptive pitcher in baseball’s major leagues, died at the age of 85, his son said on Saturday.
“Heaven got its No 1 starter today. Our lives & the nation are better off because of your love & dedication to family,” read a Twitter message from his son, David Bunning.
Bunning, who became the first Hall of Famer to serve in the U.S. Congress, representing Kentucky in the U.S. Senate and a Cincinnati-area district in the House of Representatives, led a “long and storied life,” said Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader.
“From his days in the major leagues to his years as my colleague in the Senate … Jim rarely shied away from a new adventure,” McConnell, one of Kentucky’s current senators, said in a statement.
A foe of abortion and gay marriage and a backer of tax cuts, gun rights and the Iraq war, the conservative Republican served in the House from 1987 to 1998, when he was first elected to the Senate.
After two terms, Bunning announced he would not seek re-election in 2010 due to difficulty raising funds. His erratic behavior by that point had made him something of an embarrassment for Republican colleagues.
Bunning remained combative in his final year in office, single-handedly holding up an emergency appropriations bill for several days as a one-man protest against federal spending.
In a baseball career that covered much of the 1950s and 1960s, Bunning pitched no-hitters for both the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, becoming the first pitcher to hurl such gems in both the American and National leagues.
While he won plenty of headlines as a baseball standout, the broad, tall and white-haired Bunning was more of a backup in Congress.
Time magazine, in April 2006, ranked Bunning as among the nation’s “five worst senators,” dubbing him “the underperformer” who was hostile to his staff and showed little interest in policy unless it involved baseball.
Still, Bunning had his moments on Capitol Hill.
As a member of the ethics committee, Bunning helped lead the charge against a House banking overdraft scandal in 1992 that contributed to Democrats losing control of the chamber two years later for the first time in four decades.
In 1993, five years before President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House on charges stemming from having an affair with an intern, Bunning drew attention when he denounced the then newly elected Democrat as “corrupt,” “amoral” and “despicable.”