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Sports stars, U.S. politicians pay tribute to Hall of Famer, U.S. senator Jim Bunning

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The Sports Xchange
National Baseball Hall of Fame member Jim Bunning watches induction ceremonies from the stage in Cooperstown, New York. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
National Baseball Hall of Fame member Jim Bunning watches induction ceremonies from the stage in Cooperstown, New York. File photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, who went on to serve in Congress as a Kentucky politician, died overnight at the age of 85, the Philadelphia Phillies announced Saturday.

"We are saddened to announce the passing of Hall of Fame pitcher and former U.S. Senator, Jim Bunning," the Phillies wrote on Twitter. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Bunning family during this difficult time."

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Bunning, a nine-time All-Star, pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers over a 17-year career from 1955 to 1971.

Bunning, 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.

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In his career, Bunning recorded a 224-184 record and 3.27 ERA with 2,855 strikeouts, which ranks 17th on the all-time major league list. He threw two no-hitters, becoming the first pitcher after 1900 to throw no-hitters in both the American and National League.

Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark praised 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.

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"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, a Kentucky Republican, turned to politics after his playing career and became the only member of the Baseball Hall of Fame to serve in Congress. He served 12 years (six terms) in the U.S. House for Kentucky's 4th district from 1987-1999 and 12 years (two terms) in the U.S. Senate from 1999-2011. He did not seek re-election in 2010.

"Kentucky lost a true hero. Senator Bunning was fearless on the mound and in the halls of Congress. He will be missed," Rand Paul, current U.S. Senator for Kentucky, wrote on Twitter.

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Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin tweeted: "Kentucky lost a true gem today. Sen. Jim Bunning, Baseball Hall of Famer-turned public servant, was a champion of conservatism and the embodiment of Kentucky's tenacious spirit. Bunning's unique sense of humor and outlook on life often drew attention, but he was never one to back down. He understood that 'difficult times require difficult decisions,' a philosophy that guided him well as he served our state and country. His absence will be felt in the years to come, but we are thankful for what he left behind: an incredible legacy of hard work, determination, and selflessness."

Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro said, "He was a great American. He was a great Senator, and I know that anyone that knows anything about baseball is going to miss him."

Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal said, "I got to know him well when he was pitching for the Phillies and I was with the Giants. He was a good competitor, a good pitcher, and a good human being. We're going to miss him."

Bunning's son, Kentucky U.S. District Judge David Bunning, paid tribute to his father.

"Heaven got its No. 1 starter today. Our lives & the nation are better off because of your love & dedication to the family," David Bunning tweeted Saturday.

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