Today in Phillies History: Jim Bunning Throws a Father’s Day Perfect Game

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1964: Pitcher Jim Bunning #14 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches during an Major League Baseball game circa 1964. Bunning played for the Phillies from 1964-67. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1964: Pitcher Jim Bunning #14 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches during an Major League Baseball game circa 1964. Bunning played for the Phillies from 1964-67. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

No-hitters used to be much more common and complete games were expected.

The legendary Cy Young had three career no-hitters, a perfect game in 1904, and averaged 30 complete games per 162 games over his 22-year career!

But even in an era when it was presumed that the starter could go eight or nine innings, this game by the late Jim Bunning stood alone.

In 1964, the first day of summer was also Father’s Day. It also ended up being the day Bunning, himself a father of seven, would make history as the first modern pitcher to throw a no-hitter in both the American League and National League.

And not only was it the first no-hitter by a Phillie since Johnny Lush in 1906, but it was also a perfect game.

Bunning’s children were not present for the game and would have missed the historic moment on television had it not been for one of his daughters, Mary Fran. She watched the entire game and told the others to join her to watch their father make history.

Yankees righty Don Larsen had thrown a perfect game during the 1956 World Series, but Bunning’s was the first perfect game in the regular season since Charlie Robertson’s perfecto for the Chicago White Sox on April 30, 1922. To further compound the achievement, Bunning had thrown the first perfect game in the National League since 1880.

Considering the Philadelphia Phillies are the oldest continuous franchise (same city, same name) in MLB since their inception in 1883, it is astounding that this stat predated their existence.

"“We knew when he was warming up that this was something special. The way he was throwing so live and as high as he was. Not high with his pitches. High himself.” – Gene Mauch, Phillies manager"

Video footage from this era is scarce, but you can listen to legendary Mets sportscaster Lindsey Nelson’s play-by-play:

The Phillies acquired Jim Bunning from the Tigers

Bunning was originally signed by the Detroit Tigers and spent parts of five seasons in the minor league system before making his debut on July 20, 1955. His American League no-hitter came exactly three years later when he dominated the Boston Red Sox on July 20, 1958.

During this time with the Tigers, Bunning also became the 10th pitcher in MLB history to throw an immaculate inning (striking out three batters on nine pitches) in 1959, also against the Red Sox. As of this season, 95 pitchers have accomplished the feat, for a total of 103 immaculate innings. In 2019, Red Sox ace Chris Sale became the first pitcher since Lefty Grove in 1928 to throw two immaculates in the same season, and the first in MLB history to do so within a month’s time.

The Tigers traded Bunning to the Phillies during the 1963 Winter Meeting, and he pitched for them until they traded him to the Pirates after the 1967 season. He spent time with the Dodgers after that, before returning to the Phillies in 1970 and retiring with them in 1971.

Despite an excellent career and a few historically significant games, Bunning never won the Cy Young or led in ERA. But he was a nine-time All-Star and three-time strikeout leader. His perfect game also put him in an exclusive club; only seven pitchers have thrown both a perfect game and a separate no-hitter.

Jim Bunning is the only MLB player to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame and the U.S. Senate

After retiring from baseball, Bunning got into politics. Twenty-two years after throwing his perfect game, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, and then the United States Senate. When he retired from politics in 2010, he evoked his baseball career in his farewell speech:

"“I have been booed by 60,000 fans at Yankee Stadium standing alone at the pitcher’s mound, so I have never really cared if I stood alone here in Congress as long as I stood by my beliefs and my values.” – Bunning, December 2010"

To date, Bunning is the only baseball player to ever be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and the U.S. Senate. He passed away on May 26, 2017.

Since 1876, there have been over 300 official no-hitters in MLB history. Thirteen of them belong to the Phillies. Four other pitchers have thrown a no-hitter in both leagues. But Bunning will always stand alone.

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