Top Tigers Countdown #26: Jim Bunning

Leon Halip

Jim Bunning might have had some of the best years of his career elsewhere, but he put up some truly remarkable numbers while in a Tigers uniform in the late 1950s.

Jim Bunning was one of a group of very good starting pitchers that bridged the gap between championship teams in Detroit. Bunning got a bit more recognition than teammates Frank Lary and Virgil Trucks -- both of whom will be appearing in our countdown soon -- but a lot of that was due to some truly incredible seasons in Philadelphia. Regardless, Bunning's durability and high strikeout totals made him a fan favorite and the #26 player on our countdown.

Year IP W-L ERA FIP WHIP SO BB HR ERA- WAR
1955 51.0 3-5 6.35 5.02 1.78 37 32 8 160 -0.1
1956 53.1 5-1 3.71 4.13 1.56 34 28 6 89 0.3
1957 267.1 20-8 2.69 3.63 1.07 182 72 33 70 3.5
1958 219.2 14-12 3.52 3.74 1.22 177 79 28 91 3.4
1959 249.2 17-13 3.89 3.89 1.18 201 75 37 98 3.4
1960 252.0 11-14 2.79 2.86 1.12 201 64 20 70 6.9
1961 268.0 17-11 3.19 3.23 1.13 194 71 25 76 6.5
1962 258.0 19-10 3.59 3.61 1.30 184 74 28 90 4.2
1963 248.1 12-13 3.88 3.78 1.26 196 69 38 105 2.7
1964* 284.1 19-8 2.63 2.75 1,03 219 46 23 76 6.5
1965* 291.0 19-9 2.60 2.47 1.08 268 62 23 74 8.0
1966* 314.0 19-14 2.41 2.73 1.00 252 55 26 67 7.6
1967* 302.1 17-15 2.29 2.49 1.04 253 73 18 68 7.6
1968** 160.0 4-14 3.88 3.39 1.35 95 48 14 132 1.0
1969*** 212.1 13-10 3.69 2.88 1.28 157 59 15 106 4.5
1970* 219.0 10-15 4.11 3.30 1.32 147 56 19 102 4.8
1971* 110.0 5-12 5.48 3.87 1.48 58 37 11 154 0.6
Career 3760.1 224-184 3.27 3.22 1.18 2855 1000 372 88 71.4

*Played for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1964 to 1967 and 1970 to 1971.
**Played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1968 to August 1969.
***Played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in August and September of 1969.

James Paul David Bunning was born on October 23rd, 1931 in Southgate, Kentucky. He graduated from high school in Cincinnati, Ohio and went to college at Xavier. The Tigers signed Bunning as an amateur free agent in 1950. He spent five years in the minor leagues before debuting on July 20th, 1955 as a 23 year old. He was hit hard in his debut, allowing six runs on eight hits in 7 2/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles. However, he stuck around to appear in 14 more games that year, allowing a 6.35 ERA in 51 innings.

That would be his worst season in a Tigers uniform, by far. Bunning posted a 3.71 ERA in 53 1/3 innings in 1956. He primarily worked out of the bullpen during his short time in Detroit that season, making just three starts in 15 total appearances. He made the most of an increased role in 1957, leading the American League with 267 1/3 innings and 20 wins in 30 starts with a 2.69 ERA. He made the first of five All-Star appearances with the Tigers (six overall) and was ninth in the AL MVP voting.

Bunning would follow up his breakout 1957 campaign with 10 consecutive seasons of 200 innings pitched and double digit wins, all without tallying an ERA above 3.89. Only once was his ERA above the league average, in 1963, yet he still made the All-Star team that season. He led the league in strikeouts twice as a Tiger, in 1959 and 1960. He wasn't able to break the 20-win barrier again, though he won 19 games on four separate occasions, including every year from 1964 to 1966.

Bunning left Detroit via trade well before the 1968 championship season, so his most memorable moment as a Tiger might have been the no-hitter he threw against the Boston Red Sox 10 years prior. He allowed a pair of walks and hit another batter, but struck out 12 in a 3-0 Tigers victory. After Bunning threw a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964, he became just the second pitcher in history to throw no-hitters in both leagues. Since Bunning's achievement, three others -- Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, and Hideo Nomo -- have joined this exclusive club.

After the 1963 season, Bunning was traded to the Phillies for Don Demeter and Jack Hamilton. While neither Demeter nor Hamilton did anything noteworthy during their respective short stints in Detroit, Demeter was later traded to the Boston Red Sox for Earl Wilson, who won 22 games for the Tigers in 1967 and was the second-best Tigers starter during the 1968 season. Meanwhile, Bunning logged an astounding 1191 2/3 innings in just four seasons in Philadelphia. He went 74-46 with a 2.48 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, and his 29.5 fWAR was the best in baseball during that span.

Bunning remains one of only a handful of pitchers to have won 100 games and struck out 1,000 batters in both leagues. He ranks 54th all-time with 3760 1/3 innings pitched and 17th in strikeouts with 2855. Among Tigers pitchers, Bunning is 11th in innings pitched and fWAR, sixth in strikeouts, and is tied for 10th in ERA- among those with at least 1,000 innings pitched.

After retirement, Bunning went into politics in Kentucky. He served in the state senate, then as a member of Congress from 1987 to 1999. He also served two terms as a senator from 1999 to 2011. Bunning was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran's Committee in 1996.

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