I was all of eight years-old, riding home from a family visit to relatives on my father’s side of the family. It was a different time then, illustrated no less than by the way we stood on the floor of the back seat – unbuckled – to watch as Dad drove us home with all the windows rolled down in a car that knew not of air conditioning on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon.
The date is – in the interest of honesty – seven days short this Fathers Day of a full five decades of baseball history … June 21, 1964
Dad decides to spend the trip homeward listening to the Philadelphia Phillies playing the lowly New York Mets at Shea Stadium, which had opened for business just two months before. Jim Bunning was on the mound that day in a game already in progress, the first game of a double-header.
For those baseball fans not born or baseball-aware before the turn of the century, a double-header is a scheduled event on a Major League Baseball team’s game calendar deliberately requiring the play of TWO games of baseball in one sitting.
Baseball used to actually schedule double headers as a normal part of every team’s calendar, repeated several times a year … until they caught on to the concept of gate receipts and their effect on earnings and profitability. You only see them nowadays when rain outs and tight scheduling require doubling up; and even then, they almost always require the fans to leave the stadium and buy additional tickets to see the second game.
They call this the Day-Night Double Header. But you can refer to them as Double-Dipping-the-Fans-Because-You-Can Header!
It was late that afternoon … around 4:00 when Dad turned the game on. I was yet to reach the point of my full Phillies awareness. That would be – rather traumatically – that following September when the renown ’64 Phillies would spiral in flames from 1st place in the National League with 12 games remaining …
Oh hell, I don’t want to go there!
My point being, I was hardly paying attention to the game as I bounced around the back seat, most likely in some sort of competition or conflict with my younger brother, Pat. So I remember very little of the actual game, except for the conclusion when Dad mentioned that Jim Bunning had pitched a PERFECT GAME!
I knew not what that even meant at the time.
Bunning’s Father Day feat was most appropriate. He was the father of seven children at the time (eventually having 12!!), only one of which was there in New York that day.
Bunning’s performance still goes down as one of the Top 10 perfectos in Major League Baseball history. He threw only 89 pitches to complete the game, only 21 pitches were thrown as balls. He struck out 10. It was the first perfect game in the National League since 1880! And Bunning became only the second pitcher at the time to throw a no-hitter in both the National and American Leagues.
The other pitcher to throw no-hitters in both leagues? Cy Young
Bunning tortured his dugout mates by constantly talking about his developing perfecto, breaking a major baseball superstition. He later recounted losing a no-hitter three weeks before against the Houston Colt .45s after keeping silent and decided he would not avoid the subject this time around.
What I remember most about Bunning was his wild follow through. When he threw his hardest, he would fall off on his left side, often finishing with his left arm on the ground, his body almost parallel to the pitching mound. Not exactly how the youngin’s today are coached.
Other interesting trivia from Bunning’s Very Special Fathers Day celebration:
- Bunning’s first no-hitter was pitched on July 20, 1958 against the Boston Red Sox. He was pitching for the Detroit Tigers and remarkably enough the game was also the first game of a scheduled double-header.
- After the game, Bunning negotiated an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show for all of $1000., but it was enough to build a pool and pool house at Bunning’s Kentucky home!
- Bunning struck out pinch-hitter John Stephenson for the last out throwing nothing but curve balls after recalling a similar game earlier in the season when Phils manager Gene Mauch told Bunning in at on-the-mound meeting that Stephenson “… can’t spell curve.”
Bunning went on to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. His post-baseball career took him from local Kentucky political offices to an unsuccessful run for Governor to successful campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives and eventually to a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Bunning left the Senate in 2011. He continues to reside in Kentucky at the age of 82.