- - Monday, October 24, 2016


This week millions of Americans, including political junkies who are sometimes more passionate about baseball than politics (particularly after a nip or two of fine old Kentucky bourbon in the shank of an evening with old friends), will interrupt their arguing over the occasional merits and manifold shortcomings of Hillary and the Donald, to retire to the sport pages and the World Series.

Baseball calls itself the National Pastime, and once upon a time it really was, before being overtaken by football. But baseball remains the thinking man’s game, and no other sport has the tradition and lore of the first game every American boy learns. The World Series occupies a place in the nation’s affections that overshadows even the Super Bowl.

This week the World Series will be played for the first time in a long time in the Middle West, when the Chicago Cubs of the National League and the Cleveland Indians of the American League contend until one club wins four games. Then the fans will have something to talk about all winter in the Hot Stove League.

But there’s a shadow over the celebration for many fans. Over the weekend, Jim Bunning, a genuine superstar of once upon a time, suffered a debilitating stroke. Mr. Bunning, now 84, pitched no-hitters in both the American and National Leagues during a career that spanned 17 years on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His National League no-hitter was more than just a no-hitter, but an exceedingly rare perfect game — 27 batters up, 27 batters down. For the New York Mets, no hits, no runs, no errors in the first perfect game in the National League in 84 years, and Mr. Bunning did it on Father’s Day, with his wife and one of his nine children watching in the stands.

He struck out a thousand batters over the 17 years, winning a hundred games in each league, first for the Detroit Tigers in the American League, and then with the Phillies. He was a fierce competitor, never taking guff from anyone, and for a time he was the National League players representative, speaking up for the players against the owners. He was second only to Walter Johnson in career strikeouts, but he regards as his greatest accomplishment having never missed a start in the pitching rotation.

He retired to his native Kentucky and began a political career that took him from a city council to state legislature, then to the U.S. House of Representatives and finally to the U.S. Senate, where he was unwilling to take guff there, too, as one of the most conservative members of Congress. He was never a company man, and never particularly popular with the leaders of the company. He’s recovering in his old Kentucky home, and junkies in both politics and baseball might spare a prayer for his recovery when the umps cry “Play Ball!”

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