Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memory of A Good Man

Anybody who had a pulse in Philadelphia in September of 1964 knew those lines:

Today Bunning
tomorrow Short
Next day check the weather report.


For me it was a mixture of two crazy things: Fifteen years old and the Phillies holding down first place in August.

Summer riots on North Broad, the Beatles and the Beach Boys, plus bad sunburns at the Shore an Irish kid from the Hill shouldn't have had.

It's impossible to remember how many days I spent at Connie Mack Stadium that year. I had a paper route and therefore enough jingle to afford the bus and bleacher seats. Sometimes the grandstand. Or better, when we snuck to the delux box seats after the seventh.

I was a junkie in 1964, an addict. Definitely a user. I got hooked on baseball and haven't been clean since.

So when I heard that the right-handed pitcher, the gentleman and Senator from Kentucky — who fell off the mound as he released the ball, like a drunk navigating steps — passed, it took me back to a time and place far, far away.

Living on the Hill at 15 was magical. I had different friends for playing ball, going in the woods, for stickball, for digging underground forts, and hunting. A kid couldn't have had a better life.

Didn't much watch the Phillies on television back then. It was By Saam on the radio, "Good evening everybody." The Tastycake jingle and making the three ring sign.

Detroit traded Bunning in the winter of '64 for Don Demeter and a so-so relief pitcher named Jack Hamilton. Demeter was good and could hit and I didn't much like the trade. Today I would've gone to the Internet and looked at Bunning's numbers with Detroit. It was a good trade for the Phillies, back when they made good trades and weren't renting older players who fell apart.

Bunning won 89 games over six years for the Phillies, plus a perfect game pitched on Father's Day against the Mets. He was the starting pitcher when the Phillies opened Veteran's Stadium in 1971. Mostly, I remember he gave the team a good outing nearly every time. I can't remember a game when Bunning got hammered. I'm sure he must have.

After the collapse in '64, the season Bunning won 19 games, the Phillies never got close again. He won 19 in '65 and 19 in '66. After the '67 season, they traded him to Pittsburgh. He returned to pitch for the Phillies again in '70 and '71. He retired after 17 seasons.

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

From 1998 through 2010 Bunning represented Kentuckians in both the House and Senate.

I had to look up his baseball records, of course, and they're impressive. They're meaningless to me now. But, the mind is more powerful than the Internet. I'll forever remember the competitor Bunning was; the way he'd stare in at Dalrymple for the sign, like a mad bull. I can close my eyes and watch it all, the wind-up and the falling off the mound delivery.

That, I'll remember forever. Happy Memorial Day.


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