Who wouldn’t love a guy named “Vinegar Bend”?

March 3, 2010


I suppose Jim Bunning is used to being taken off the mound. As good a pitcher as he was, he still got the hook from time to time, so the maneuver tonight to put an end to his filibuster so the Senate could pass a bill extending unemployment benefits and other programs should have felt familiar.

If Republican leaders have found Bunning hard to handle, they will get some sympathy from Gene Mauch, who managed — some say mismanaged — Bunning when he was playing for the Phillies and Mauch was his manager. Mauch, who is a partaker in Glory at present, was an early practitioner of calling pitches from the bench — that is, giving signs to the catcher as to what pitch to call for.


Bunning would irritate Mauch by shaking off pitches repeatedly when he knew the signs were coming from the manager. Mauch, who is deservedly well respected as a manager, has come in for some criticism of the way he used Bunning and Chris Short during the 1964 National League pennant race. The Phillies that year performed the flop heard ’round the world. They had a 6 1/2 game lead on September 21, but they lost 10 games in a row to finish tied for second place while the Cardinals won the pennant. Mauch, some say, overdid his reliance on Bunning and Short, who were worn out by that time in the season. I think he started Bunning three times in one week.


It’s a shame that Bunning, whose baseball career was outstanding, chose to make himself a laughing stock in Congress. He might have emulated Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, who pitched in the majors for nine years and ended up with a winning record and a respectable lifetime earned run average. He was no Jim Bunning on the mound, and he was no Jim Bunning in Congress. A conservative Republican like Bunning, he was one of the most popular men in the House of Representatives, where he represented a North Carolina district from 1968 to 1974, when he was swept away in the voters’ reaction the scandals of the Nixon Administration. He later served in a number of appointed federal offices.


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