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The Curious Case of Jim Bunning

Harold FriendChief Writer ISeptember 17, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 27:  Former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher and U.S. Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to game five of the 2008 MLB World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays on October 27, 2008 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Baseball fans are funny people, but baseball players can be even stranger, at least to those who never follow the game.

An unwritten rule, which is no longer respected, is that when a pitcher is working on a no-hitter, it is never mentioned. Because if it is mentioned, the next batter the pitcher faces will get a hit, at least according to superstition.

The great broadcaster Mel Allen would tell listeners, "There have been six hits in the game, and the Indians have them all."



Things Are Different Today

Today, broadcasters tell the audience when a pitcher is working on a no-hitter. On the field, most players don't mention it.

Although, that hasn't always been the case.



The Curious Case of Jim Bunning

Jim Bunning pitched for the Detroit Tigers in the 1950s. In the first game of a doubleheader at Boston on July 20, 1958, Bunning started against the Red Sox's Frank Sullivan.

After six innings, the Tigers led 3-0. Bunning retired Ted Williams on a force out to end the sixth.

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Dugout Conversations

When he returned to dugout, pitcher Paul Foytack encouraged the future United States senator.

"Atta boy, Jim," Foytack said cautiously, watching what he said.

Bunning was excited.

"Know what, Paul? I just figured something out. If I'm still pitching a no-hitter into the ninth, the last batter of the game will be that big buzzard, Ted Williams."

The Tigers reacted with stunned silence.

Bunning had mentioned the unmentionable.

He was asking for trouble.

Bunning proceeded to retire the Red Sox without a hit in the seventh inning.



Bunning Continued To Shock

Detroit didn't score in the top of the eighth inning, and as the Tigers took the field for the bottom of the eighth, Bunning again tempted the whammy.

"Protect the no-hitter, boys. Start diving for everything. It's getting close."

Bunning then retired the Red Sox easily.

"Three outs to go and I have a no-hitter."

Tommy Henrich, who was a Tigers' coach, tried to neutralize Bunning's brashness.

"That's right. Three more outs and we win the game."

It was a lame, although sincere, effort.



The Final Drama

The drama and the test began.

Left-handed hitter Gene Stephens, who often replaced Williams late in the game, was the batter. Bunning claimed him as his 11th strikeout victim.

Ted Lepcio batted. Ted had some power, but was not a good hitter. Bunning struck him out swinging, bringing up Williams.

Bunning's first pitch moved Williams off the plate for ball one.

Jim looked in to catcher Red Wilson for the signal, nodded assent, went into the windup, and delivered a fastball.

Williams swung with all his might, but just missed it. He lifted a high fly ball to right field, where Al Kaline made the catch.

Bunning had the no-hitter.



Bunning Didn't Want His Teammates To Jinx Him

"I feel like a guy who had just avoided an automobile accident. You're alert, sure of yourself, and in complete control while danger is present."

"But once it's past, you get the shakes. I didn't get nervous until I reached the clubhouse. Then I shook all over.”

"I never have believed in all that hocus pocus about not mentioning a no-hitter. I always know how many hits the batters have made and I'd rather jinx myself than have someone else do it."

Sounds an awful lot like someone who doesn't want anyone to mention that he is working on a no-hitter.



Reference

By ARTHUR DALEY.. (1959, May 24). Sports of The Times :Conversational No-Hitter. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. S2. Retrieved September 17, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 437061342).

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