America’s love affair with Major League Baseball spans more than 135 years. Generations of baseball fans have flocked to the stadiums to see their favorite MLB teams in action. In 2013 alone, almost 75 million people attended an MLB game. These figures do not include the untold number of fans who, throughout the decades, have followed MLB games in newspapers, on the radio, and via television.
During the MLB’s long and proud history, many of its star players have achieved iconic status. Most Americans would likely recognize names like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron. One might think that it would be easy for retired MLB players to use this popularity and name recognition to help them secure political office. However, that is not the case. In my research, I was only able to identify a few professional baseball players, who went on to enjoy prominent political careers.
Here are four MLB players who succeeded in making the transition into politics.
Jim Bunning (1955-1971): Bunning made his MLB debut in 1955 with the Detroit Tigers. He would spend the better part of two decades in the league. Bunning was an excellent pitcher. During his 17 year career, he won 224 games, accumulated 2855 strikeouts, and posted a 3.27 ERA. Bunning made it into the Hall of Fame in 1996.
Bunning capped off a long career in baseball with an even longer stint in politics. He represented Kentucky in the House of Representatives from 1987 through 1998 and in the Senate from 1999 through 2010. Bunning made his name as a conservative Republican. He also had a habit of making colorful statements, which sometimes angered both friends and foes. Bunning wanted to run for a third Senate term; however, he could not raise enough money to compete. He blamed some of his fellow Republicans for derailing his reelection chances.
Wilmer Mizell (1952-1953, 1956-1962): Mizell, a pitcher, played a total of nine years in the major leagues. He spent most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Many fans know Mizell by his nickname, Vinegar Bend, which is a reference to the Alabama town in which he was born. He was a mediocre player at best and is better known for his political accomplishments.
A few years after he retired from baseball, Mizell set his sights on politics. A staunch Republican, he represented a North Carolina district in the House of Representatives from 1969 through 1974. After leaving the House, Mizell served in a number of executive branch positions. He passed away in 1999.
John Tener (1888-1890): Tener spent a total of three years in the major leagues, as a pitcher. During that period, he only played in 61 games and sported an underwhelming 25-31 win-loss record. Luckily for Tener, he did a little better in the political arena than he did on the playing field. He served the Republican Party well as a member of the House of Representatives (1908-1909) and later as the governor of Pennsylvania (1911-1914). Tenor was known for his honesty and integrity. As governor, he championed a number of important initiatives, including improving the state’s roads and reforming its education system. He died in 1946.
Randy Bass (1977-1982): Bass never really hit it big in the majors. The first baseman only played in 130 games, during his six year tenure in the league. Bass has had more success in the political realm. Running as a Democrat, he won election to the Oklahoma State Senate in 2004 and became head of that body’s Democratic caucus in 2014. Bass has not yet matched the political accomplishments of the other players on this list, but he still has time on his side. The former MLB athlete is only 60 years old.
Michael, P. (2012, Mar. 17). The Top 3 MLB Players Who Became Politicians: Fan’s Opinion. Yahoo Sports.