Former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame pitcher who parlayed his sports fame into a political career as an uncompromising advocate for conservative causes, has died. He was 85. Bunning’s family said the ex-senator and baseball great died late Friday night of complications from a stroke suffered last October. Bunning was the patriarch of a large family that included his wife, Mary, and their nine children, 35 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

Bunning pitched for the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers over a 17-year career from 1955 to 1971. The nine-time All-Star, one of 23 players in major league history to throw a perfect game in the modern era, was selected to the Hall in 1996 by the Veteran’s Committee. Known as a no-nonsense pitcher who threw hard and knocked batters down when necessary, the big right-hander finished his career with a 224-184 record, a 3.27 ERA and 2,855 strikeouts, which ranks 17th on the all-time list. Bunning was the second pitcher to record 100 wins and 1,000 strikeouts in the American and National Leagues. He also was one of 34 pitchers to throw two no-hitters, and just one of seven to do it for two different teams.

Bunning retired from baseball in 1971 and then carried his success to politics. The Kentucky Republican served 12 years in the U.S. House, from 1987 to 1999. Bunning entered the Senate in 1999, but his ornery nature forced Republican leaders to push him to retire after two terms. He was a staunchly conservative voice in the Senate and a fierce protector of state interests such as tobacco, coal and military bases. He did not seek re-election in 2010.

Bunning suffered a stroke last fall. Jon Deuser, who served as chief of staff when Bunning was in the Senate, said he was in hospice care when he died. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Bunning’s longtime colleague from Kentucky, remembered him on Saturday as someone who led a “long and storied life.” Bunning’s competitive side was also evident during his political career. In February 2010, he single-handedly held up a $10 billion spending bill in Congress because it would have added to the deficit.

Bunning also used his political status to speak out about the game he loved. He declared that athletes who use steroids should be kept out of the Baseball Hall of Fame and have their records nullified. He co-authored legislation calling for stiff punishment for professional athletes caught using steroids. The proposal, which sought a lifetime ban for a third positive test, would have applied to baseball, football, basketball and hockey players.

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