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MLB Hall of Famers visit NKU

Matt Schlagheck

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Friends, family members, political supporters and some lucky baseball fans welcomed Baseball Hall-of-Famers Jim Bunning and Tommy Lasorda to Northern Kentucky University on Thursday.

The event, “Baseball & Beyond,” allowed the two former players to relive their Major League Baseball days, and was held to support the funds needed to preserve and digitize Sen. Bunning’s congressional papers.

Sen. Bunning amassed thousands of political papers over his 30 years in office.
Bunning was first elected to local office in 1977, where he sparked his political career when he served two years on the city council of Fort Thomas, Ky.
The Hall of Famer then won a seat in the Kentucky Senate as a Republican, where he was elected minority leader.

In 1986, Bunning made the jump to the US House of Representatives after he won the nomination in Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District.
He held that position before he became a US senator in 1998, a position he held for two six-year terms before retiring in 2010.
“[Bunning] was true to his values,” said Carrie Haas, former employee of Bunning and friend of the family. “He always stood up for what he believed in, and that was something that we all took from him, both professionally and in our personal lives too.”

As a Southgate, Ky., native, Bunning decided earlier this year that he would donate his congressional and political papers to Steely Library after Joe Wind, vice president of NKU government and community outreach, approached him with the idea.

“[NKU] was the first to ask, and they would have been the only ones I would have given them to,” Bunning said. “I’ve lived here my whole life and spent 80 years in Northern Kentucky, so I’m just glad that we have a university to give them to that will keep them in the 4th Congressional District.”
It will cost $325,000 to $350,000 to catalogue the papers for NKU students and researchers, said W. Frank Steely Library archivist Lois Hamill.
Hamill expects that the task will take her staff nine to 10 years to completely finish and digitize the congressional papers.

Bunning’s congressional papers will join those of the US representatives Gene Snyder and Ken Lucas, as well as state representative Jim Callahan in the university archives.

“This is a great honor to have Sen. Bunning’s collection,” Hamill said. “To have received this [collection] is quite an accomplishment, and it shows that NKU is growing and maturing as a university.”

According to Director of Development Communications Molly Williamson, 110 supporters attended the fundraiser to support the cause for the price of $1,000 per couple for a meet-and-greet with Bunning and Lasorda, which included a dinner with the Hall of Famers and tickets to the former players’ lecture where they recalled their days in the MLB.

Other participants had the option to pay for the $125 per-plate dinner, or $25 per person for the lecture.

Rex Morgan, Bunning’s personal archivist, displayed over 14 tables of the senator’s political photos and materials, as well as bats, gloves and other memorabilia from Bunning’s 17-year MLB career.

Lasorda called the collection of memorabilia “wonderful” and a great gift to Bunning’s fans and supporters who attended the event.
President James Votruba was amazed with the equipment used by the baseball player he used to watch as a child.

“I can remember going to a baseball game with my father and watching a tall, lanky pitcher named Bunning pitch,” Votruba said. “Little did I know that after 50 years I would be honoring our guest.”

“Baseball & Beyond” concluded with an entertaining lecture from Bunning and Lasorda, who reminisced on some of their favorite baseball memories.
During the Q-&-A portion of the lecture, one supporter asked Lasorda about the heated rivalry during his famous managerial career for the Los Angeles Dodgers, facing the historic “Big Red Machine” and their Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson.

“I told my team, ‘I don’t want anybody walking in this club house with anything red on,’” Lasorda playfully said. “I hate those Cincinnati Reds, I hate the color red and nobody comes in with red on. And they didn’t, and we beat them.”

Although the event took a less serious note during the lecture, one message Bunning wanted to communicate was how beneficial his political documents will be to the education of students, an education that he realized years ago could not be forsaken.

“Before my father would sign the [baseball] contract, he got a promise out of John McHale, general manager of the [Detroit] Tigers, to pay me $4,000, and I’d have to stay in school till June of every year and finish college,” Bunning said. “Thank God he did. I would have never been able to do the things in my lifetime that I’ve been able to do.”

“Baseball & Beyond” organizers said they do not have a definite amount raised by the event, but they are accepting further donations to help catalogue the congressional papers at http://supportnku.nku.edu/bunning.

“Forty-five years of history and connection between the federal government and Northern Kentucky and its representatives are all in [these papers],” Bunning said. “I think it’s a big plus for the university to have all that history available to students.”

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MLB Hall of Famers visit NKU