If Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher who went on to represent Kentucky in the U.S. Senate, was running Major League Baseball, Alex Rodriguez would be benched for life.
Bunning, who played from 1955-1971 and recorded no-hitters in both leagues, told FoxNews.com from his Kentucky home Tuesday that Rodriguez — who was among 13 players penalized Monday after MLB’s 6-month-plus investigation of Biogenesis of America — should never be allowed on the diamond again.
“If I were the commissioner, A-Rod would not be playing,” Bunning said. “He would’ve been suspended for life, just like Shoeless Joe [Jackson] and Pete [Rose]. He seems to be the central figure at the clinic in Florida.”
Bunning, 81, said Rodriguez was clearly the “best player in the game” during his early seasons with the Seattle Mariners from 1994 to 2000, but inexplicably thought he needed performance-enhancing drugs to increase his dominance even further.
“He knew a lot of people were using, so he said, ‘If I use and I’m the best now, how much better can I be?’” Bunning said. “I don’t know what his thought process was, but it was obviously wrong.”
“If I were the commissioner, A-Rod would not be playing."
- Jim Bunning, former MLB pitcher and U.S. senator
Rodriguez, who is appealing a 211-game suspension, and other players whose names have been tarnished either by allegations or admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs, should be flatly banned by Hall of Fame voters, Bunning said.
“They’ll never be voted into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “And it’s sad, because guys like Barry Bonds did enough prior to his decision to go on steroids to get in. Pete Rose, Roger Clemens and so on. And [now] we’re going to see a lot of people drop off the list because they’re not going to get 5 percent of the vote.”
The antithesis of those players, Bunning said, are athletes with clean slates and a lack of drug allegations — like Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio, who fell 39 votes short of being indicated into baseball’s shrine earlier this year.
But Bunning said the game will go on from its latest scandal, which is thought to be the most suspensions at once for off-field conduct since 1921, when eight White Sox players, including Jackson, were banned for life for throwing the 1919 World Series against Cincinnati. The comparisons of eras, however, will likely be lost, something integral to the game itself, he said.
“If we lose that comparison, we lose something intrinsic in baseball,” he told FoxNews.com. “The game will survive in spite of the players or the owners or the management or the commissioner. That’s how much it’s ingrained in the U.S. psyche. But if you continually ignore cheating — and that’s what it is — then you lose the comparisons.”
Bunning shared a running joke among baseball royalty: that two wings of baseball’s Hall of Fame need to be created: one for scandal-less great players and another for those tarnished with PEDs.
“I still consider Roger Maris the top home run hitter [for a regular season] and Henry Aaron is always going to be my all-time home run hitter,” said Bunning, ignoring Bonds’ tainted single-season record of 73 dingers and career tally of 762.
Bunning said the suspensions doled out by Commissioner Bud Selig, including those of All-Stars Nelson Cruz and Everth Cabrera, were “light” and could have been bolstered to show that the game will no longer tolerate cheating.
Rodriguez, for his part, said the last seven months of his life have been a “nightmare” prior to Monday’s game against the White Sox in Chicago, where he made his season debut since having hip surgery in January. The three-time Most Valuable Player and baseball's highest-paid star was loudly booed during each at-bat and acknowledged he felt rusty at third base.
"It was fun to go out there and play the game again," Rodriguez said. "I love the fans here."
Bunning, who saw his beloved Philadelphia Phillies get swept by the Atlanta Braves earlier this month, said he hopes the toll on the game that has given him so much won’t be too severe.
“I don’t know how the average fan will react, but if they’re like me, they will react negatively,” he told FoxNews.com. “It’s a hurdle baseball has to get over, and now we’ll see what happens. I don’t think they were strong enough.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.