The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
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Former Rummel and UNO shortstop/pitcher Jim Bullinger had rare major-league game in 1992

Jim Bullinger had played in big games as a shortstop and pitcher with Rummel High School, followed by his career with the University of New Orleans. Yet none of those games likely involved an experience as exceptional as a game he played for the Chicago Cubs in 1992.

In his first at-bat for the Cubs on June 8, in a game in which he entered as a relief pitcher, he smacked a home run in his first major-league at-bat. Furthermore, he hit it on the first pitch he saw from St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Rheal Cormier. At the time, Bullinger was only the 14th player in major-league history to hit a homer on the first pitch of his first at-bat.

It should have come as no surprise that Bullinger was capable of clouting a home run. He had made hundreds of plate appearances as a position player throughout high school and college. While he wasn’t known as a power hitter, he could occasionally put the ball over the fence. He hit 23 home runs during his three seasons with UNO.

Bullinger had been a two-way player since his Babe Ruth days in Jefferson Parish. He continued to pitch and play shortstop for Coach Larry Schneider’s Rummel Raiders and Schaff Brothers American Legion teams. He was an All-District player with Rummel in 1982 and 1983 and was a member of 1982 and 1983 Schaff squads that captured Second District American Legion titles. During his senior season with Rummel in 1983, the Times-Picayune listed him among the top college prospects from the New Orleans area. He was one of eight Metro area players selected to participate in the LHSAA baseball All-Star Game in Lafayette.

He went on to play for the UNO Privateers whose head coach was Ron Maestri. Bullinger was the starting shortstop as a freshman on the talented 1984 team that went to the College World Series. They were the first in-state college in Louisiana to progress that far into the NCAA postseason. His batting record included a .258 batting average, 5 home runs, 39 RBIs, and five game-winning hits. He was the starting shortstop that summer for the New Orleans-based NORD All-American team that won the AAABA national tournament in Johnstown, PA.

The Privateers gained a berth in the NCAA Regionals again in 1985. Bullinger had 10 home runs and 45 RBIs for the season. His senior season in 1986 season included 14 games in which he pitched in relief. He posted a respectable 3.55 ERA and led the team with six saves, while batting .252, 8 home runs, and 31 RBIs.

Bullinger was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the ninth round of the 1986 amateur draft with the intention of being used as a shortstop. However, after struggling as a hitter during his first four seasons in Single-A and Double-A, the Cubs organization converted him to a pitcher for the 1990 season. He was used as a starter with moderate success and by 1991 had advanced to Triple-A Iowa.

He began the 1992 season with Iowa and was having his best season from an ERA standpoint (2.45). He got a call-up to the big-league Cubs and made his major-league debut on May 27 with a two-inning outing against the San Francisco Giants. One of the batters he faced was New Orleanian Will Clark, whom he retired on a flyball.

His fourth appearance with the Cubs came in the first game of a doubleheader on June 8 against the Cardinals. He entered the game in relief of Shawn Boskie, who was forced to leave the game because of back spasms. The score was tied, 0-0, in the fifth inning when Bullinger came in. As the leadoff batter in the top of the sixth, Bullinger got his first major-league plate appearance. On the first pitch from Cormier, he hammered a line drive down the left field line that went into the seats. The 6-foot-2 right-hander ended up pitching three innings of an 13-inning game in which the Cubs won, 5-2. After the game, Bullinger told reporters, “It’s probably as far as I’ve hit a ball. I was numb. I was just shaking my head, saying I can’t believe this. I was a converted shortstop because I couldn’t hit.” He was only the fourth Cubs player to homer in his first at-bat.

In the second game of the doubleheader, Bullinger was called on again by manager Jim Lefebvre, with two outs in the eighth and the Cubs leading, 5-4. He got the third out and then held the Cardinals at bay in the ninth, earning his first major-league save. It was a memorable day of “firsts.”

Bullinger followed the June 8 game with a streak of five consecutive saves. His results earned him National League Player of the Week for the week ending June 14. He finished the rest of the season in both starter and reliever roles, compiling a 2-8 record, 4.66 ERA and 7 saves.

He went on to play a total of seven seasons in the majors, including a year each with Montreal and Seattle after five seasons with the Cubs. He finished with a career record of 34-41 and 5.31 ERA in 184 games. His batting line was .188/.249/.315, with four home runs and 19 RBIs.

Bullinger’s last major-league season came in 1998, but he continued to play in the minors and independent leagues until 2005.

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