Catfish Hunter

Last updated
Catfish Hunter
Catfish Hunter headshot.jpg
Born:(1946-04-08)April 8, 1946
Hertford, North Carolina
Died: September 9, 1999(1999-09-09) (aged 53)
Hertford, North Carolina
Batted: RightThrew: Right
MLB debut
May 13, 1965, for the Kansas City Athletics
Last MLB appearance
September 17, 1979, for the New York Yankees
MLB statistics
Win–loss record 224–166
Earned run average 3.26
Strikeouts 2,012
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg
Induction 1987
Vote76.27% (third ballot)

James Augustus Hunter (April 8, 1946 – September 9, 1999), nicknamed "Catfish", was a professional baseball player in Major League Baseball (MLB). From 1965 to 1979, he was a pitcher for the Kansas City / Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees. Hunter was the first pitcher since 1915 to win 200 career games by the age of 31. He is often referred to as baseball's first big-money free agent. He was a member of five World Series championship teams.

Major League Baseball Professional baseball league

Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball organization and the oldest of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. A total of 30 teams play in the National League (NL) and American League (AL), with 15 teams in each league. The NL and AL were formed as separate legal entities in 1876 and 1901, respectively. After cooperating but remaining legally separate entities beginning in 1903, the leagues merged into a single organization led by the Commissioner of Baseball in 2000. The organization also oversees Minor League Baseball, which comprises 256 teams affiliated with the major league clubs. With the World Baseball Softball Confederation, MLB manages the international World Baseball Classic tournament.

Pitcher the player responsible for throwing ("pitching") the ball to the batters in a game of baseball or softball

In baseball, the pitcher is the player who throws the baseball from the pitcher's mound toward the catcher to begin each play, with the goal of retiring a batter, who attempts to either make contact with the pitched ball or draw a walk. In the numbering system used to record defensive plays, the pitcher is assigned the number 1. The pitcher is often considered the most important player on the defensive side of the game, and as such is situated at the right end of the defensive spectrum. There are many different types of pitchers, such as the starting pitcher, relief pitcher, middle reliever, lefty specialist, setup man, and the closer.

Oakland Athletics Baseball team and Major League Baseball franchise in Oakland, California, United States

The Oakland Athletics, often referred to as the A's, are an American professional baseball team based in Oakland, California. They compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League (AL) West division. The team plays its home games at the RingCentral Coliseum. They have won nine World Series championships.


Hunter retired in 1979 after developing persistent arm problems. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in his early 50s. He died of the disease about a year after his diagnosis. Hunter has been the subject of numerous popular culture references, including the Bob Dylan song "Catfish".

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis Neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive muscular weakness

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neurone disease (MND) or Lou Gehrig's disease, is a specific disease that causes the death of neurons controlling voluntary muscles. Some also use the term motor neuron disease for a group of conditions of which ALS is the most common. ALS is characterized by stiff muscles, muscle twitching, and gradually worsening weakness due to muscles decreasing in size. It may begin with weakness in the arms or legs, or with difficulty speaking or swallowing. About half of the people affected develop at least mild difficulties with thinking and behavior and most people experience pain. Most eventually lose the ability to walk, use their hands, speak, swallow, and breathe.

Bob Dylan American singer-songwriter, musician, poet, author, and artist

Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter, author, and visual artist who has been a major figure in popular culture for more than fifty years. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as "Blowin' in the Wind" (1963) and "The Times They Are a-Changin'" (1964) became anthems for the civil rights movement and anti-war movement. His lyrics during this period incorporated a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defied pop-music conventions and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture.

"Catfish" is a song written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy. It was originally recorded for Dylan's 1976 album Desire, but was not released until 1991 on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 1961–1991. "Catfish" was a tribute to future Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Catfish Hunter.

Early life

The youngest son of eight children, Hunter was born and raised in Hertford in northeast North Carolina. He grew up on a farm and excelled in a variety of sports at Perquimans County High School. He played linebacker and offensive tackle in football as well as shortstop, cleanup batter, and pitcher in baseball. His older brothers taught him to pitch, [1] and his pitching skill began to attract scouts from MLB teams to Hertford.

Hertford, North Carolina Town in North Carolina, United States

Hertford is a town and the county seat of Perquimans County, North Carolina, United States. The population was 2,143 as of the 2010 census. Hertford is located in North Carolina's Inner Banks region and is part of both the Elizabeth City Micropolitan Statistical Area and the Hampton Roads region. It is named after the county town of Hertford, England.

North Carolina State in the United States

North Carolina is a U.S. state located in the southeastern region of the United States. North Carolina is the 28th largest and 9th-most populous of the 50 United States. It is bordered by Virginia to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Georgia and South Carolina to the south, and Tennessee to the west. Raleigh is the state's capital and Charlotte is its largest city. The Charlotte metropolitan area, with an estimated population of 2,569,213 in 2018, is the most populous metropolitan area in North Carolina, the 23rd-most populous in the United States, and the largest banking center in the nation after New York City. The Raleigh metropolitan area is the second-largest metropolitan area in the state, with an estimated population of 1,362,540 in 2018, and is home to the largest research park in the United States, Research Triangle Park.

Perquimans County High School is a public high school located in Hertford, North Carolina. It is the only high school in Perquimans County. Perquimans County High School's enrollment as of 2010 is 519 students. The student body is 59% White; 39% Black; 1% Hispanic; and 1% Asian.

During his senior year in November 1963, Hunter's right foot was wounded by a brother in a hunting accident; he lost one of his toes and shotgun pellets lodged in his foot. [2] The accident left Hunter somewhat hobbled and jeopardized his prospects in the eyes of many professional scouts, but the Kansas City Athletics signed Hunter to a contract. [3] Hunter was sent to the Mayo Clinic that year so that surgeons could work on his foot. He recovered in LaPorte, Indiana at the farm of Athletics owner Charles O. Finley. [4]

Mayo Clinic American academic medical center

The Mayo Clinic is an American nonprofit academic medical center based in Rochester, Minnesota, focused on integrated clinical practice, education, and research. It employs more than 4,500 physicians and scientists, along with another 58,400 administrative and allied health staff. The practice specializes in treating difficult cases through tertiary care and destination medicine. It is home to the top-ten ranked Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in addition to many of the largest, best regarded residency education programs in the United States. It spends over $660 million a year on research and has more than 3,000 full-time research personnel.

Professional career

Kansas City/Oakland Athletics

Finley gave Hunter the nickname "Catfish" in 1965 because he thought his 19-year-old pitcher needed a flashy nickname. [1] [2] A story circulated that Hunter's family gave him the nickname as a child when he went missing and was later found with a string of catfish; there is no truth to that explanation. [5] Hunter never played in the minor leagues and his first major league victory came on July 27, 1965 in Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. In 1966 and 1967, Hunter was named to the American League All-Star team.

Fenway Park Baseball stadium in Boston, Massachusetts

Fenway Park is a baseball park located in Boston, Massachusetts, near Kenmore Square. Since 1912, it has been the home for the Boston Red Sox, the city's American League baseball team, and since 1953, its only Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise. It is the oldest ballpark in MLB. Because of its age and constrained location in Boston's dense Fenway–Kenmore neighborhood, the park has been renovated or expanded many times, resulting in quirky features including "The Triangle," Pesky's Pole, and the Green Monster in left field. It is the fourth-smallest among MLB ballparks by seating capacity, second-smallest by total capacity, and one of eight that cannot accommodate at least 40,000 spectators.

The 1965 Boston Red Sox season was the 65th season in the franchise's Major League Baseball history. The Red Sox finished ninth in the American League (AL) with a record of 62 wins and 100 losses, 40 games behind the AL champion Minnesota Twins, against whom the 1965 Red Sox lost 17 of 18 games. The team drew only 652,201 fans to Fenway Park, seventh in the ten-team league but the Red Sox' lowest turnstile count since 1945, the last year of World War II.

The 1966 Kansas City Athletics season was the twelfth and penultimate season in Kansas City, and the 66th in overall franchise history. It involved the A's finishing 7th in the American League with a record of 74 wins and 86 losses, 23 games behind the World Champion Baltimore Orioles. Paid attendance for the season was 773,929. The pitching staff had an earned run average of 3.56, which ranked sixth in the American League.

Prior to the 1968 season, Finley moved the A's from Kansas City to Oakland. On Wednesday, May 8, against the Minnesota Twins, Hunter pitched the ninth perfect game in baseball history. [5] He became the American League's first perfect game pitcher since Charlie Robertson in 1922 (excluding Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series), as well as the franchise's first no-hit pitcher since Bill McCahan in 1947 with what were then the Philadelphia Athletics. [2] The game was scoreless until the bottom of the seventh inning; at the plate, Hunter got three hits and drove in three of Oakland's four runs with a squeeze bunt in the seventh and a bases-loaded single in the eighth. [5]

The 1968 Oakland Athletics season was the franchise's 68th season and its first in Oakland, California. The team finished sixth in the American League with a record of 82 wins and 80 losses, placing them 21 games behind the eventual World Series champion Detroit Tigers. The Athletics' paid attendance for the season was 837,466.

Kansas City, Missouri City in western Missouri

Kansas City abbreviated as “KCMO”, is the largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city had an estimated population of 491,918 in 2018, making it the 38th most-populous city in the United States. It is the most populated municipality of the Kansas City metropolitan area, which straddles the Kansas–Missouri state line. Most of the city lies within Jackson County, but portions spill into Clay, Cass, and Platte counties. The city borders Johnson County and Kansas City, Kansas in Kansas. Kansas City was founded in the 1830s as a Missouri River port at its confluence with the Kansas River coming in from the west. On June 1, 1850, the town of Kansas was incorporated; shortly after came the establishment of the Kansas Territory. Confusion between the two ensued and the name Kansas City was assigned to distinguish them soon after.

Oakland, California City in California, United States

Oakland is the largest city and the county seat of Alameda County, California, United States. A major West Coast port city, Oakland is the largest city in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area, the third largest city overall in the San Francisco Bay Area, the eighth most populated city in California, and the 45th largest city in the United States. With a population of 428,827 as of 2018, it serves as a trade center for the San Francisco Bay Area; its Port of Oakland is the busiest port in the San Francisco Bay, the entirety of Northern California, and the fifth busiest in the United States of America. An act to incorporate the city was passed on May 4, 1852, and incorporation was later approved on March 25, 1854, which officially made Oakland a city. Oakland is a charter city.

Hunter continued to win games, and in 1974 received both The Sporting News's "Pitcher of the Year" award and the American League Cy Young Award after going 25–12 with a league leading 2.49 earned run average. The A's also won their third consecutive World Series. Hunter's statistics while he was with the Athletics were impressive: four consecutive years with at least 20 wins, and four World Series wins without a loss. [3] He had won 161 games for the A's, 131 in seven seasons in Oakland and 30 in his first three seasons in Kansas City.

Free agency

On February 11, 1974, Hunter agreed with the A's on a two-year, $200,000 contract with a clause stipulating that $50,000 payments be made to a life insurance annuity of his choosing in each of the two seasons. After Finley refused to make payment on the annuity after discovering he had to pay $25,000 in taxes which was due immediately, the breach of contract dispute was brought before an arbitration hearing on November 26, 1974. [6] Twenty days later on December 16, arbitrator Peter Seitz decided in favor of Hunter, officially making him a free agent. [1] [7] [8] Hunter recalled being scared after he was declared a free agent. "We don't belong to anybody", he told his wife. [1]

New York Yankees

Hunter (left) with manager Billy Martin and Brad Gulden shortly after Thurman Munson's death in 1979. MartinHunterGulden1979.jpg
Hunter (left) with manager Billy Martin and Brad Gulden shortly after Thurman Munson's death in 1979.

Two weeks after he won his arbitration, Hunter became the highest-paid player in baseball and highest-paid pitcher in history when he signed a five-year contract with the New York Yankees worth $3.35 million. [1] [9] [10] [11] [12] He had been courted by 23 of the 24 teams, including the A's but not the San Francisco Giants, [13] and refused higher offers from the San Diego Padres and the Kansas City Royals. [14] New York was closer to his home in North Carolina and the team played on natural grass.

Finley attempted to have the arbitration ruling overturned, [15] but was unsuccessful after several appeals. [16] [17] [18] Further details of Finley's history with Hunter gave the A's owner added negative publicity. [19] Hunter became known as baseball's "first big-money free agent". [1]

Hunter got off to a rough start going 0–3 in his first three starts, but settled down and was named to his seventh All-Star team. He led the league in wins (23) for the second year in a row, and also led the league in innings pitched (328) and complete games (30) to finish second to Jim Palmer of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Cy Young balloting. Hunter also became only the fourth (and last) American League pitcher to win 20 games in a season for five consecutive seasons (1971–1975). The others were Walter Johnson (10), Lefty Grove (7), and Bob Feller (5).

In 1976, Hunter won 17 games, led the Yankees in complete games and innings pitched, and was again named to the All-Star team. The Yankees won three straight pennants with Hunter from 1976 to 1978. In 1976, Hunter became the fourth major league pitcher to win 200 games before the age of 31 and the only one since Walter Johnson in 1915, preceded by Cy Young and Christy Mathewson. [20] Hunter was also a competent hitter, with a career batting average of .226; in 1971 he hit .350 with 36 hits in 38 games. After the designated hitter was adopted by the American League in 1973, Hunter had only two plate appearances in his final seven seasons, with one base hit in 1973.

Arm injuries plagued Hunter beginning in 1978. In spring training, he was diagnosed with diabetes [21] [22] and combined with his chronic arm trouble the disease began to sap Hunter's energy. Following the 1979 season and the end of his five-year contract, Hunter retired from baseball at age 33. [1] [23] Hunter won 63 games in his five seasons with the Yankees. He retired with appearances in six World Series and with five World Series championships. [1] [24]

While with the Yankees, Hunter was a resident of Norwood, New Jersey, preferring to live outside of New York City. [25]

Later life

He returned to his farm in Hertford where he grew soybeans, corn, peanuts, and cotton, and was a spokesman for diabetes awareness. [26] [27] [28] Hunter noticed arm weakness while hunting in the winter of 1997–1998. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. [1]

Hunter died at his home in Hertford in 1999 at age 53, a year after his ALS diagnosis. [1] [2] [24] A month before his death, Hunter fell and hit his head on concrete steps at home. He was unconscious for several days after the fall, but he had returned home from that hospitalization when he died. [29] Hunter is interred at Cedarwood Cemetery in Hertford, adjacent to the field where he played high school baseball. [30]


Hunter's number 27 was retired by the Oakland Athletics in 1991 [31] .


Along with Billy Williams and Ray Dandridge, Hunter was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1987. [3] At the time, Hall of Fame officials would always defer to the player's wishes in determining which team would be memorialized on his Hall of Fame Plaque. Before and after his induction, Hunter spoke highly of his experiences with both the Athletics and Yankees and his appreciation for both team owners, Charlie Finley and George Steinbrenner. For this reason, he refused to choose a team and thus the plaque depicts him with no insignia on the cap. He was credited by Steinbrenner as the cornerstone of the Yankees in their return to championship form. [1]

In 1990, Hunter was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. In 2004, the Oakland Athletics began the Catfish Hunter Award. [32] His number 27 was retired by the Oakland Athletics in a pre-game ceremony on June 9, 1991, the first in the franchise's 90 years. [31] [33]

The Jim "Catfish" Hunter Memorial is located in Hertford. [34] An annual softball event is held in Hertford in memory of Hunter. All proceeds from the weekend benefit ALS research. The tournament has raised over $200,000 since 1999.

On September 5, 2018, Hunter was inducted into the Oakland Athletics first Hall of Fame class, with wife, Helen, there to receive the honor.


After Hunter's death, former teammate Reggie Jackson described Hunter as a "fabulous human being. He was a man of honor. He was a man of loyalty." [35] Steinbrenner said, "We were not winning before Catfish arrived... He exemplified class and dignity and he taught us how to win." [35] Former teammate Lou Piniella said, "Catfish was a very unique guy. If you didn't know he was making that kind of money, you'd never guess it because he was humble, very reserved about being a star-type player... almost a little bit shy. But he told great stories. He had a heck of a sense of humor. When you play with guys like that, you feel blessed." [35]

Hunter has been the subject of multiple popular culture references. Bob Dylan wrote the song "Catfish" in 1975. [2] the song was later released by Dylan, Joe Cocker and Kinky Friedman. In 1976, Hunter was also the subject of the Bobby Hollowell song "The Catfish Kid (Ballad of Jim Hunter)", which was performed by Big Tom White and released on a 45 RPM single. Hollowell was best friends with the young Jim Hunter while they grew up together.

Hunter is mentioned in the 1976 film The Bad News Bears . When Coach Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) is trying to get Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O'Neal) to pitch for his Little League team, Amanda makes a number of outlandish demands (such as imported jeans, modeling school and ballet lessons) as conditions for joining the team. Buttermaker asks, "Who do you think you are, Catfish Hunter?" Amanda responds by asking, "Who's he?" In the movie Grumpier Old Men , an enormous and highly prized fish is named "Catfish Hunter" by the locals. In You, Me and Dupree , Catfish Hunter is mentioned by Owen Wilson's character, Dupree, convincing an Asian orchestra student that he can pitch: "First, call me Dupree 'cause I'm your teammate. Second, so what if you're in the orchestra? So was Catfish Hunter."

Minor-league pitcher Jason Kosow portrayed Hunter in the ESPN miniseries The Bronx is Burning , which depicted the 1977 New York Yankees.

Career statistics


See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Berkow, Ira (September 10, 1999). "Catfish Hunter, Who Pitched in 6 World Series for A's and Yankees, Dies at 53". New York Times. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Coffey, Michael (2004). 27 Men Out: Baseball's Perfect Games . New York: Atria Books. pp.  118–138. ISBN   0-7434-4606-2.
  3. 1 2 3 "Jim "Catfish" Hunter". State Library of North Carolina. Archived from the original on 2008-03-13. Retrieved 2008-02-28.
  4. Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, p.81, G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2010, ISBN   978-0-8027-1745-0
  5. 1 2 3 "'Catfish' spins first perfect regular AL game in 46 years". Eugene Register-Guard. Associated Press. May 9, 1968. p. 1D.
  6. Turbow, Jason. "How a contract breach led Catfish Hunter to become baseball's first real free agent", Sports Illustrated, March 6, 2017.
  7. "'Catfish' Hunter said winner over Finley in arbitration fight to become free agent". Montreal Gazette. UPI. December 16, 1974. p. 15.
  8. "It's open season on Catfish". Toledo Blade. Associated Press. December 18, 1974. p. 39.
  9. Lincicome, Bernie (September 10, 1999). "Catfish forever altered economics of sports". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (Chicago Tribune). p. C-5.
  10. "Catfish selects Yankees, Pirates offer short $ $". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. January 1, 1975. p. 43.
  11. "Catfish accepts Yankee offer". Montreal Gazette. Associated Press. January 2, 1975. p. 9.
  12. Haupert, Michael (Fall 2011). "Baseball's Major Salary Milestones". The Baseball Research Journal. Society for American Baseball Research . Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  13. "Catfish narrows field". Leader-Post. Regina, Saskatchewan. Associated Press. December 28, 1974. p. 19.
  14. Charlie Finley: The Outrageous Story of Baseball's Super Showman, p.217, G. Michael Green and Roger D. Launius. Walker Publishing Company, New York, 2010, ISBN   978-0-8027-1745-0
  15. "Finley making moves to keep Jim Hunter". Montreal Gazette. Associated Press. January 2, 1975. p. 12.
  16. "Judge upholds Hunter ruling". Milwaukee Journal. wire services. January 4, 1975. p. 13.
  17. "Hunter ruling stands but Finley to appeal". Montreal Gazette. UPI. March 27, 1975. p. 41.
  18. "Finley loses Hunter appeal". Miami News. August 19, 1976. p. 4C.
  19. "Catfish was treated like animal". Bangor Daily News. Associated Press. January 9, 1975. p. 13.
  20. "200th win for Catfish". The Hour. Norwalk, Connecticut. UPI. September 20, 1976. p. 22.
  21. "A medical miracle has saved the Yanks". Edmonton Journal. Associated Press. September 28, 1978. p. E1.
  22. "Diabetes strikes 'Catfish' Hunter". Edmonton Journal. Associated Press. March 2, 1978. p. C5.
  23. Anderson, Dave (September 17, 1979). "Catfish Hunter: a man's man". Miami News. (New York Times). p. 2C.
  24. 1 2 "Catfish Hunter dead at age 53". Daily Times. Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Associated Press. September 10, 1999. p. B1.
  25. Anderson, Dave via The New York Times . "Catfish Hunter still planning on retirement", Star-News , September 15, 1979. Accessed May 24, 2016. "He has lived in Norwood, a leafy Bergen County town less than half an hour's drive from Yankee Stadium; he has succeeded in remaining a farm boy."
  26. Norris, Tim (December 12, 1988). "Control pitcher". Milwaukee Journal. p. 1D.
  27. "Catfish Hunter helping diabetics". Evening News. Newburgh, New York. Associated Press. July 22, 1990. p. 2A.
  28. Pabst, Georgia (July 14, 1993). "Catfish Hunter is still pitching". Milwaukee Journal. p. D2.
  29. Bock, Hal (September 10, 1999). "Ace pitcher and baseball's first free-agent star". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. p. B-5.
  30. "Hunter Is Buried in the Town Where He Learned Baseball". New York Times. September 13, 1999. Retrieved August 16, 2013.
  31. 1 2 "'Catfish' has number retired by Oakland". Union Democrat. Sonora, California. Associated Press. June 10, 1991. p. 2B.
  32. Catfish Hunter Award (2004–present). Baseball-Almanac. Retrieved 2011-08-19.
  33. "Catfish's number retired". Gadsden Times. Associated Press photo. June 10, 1991. p. B3.
  34. "Perquimans County Chamber of Commerce/Visitor Center & Jim "Catfish" Hunter Museum". North Carolina Department of Commerce. Archived from the original on August 9, 2013. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
  35. 1 2 3 "Catfish Hunter dead". . Retrieved August 24, 2013.
Preceded by
Sandy Koufax (September 9, 1965)
Perfect game pitcher
May 8, 1968
Succeeded by
Len Barker (May 15, 1981)
Preceded by
Tom Phoebus
No-hitter pitcher
May 8, 1968
Succeeded by
George Culver