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James Augustus "Catfish" Hunter (April 8, 1946 – September 9, 1999), was a Major League Baseball right-handed starting pitcher between 1965 and 1979. He is one of only 20 people who have pitched a perfect game in an official Major League Baseball game, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.
The youngest son of eight children, he excelled in a variety of sports; enjoying success as a linebacker and offensive end in football as well as a shortstop, cleanup batter and pitcher in baseball. His pitching skill began to attract scouts from major league baseball teams to Hertford, North Carolina. In his senior year, Hunter was wounded in a hunting accident which led to the loss of one of his toes and the lodging of shotgun pellets in his foot. The accident left Hunter somewhat hobbled and jeopardized his prospects in the eyes of many professional scouts, but the Kansas City Athletics had faith in the young pitcher and signed Hunter to a contract.
Charles O. Finley, the Kansas City owner, gave Hunter the nickname "Catfish". The investment that Finley and the Athletics made in "Catfish" was returned many times over. Hunter's first major league victory came on July 27, 1965 in Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. In 1966 Hunter was named to the American League All-Star team and was named again in 1967. In 1968 Charles Finley moved the Athletics from Kansas City to Oakland and on May 8 that year in a game against the Minnesota Twins, Hunter pitched the first perfect game in the American League since 1922. He continued to win games and in 1974 both received the Cy Young Award and was named Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. After a contract dispute with Finley in 1974, Hunter left the Athletics in 1975 for the New York Yankees. Catfish's statistics while he was with the Athletics were impressive: four consecutive years with at least 20 wins, four World Series wins with no losses and a 1974 league leading earned run average of 2.49.
Hunter was the highest paid pitcher in baseball when he signed with the Yankees in 1975. That year he again won more than 20 games and was named to the All-Star team for the seventh time. Hunter would be named to the All-Star team again in 1976. The Yankees won three straight pennants with Hunter from 1976 to 1978. However, the years of arm strain and the effects of diabetes had begun to toll on the pitcher and in 1979, Hunter retired from baseball. Hunter was an effective pitcher, not because he overpowered batters with his speed, but because of the precision of his pitching. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. At the time a player was allowed to choose which cap 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 without an insignia on the cap.
Hunter died at a hospital in Hertford, North Carolina in 1999 after he took a fall down the stairs at his home. He had been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) at the time.
- 8-time AL All-Star (1966, 1967, 1970 & 1972-1976)
- Perfect Game (May 8, 1968)
- AL Cy Young Award Winner (1974)
- AL ERA Leader (1974)
- 2-time AL Wins Leader (1974 & 1975)
- AL Innings Pitched Leader (1975)
- AL Complete Games Leader (1975)
- 15 Wins Seasons: 7 (1970-1976)
- 20 Wins Seasons: 5 (1971-1975)
- 25 Wins Seasons: 1 (1974)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 10 (1967-1976)
- 300 innings Pitched Seasons: 2 (1974 & 1975)
- Member of five World Series Championship teams: Oakland Athletics (1972, 1973 & 1974) and New York Yankees (1977 & 1978)
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1987 (elected with Billy Williams)
- "The sun don't shine on the same dog's ass all the time."
- "My brothers taught me to throw strikes, and thanks to that I gave up 379 home runs in the big leagues."
- (About teammate Reggie Jackson): "He'd give you the shirt off his back. Then he'd call a press conference to announce it." (and about the Reggie candy bar) "You open it up and it tells you how good it is."
In 1975, he was the subject of the Bob Dylan song, "Catfish." It was unreleased by Dylan until his 1991 box set titled "the bootleg series volumes 1-3," however Joe Cocker recorded the song and included it on his 1976 album "Stingray", and Kinky Friedman released a live version on his "Lasso from El Paso" album. Also in 1976 he was the subject of the Bobby Hollowell song "The Catfish Kid (Ballad of Jim Hunter)," that was performed by Big Tom White, released on a 45 RPM single. Growing up together, Hollowel was best friends with the young Jim Hunter.
Referred to In the 1976 motion picture The Bad New Bears; Buttermaker: "Who do you think you are, Catfish Hunter?", Amanda: "Who's he?"
There is an annual softball event held in memory of Hunter every year in his hometown of Hertford, NC. All proceeds from the weekend benefit ALS research. The tournament has raised over $100,000 since 1999. The tournament can be reached at myspace.com/jchalssoftball.
- Hunter's six major league home runs were hit against Barry Moore, Frank Bertaina, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, Sam McDowell, and Mickey Lolich.
- Hit a combined .429 (24-for-56) against All-Stars Mike Cuellar, Mickey Lolich, Sam McDowell, Denny McLain, Camilo Pascual, Gary Peters, and Mel Stottlemyre
- Held All-Stars Tommie Agee, Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Chris Chambliss, Doug DeCinces, Dwight Evans, George Hendrick, Frank Howard, and Bobby Richardson to a .129 collective batting average (40-for-310)
- Held Thurman Munson plus Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Carl Yastrzemski to a .211 collective batting average (107-for-506)
Catfish Hunter was only the 4th (and last) American League pitcher to win 20 games in a season for 5 consecutive seasons (1971-1975). The others were Walter Johnson (10), Lefty Grove (7), and Bob Feller (5). Jim Palmer had 2 consecutive 4-year streaks (1970-1973) and (1975-1978) for 8 in 9 years. Catfish Hunter was also the name given to the enormous catfish living in the local lake in the 1995 film "Grumpier Old Men."
- List of baseball players who went directly to the major leagues
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in career wins
- List of Major League Baseball ERA champions
- List of Major League Baseball wins champions
- Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame
- Top 100 strikeout pitchers of all time
- Pitchers who have thrown a perfect game
- Baseball Hall of Fame
- Baseball-Reference.com - Major league career statistics
- The Deadball Era
- box score of Hunter's perfect game
|Perfect game pitcher|
May 8, 1968
|American League ERA Champion|
|American League Wins Champion|
(1974 tied with Ferguson Jenkins, 1975 tied with Jim Palmer)
|American League Cy Young Award|
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