Thursday, November 28, 2013

Jim "Catfish" Hunter (#369)

Here is my first card for Jim “Catfish” Hunter. It’s a nice spring training shot, much better than the rather plain photo from 1966, or the ridiculous capless head shots in the ’68 and ’69 sets.

Catfish was signed by the Kansas City Athletics in 1964, and became the last "bonus baby".  (The bonus baby rule became moot with the advent of the amateur draft.) They immediately sent him to the Mayo Clinic to correct a foot injury due to a hunting accident a year earlier.

Hunter never played in the minor leagues, and made his major-league debut at age 19 in early May 1965. Catfish joined the starting rotation permanently 2 months later, and finished his rookie season with a record of 8-8.

In 1966 the Athletics’ starting rotation was rebuilt, with Hunter now joined by Lew Krausse, Blue Moon Odom, Jim Nash, and Chuck Dobson, all in their early 20s. Hunter made more starts (25) than any other A’s pitcher.

The rotation stayed the same in 1967, although Odom and Krausse both alternated between the rotation and the bullpen. Hunter became the team’s ace, leading the staff in wins (13), starts (35), innings (259), and strikeouts (196).

1968 was the Athletics’ first season in Oakland, and Hunter marked the occasion by twirling a perfect game on May 8th against the Minnesota Twins. [Earlier this year, my daughter got me this book about the 20 perfect games pitched in MLB history. So far, I have read the chapters on Jim Bunning and Jim Hunter. I learned from the book that A’s outfielder Joe Rudi (who had played 19 games in 1967) was just recalled from the minors, and was playing his first game of the 1968 season that day. He made a critical defensive play to preserve Hunter’s perfecto.]

Hunter and his rotation mates chugged along for the next few seasons, although Nash and Krausse were traded away after the 1969 season.

In 1971, Catfish was eclipsed by rookie Vida Blue, who won 24 games while striking out 301, on his way to winning both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Hunter did his part, winning 21 games (a feat he would repeat in ’72 and ’73), as the A’s made it to the ALCS, only to be swept by the Orioles.

Hunter continued pitching for the A’s through the 1974 season. The team won the World Series for 3 consecutive seasons (1972-74), and Catfish led the AL in wins (25) and ERA (2.49) in 1974, and won the Cy Young award.

Catfish was granted free agency after the 1974 season, due to owner Charlie Finley botching a provision in Hunter’s contract. He was approached by all the other teams (except the Giants), and signed a 5-year contract with the Yankees for over 3 million dollars – the largest contract at the time.

In his first season with New York, he again led the AL in wins (23), and also in complete games (30), while finishing 2nd in the Cy Young voting to Jim Palmer. After going 17-15 in 1976, Hunter’s workload and performance dropped off over the next 3 seasons due to arm injuries. He was also diagnosed with diabetes early in 1978.

He retired after the 1979 season, at age 33. After his playing career, he returned to his farm in North Carolina, hunting and raising various crops. He was also a spokesman for diabetes awareness.

In early 1998, he was diagnosed with ALS, and died at age 53 on September 9, 1999, a month after falling at home and hitting his head on concrete steps.


My brother (who I’ve referred to several times on this blog) was diagnosed with ALS early in 2012. He continues to battle this disease, and his mobility and speech have been severely impaired. I will be visiting him tomorrow for Thanksgiving dinner.


Commishbob said...

How young Catfish looks on that card!! Love the A's unis, too.

Jim, Thanksgiving is a great time to be with family and I'm happy for you to be able to share another one with your brother.

Jim from Downingtown said...

Thanks, Robert! I hope you had a great day as well.

('68 Boog coming up in a few weeks!)