One of the cool things about moving to North Carolina from Long Island was learning that a couple of radio stations “here” actually carry the Yankees.
Another was driving by Hertford, the birthplace of one of the great Yankee pitchers: Jim “Catfish” Hunter.
To be fair, you can’t just gloss over how good Hunter was with the Oakland A’s, his team prior to signing with the Yankees in 1975. “Catfish”, given that nickname by eccentric A’s owner Charles O. Finley, racked up four (and a fifth with the Yanks) straight seasons with 20 or more wins and tossed a rare perfecto. He was also a part of the reason the powerhouse A’s collected four World Series titles.
It had to stick in A’s owner Charles O. Finley’s “craw” to lose Catfish to the Yanks, where he became the highest paid pitcher in the sport in 1975. Hunter earned the dough, leading the league in wins with 23 and innings pitched with 328. And there was no “Gotta Go To Mo'” as in current Yanks relief great Mariano Rivera. Hunter tossed an amazing 30 complete games … not in his career … but in that ONE season.
“Catfish” and the Yanks went on to win three straight pennants in the late 70’s, but the effects of diabetes forced him to retire in 1979. The eight-time All Star and 1974 Cy Young award winner left with 224 wins and just over 2,000 strikeouts to earn induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Although he died in 1999 of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Hunter’s legacy lives on in an annual softball game played in his memory in Hertford. It has raised over $100,000 for ALS research.
Although the A’s owner reportedly had no reason for stamping Hunter with the “Catfish” nickname perhaps it was apt for how he reeled us all in to watching a truly professional pitcher perform.