North Carolina People, Places, and Things-November 6
I am the dad to five adult children. As they were growing up I attempted to remind them they were special and to implore them to learn something new. My goal was to do that daily.
In 2016 my goal is to learn something new daily on the people, places, and things that make North Carolina special. Everyday this year I am doing a post on what I have learned new.
The World Series came to a dramatic close on Wednesday evening with the Chicago Cubs winning their first title since 1907. They did it in extra innings of Game 7. I got thinking of iconic World Series players from North Carolina and the name Jim “Catfish” Hunter popped into my head.
Jim “Catfish” Hunter was born in 1946 the youngest child of Abbott and Millie Hunter, and he grew up playing sports and rollicking in the North Carolina outdoors. The young Hunter attended Perquimans High School and he played varsity football and baseball. Major league baseball scouts traveled to Hertford, NC to examine the rising star.
In late November 1963, Jim Hunter and his brothers went out for a Thanksgiving Day hunt. By mistake, a shotgun fired and a shell struck the pitcher’s foot. The blast took off his little two and it buried nearly 50 pellets in his right foot. Many teams lost interest in Hunter after the hunting accident, but one team took a gamble and signed the pitcher in the 1964.
On June 8, 1964, Hunter signed a $75,000 contract with the Kansas City A’s. Yet owner Charles O. Finley aggrandized his new player’s persona. Finley fabricated a story: when Hunter was six years old, he ran away from home but was later found fishing for catfish. The name “Catfish” Hunter forever stuck to the North Carolinian baseball player.
In 1968, the North Carolinian pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins; a perfect game occurs when the opposing team never reaches a base in nine innings.
Although he was never a power pitcher, Hunter learned to master his craft as the A’s developed into a fearsome juggernaut. He won 21 games in 1971, the first of five consecutive seasons with at least that many victories. He added another 21 wins in 1972, to go with a career-best 2.04 ERA, helping the A’s collect the first of three straight World Series championships.
In 1974, he topped the league with 25 wins and a 2.49 ERA to claim the AL Cy Young Award.
At the end of the 1974 season, Hunter discovered a clause in his contract that had not been honored by the A’s, and in arbitration, Hunter won free agency, a status that was essentially unheard of at the time. His availability started a bidding war among all but one of the 24 Major League teams. He ultimately chose to sign with the New York Yankees, who offered him $3.35 million for five years, including a $1 million signing bonus, along with other annuities. It was the largest package in baseball history at the time, and its impact is still felt by players today.
In his first year with the Yankees, 1975, Hunter led the AL with 23 wins and 328 innings pitched. Although his numbers weren’t as strong in the following years, he played a valuable role on the Yankees’ World Series teams of 1977 and 1978.
However, arm problems and the onset of diabetes soon curbed his effectiveness, and he retired after the 1979 season at the age of 33.
After Hunter retired he returned to his farm in Hertford, where he resumed a simple life of fishing and hunting. In 1998, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig Disease, which claimed his life a year later. Hunter was 53 years old. He was survived by his high school sweetheart, Helen, and three children, Todd, Kimberly and Paul.