James “Catfish” Hunter (1946 – 1999)

Written By North Carolina History Project

Born on April 8, 1946 James Augustus Hunter was a native son of Hertford in Perquimans County, North Carolina. Jim “Catfish” Hunter was 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 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.

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Catfish Hunter pitched the best under pressure, and he exercised “pinpoint control” and he “epitomized smart pitching at its finest.” 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. Several years later, Catfish won the American League Cy Young Award in 1974.

In 1975, Catfish signed with the New York Yankees, and he became the highest paid pitcher in the major league. While he was with the Yankees, the pitcher was named to the All-Star team, and he won three pennants with the team. Like most pitchers, Hunter’s pitching power declined with age. Hunter had also long battled diabetes and when he was thirty-three years old he retired from the major league. Hunter passed away at the age of fifty-three after his bout with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease in September 9, 1999.

Catfish Hunter remains an important figure in North Carolina sport history. The all-star pitcher was inducted into both the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to these accolades, Hunter won five World Series rings and nearly 230 games as a pitcher for the Kansas City A’s, the Oakland A’s, and the New York Yankees. Catfish played in the major leagues from 1965 until 1979.