Glancing Back, and Remembering Catfish Hunter
Jim “Catfish” Hunter’s best years – the one that put him into the Baseball Hall of Fame – came in the 1970s, when he was the pitching ace of World Series championship teams with the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees.
Catfish Hunter pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins in 1968 at age 22. He was 13-13 with a 3.35 ERA for the A’s that season.
The 1960s were Hunter’s “formative” years as a member of the Kansas City Athletics staff. Those A’s teams were far from championship caliber, and Hunter’s won-lost record reflected the abilities of those teams. But Hunter’s performance in the 1960s consistently hinted at the greatness that would be revealed a decade later. Early in his career, he was always competitive, regardless of the team behind him, and was even, on one occasion, perfect.
Hunter was signed by the Athletics in 1964 and made his major league debut, at age 19, in 1965. He never pitched in the minors.
Hunter was 8-8 in his rookie season, pitching 133 innings in 20 starts (with two shutouts). His starts and innings pitched rose steadily from there. In 1966 he made 25 starts and pitched 176.2 innings, compiling a 9-11 record with a 4.02 earned run average. By 1967, at age 21, Hunter had emerged as the ace of the A’s staff, pitching 259.2 innings in 35 starts, and compiling a 13-17 record with a 2.81 ERA and five shutouts.
In 1968, the team moved to Oakland, and over the next two seasons Hunter went 25-28 with a combined ERA of 3.35. He averaged 240 innings per season. On May 8, 1968, Hunter pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins, the ninth perfect game in American League history.
Catfish Hunter won 224 games over a 15-year major league career. He won 25 games and the American League Cy Young award in 1974.
From 1965 through 1969, pitching in Kansas City and Oakland, Hunter’s combined record was 55-64 with a 3.44 ERA … hardly Hall of Fame numbers, but those were to come. He won 18 games for Oakland in 1970, and was a 21-game winner in each of the next three seasons. In 1974, he led the American League in victories (25) and ERA (2.49) on his way to claiming the Cy Young Award. It was his last season in Oakland. Signed as a free agent, Hunter won 23 games for the Yankees in 1975, and was 63-53 in his five seasons in New York.
Hunter retired in 1979 after 15 big league seasons and 3,449.1 innings. An eight-time All-Star, he compiled a 224-166 record with a 3.26 ERA. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987.
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