Year Inducted: 1987 (BBWAA, ballot #,3 315/413)
Back in the Home Run Baker post, the subject of nicknames was brought up, and how they typically come about due to either a player’s looks, name or special act. But, there is still a fourth way to get a nickname-have an insane owner who thinks it’s necessary. Charlie Finley, the definition of eccentric, was the owner of the Athletics and when they signed Jim Hunter as a bonus baby out of high school, gave him the nickname “Catfish” because he thought that every player needed a nickname. He came up with the story that Hunter had ran away from home at the age of 6, caught two catfish and was about to grab a third when his parents found him. And thus, a legend was created.
Hunter lived up to the hype of a bonus baby, winning 224 games in 15 seasons with the A’s and Yanks, while losing only 166. In nearly 3500 innings, he had an ERA of 3.26 with over 2000 punchouts and only 954 walks. Hunter was the leading pitcher on the two American League teams that dominated the American League in the 1970s, pitching the A’s to three World Series wins and then getting the Yanks to another two championships. Hunter won the AL Cy Young Award in 1974 when he started over 40 games, won 25 games and threw over 300 innings.
Hunter is not without his flaws, however. From a traditional standpoint, he was an excellent pick for the Hall of Fame. When looked at from a modern perspective, he doesn’t look quite as good. His ERA- was only 94, and his FIP- was actually 103, both numbers indicating that he was roughly a league average pitcher. He did strike out more than twice the batters he walked, but he also issued nearly 1 home run every 9 innings. These things will limit how highly he could rank on a study such as this.
But, why does he rank as highly as he does? Well, this is a case where a somewhat short career helps him. The fact that he threw nearly 3500 innings in only 15 seasons and won a lot of games in a short time shows how much talent he really had. He also retired early, at only 33 years old. Hunter claimed that 15 years in the big leagues was enough for any man, and wanted to spend time with his family. Hunter also had very little of a decline period, due to his early retirement. 1979 was really his worst season, and it became complicated when three people that were very close to him-his father Abbott, the man that scouted him for the A’s and his catcher Thurmon Munson-died in a three month span of each other. Had he not already stated before the season that he was retiring, the stress of those deaths would surely have pushed his decision.
Hunter was one of the top pitchers of his time, and a model player, making him an easy selection for the Hall of Fame.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 9/22/16, this Hall of Fame hitter once said that he was the only player in the majors because he couldn’t hit in the minors.