James Augustus “Catfish” Hunter played for championship teams in both Oakland and New York, finding success wherever he went. Though his career ended when he was just 33 years old, he still managed to win 224 games and five World Series championships along the way.
After three seasons with the A’s in Kansas City, the right-hander found success early in his career in Oakland – following the Athletics’ move to California – with a perfect game on May 8, 1968. It was just the ninth perfect game in big league history, and it was the first in the American League in the regular season since 1922.
With the A’s, Hunter not only earned his nickname – given to him by team owner Charlie Finley – but he also posted four consecutive seasons with 20-or-more wins while going 4-0 in World Series play.
In Hunter’s final season in Oakland in 1974, he was named the American League Pitcher of the Year by the Sporting News and also earned the AL Cy Young Award for compiling a 25-12 record with a league-leading 2.49 earned-run average.
Following the 1974 campaign, Hunter was declared a free agent after Finley failed to make certain payments called for his in contract. Hunter signed with the Yankees for $3.75 million over five years, proving that a market for veteran free agents existed and setting the groundwork for other free agents following the new collective bargaining agreement in 1976.
During the 1975 season, Hunter led the league in wins for the second year in a row, this time with 23 for the Bronx Bombers. Hunter also led the league in innings pitched with 328 and totaled an astounding 30 complete games.
“Catfish Hunter was the cornerstone of the Yankees success over the last quarter century,” Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said. “We were not winning before Catfish arrived. He exemplified class and dignity and he taught us how to win.”
With Hunter, the Yankees won three straight pennants from 1976 to 1978, capturing World Series titles in the latter two years. He joined Cy Young, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson as the only pitchers in big league history to win 200 games by the age of 31.
Hunter was forced into early retirement in 1979 because of the effects of diabetes. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987.
Hunter succumbed to the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on Sept. 9, 1999.