Tag Archives: jim catfish hunter

Padre Steve’s Tour Guide: The Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum, Hertford North Carolina

377733_10151531345957059_356389521_n

“He was very low key, a very warm person. He treated everybody the same. If you were an extra man or you were a star, it didn’t matter. Just a down-to-earth guy.” Sal Bando

In Perquimans Country in Eastern North Carolina just off US Highway 17 lies the town of Hertford. The town has was incorporated in 1758 as the county seat for Perquimans county. A lumber town it is about an one hour drive from Norfolk Virginia and under 15 minutes from Elizabethtown North Carolina.

6003_10151531357927059_1037856475_n

The traveller who remains on US 17 misses out on the beauty of the town, though not an Interstate Highway, the main route 17 provides the unknowing traveller no reason to think of the treasures that lie within the little town of just over 2100 inhabitants. However, to those that are willing to get off of the main highway the little town is a throwback to a period and time much like the fictional Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show.

The town is the location of the one of a kind swing “S” bridge in the United States on which North Carolina Highway 37 crosses the Perquimans River. It is the site of a 1825 Federal Style courthouse and a number of Colonial Queen Anne Revival homes. It is also the place where the great American Disc Jockey “Wolfman Jack” made his home, died and is buried.

But to the baseball faithful the little town is the home of a baseball legend, Jim “Catfish” Hunter who died there at the age of 53 in September 1999 to the ravages of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) commonly known as Lou Gerhig’s disease.

catfish-hunter-si-cover

Hunter grew up in Hertford where he was a star baseball and football player at Perquimans County High School. His talents led Charlie Finely, the owner of the then Kansas City Athletics to sign him in 1964. Though unable to pitch that year the young Hunter, nicknamed “Catfish” by Finely never played a game in the minors and began his career in the Majors, gaining the first of 224 victories against the Boston Red Sox on July 27th 1965.

72656_10151531353027059_1949414273_n

Hunter’s on field performance was nothing short of amazing. At the age of 22 he became the youngest pitcher to pitch a perfect game, the 9th in MLB history on May 8th 1968 against the Minnesota Twins. During the game Hunter was also the hitting star of the game going 3 for 4 with a double and a bunt single RBI that provided the first and what would be the winning run.

In 1975 Hunter signed with the New York Yankees for a landmark 3.75 million dollar 5 year contract. He turned down higher offers from San Diego and Kansas City in order to come back to the East Coast, something that his wife Helen wanted. George Steinbrenner who signed Hunter said of the deal: “Catfish Hunter was the cornerstone of the Yankees’ success over the last quarter century. We were not winning before Catfish arrived. … He exemplified class and dignity and he taught us how to win.”

554014_10151531351062059_1735109262_n

Hunter pitched five consecutive twenty game win seasons between 1971 an 1975 with the Athletics and Yankees. He was a 8 time All-Star, 5 time World Series Champion and he won the AL Cy Young award in 1974. I had the pleasure as a kid of seeing him pitch in person on a number of occasions during his time with the Athletics, the first time against the Angels in Anaheim in 1970 and also during the 1972 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers in Oakland.

My visit to the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum in Hertford was something that I have wanted to do for a couple of years. In Hertford Hunter is still affectionately known as “Jimmy.” This is something that is unique to the people of the area who Hunter was close to. To them, he was and still is “Jimmy” a friend who devoted his life both during and after his baseball career to the people of this quaint town.

559809_10151531355632059_1051484897_n

J Sidney “Sid” Eley

Hunter helped raise money for the Lions Club vision program, youth baseball teams and other charities. The stories of his care for his family and community are preserved in the museum, housed in the Perquimans County Chamber of Commerce Building in downtown Hertford. The museum which was founded 10 years after Hunter’s death in 1999 houses various items from Hunter’s life and career, most of which are donated or on loan. J. Sidney “Sid” Eley, the Executive Director of the Chamber, who knew Hunter, taught his children and worked with him over the years spent nearly an hour with me telling me the stories of the man that he and this community lovingly remember simply as “Jimmy.”

To most baseball fans Hunter is remembered as a great player. However, to his friends and neighbors in Hertford he was much more. He was a mentor, friend and helper. His unexpected death in 1999 shook the community and the baseball world, especially his former teammates, a number of whom quickly changed their schedules to be in Hertford to be with Jimmy’s family.   Former teammates present included Lou Piniella, who was then managing the Seattle Mariners, who missed his team’s game in Baltimore to attend the service at Cedarwood Cemetery. Other former teammates who attended the funeral included former A’s Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, Gene Tenace and “Blue Moon” Odom, and Yankees Ron Guidry, Jim Spencer and Reggie Jackson, who took a cab from Norfolk to get to the funeral on time. Attended by over 1000 people the funeral was the largest in the history of Hertford.

6313_1017084123

If you are in the area it is a trip worth taking, not because the museum is overwhelming like the Baseball Hall of Fame or other baseball museums that reside in larger baseball cities. However, it is a museum that allows the humanity and goodness of Jimmy Hunter to shine through, even above his on field accomplishments, of which Mr Eley is well versed in telling. I enjoyed my visit to it and my time with Mr Eley tremendously. As a fan of the game who saw “Catfish” pitch in person as a kid it helped me see him as not just a ballplayer or a victim of ALS, but as a man who sought nothing more than taking care of his family, helping his community and the people who entered his life, from the most powerful to the most humble. Reggie Jackson said of Hunter that “He was a fabulous human being. He was a man of honor. He was a man of loyalty.”

It is open from 9:30-4:30 Monday through Friday or by appointment. It is located at 118 Market Street in Hertford. The museum can be contacted at (252) 426-5657 and the website is www.visitperquimans.com

Two short but interesting television segments about the museum are provided in the links below.

http://www.bladi8.tv/watch_A61hEGlrwao_-_NC-WEEKEND-%7C-Jim–Catfish–Hunter-Museum-%7C-UNC-TV.html

http://www.wral.com/lifestyles/travel/video/8260577/#/vid8260577

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball

The Giant’s, A’s and Orioles and the 2012 MLB Playoffs: Taking Me Back to the Church of Baseball

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones….It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham

As any reader of this site knows Padre Steve loves baseball. In fact it is a passionate love that goes back to my childhood thanks to my dad. I talk with good reason about belonging to the Church of Baseball.  I love the game and I find a lot of life lessons and draw much inspiration from it.  It is something that is good for my soul, baseball parks are among the few places that I feel absolutely safe and even baseball on television or radio can calm my often troubled PTSD afflicted mind. I love the game, I love the players, I love the people. I can’t say that about a lot in this world.

I have gotten to know a lot of players both major league and minor league, front office staff and among my favorites former players of the Negro Leagues.

This year is kind of weird. If lucky I might have one of my three favorite teams, the Giants, A’s and Orioles make the playoffs. The last time I had a favorite win the World Series was 2010 when the Giants did it. The Orioles and the A’s have had fairly long droughts in getting to the playoffs or the World Series.

As a kid growing up on the West Coast, born in Oakland and being a Navy brat I have a natural tendency to support West Coast teams in the post season, unless they are the Evil Dodgers, who I hate to say I have cheered for in the World Series when they played the Yankees, may God have mercy on me, but it was against the Yankees so I’m sure there is some measure of grace.

My dad was a big National League fan and he became a die hard Giants fan a bit before I was born as the Giants moved to San Francisco about the same time he was transferred to Naval Air Station Alameda. I remember seeing the Giants in Candlestick as a kid, seeing Mays, McCovey and Bobby Bonds play and watching Ed Halicki throw his no-hitter there in 1975. We also went to a decent number of A’s games including the 1972 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers back in the days of Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Mutcat Grant, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Campy Campaneris and Reggie Jackson. My dad couldn’t stand A’s owner Charlie Finley but who could not like the mixture of uniforms and the ball girls in hot pants down the foul lines?

So in a sense because of geography I was a default fan of the Giants and Athletics. However my love of the Orioles defied my dad as well as geography. I started liking the Orioles as a kid because I would always see them in the playoffs. Though my dad didn’t like the Orioles he had tremendous respect for their players, especially outfielder Frank Robinson and Third Baseman Brooks Robinson. I could name the Orioles starting rotation and liked the way that Manager Earl Weaver argued with the umpires. In retrospect my dad kind of reminded me of the scrappy Weaver. My dad always emphasized fundamentals, pitching and working hard.

The Orioles also had the a minor league affiliation with the Stockton Ports back in the 1960s and early 1970s. When my dad was transferred to Alameda for his final assignment on the Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock he moved us to Stockton because we had a great aunt there.  So with the Ports playing at Billy Herbert Field about a mile from our house and a few blocks from where I played Little League ball I was at the stadium a lot including a hat giveaway where the team gave out black Orioles caps with the classic Cartoon Bird. In 1972 the Orioles left and the Angels took the team but from that time I remained an Orioles fan.

That love for the Orioles has increased over the past decade as I have gotten to know the team, organization and players through their minor league affiliates the AAA Norfolk Tides and High Single A Frederick Keys.

I want all of my teams to advance. As I write this the Giants lost their first game against the Reds last night while the A’s have went down 2-0 against the Tigers thanks to great Tigers pitching and critical errors. The Orioles open tonight against the Yankees.

No matter who wins it has been a great season for my teams. The Giants fought a lot of adversity to win the NL West, the A’s pulled off one of the most amazing runs seen in baseball to overtake the highly favored Texas Rangers in the final game of the season and Buck Showalter’s never say die Orioles have surprised the experts, but not me for the entire year.

My picks to win the Division series are the Tigers, the Giants, the Cardinals and the Orioles. Yesterday I would have picked the A’s but as much as I like them the chances of taking three in a row against the Tigers pitching are a lot lower than sweeping the Rangers. However, if there is a team that can come back from a 0-2 deficit it is the A’s. I think that the Giants take the Reds despite last night’s loss, and I think that the experience of the Cardinals will give them the edge over the Nationals, but think that the Nats could win the series. Finally I think that the Orioles are going to take the Yankees. They have played them even all year and despite all the power of the Yankees I think there is something about this Orioles team that is going to take them deep into the playoffs.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, sports and life

Perfect! Phillip Humber Joins Legends as He Pitches Perfect Game against Mariners

Phillip Humber doffs his Cap after his Perfect Game (Photo Steven Bissig US Presswire via USA Today)

Phillip Humber is not who you would have expected to be just the 21st pitcher in MLB history.  However, Humber who had the Tommy John Elbow surgery in 2005 and bounced between a number of teams became one of a select group of pitchers including such notables as Jim “Catfish” Hunter, David Cone, Sandy Koufax, Roy Halliday, Randy Johnson and Cy Young. Of course there are others including Dallas Braden who hails from my home town of Stockton California.

The perfect game is the most rare of baseball events. In over 390,000 games only 21 pitchers have pitched the perfect game which is about a perfect game every 18571 games or so, give or take a few since I am rounding the numbers here. As a comparison for hitters 286 players have hit for the cycle in a game.

It is rare enough that only one has been pitched in a World Series, that of Don Larsen who threw a perfect game in Game five of the 1956 World Series for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Today Humber required just 97 pitches to dispose of the yet again hapless Seattle Mariners who cannot hit their way out of a wet paper bag. Humber struck out nine on the way to the win.  The final out was recorded when Brendan Ryan struck out on a checked swing which was ruled a strike but since the ball got away from Catcher A. J. Pierzynski the catcher had to retrieve it and make the throw out to first base to seal the win.

The South Texas born Humber seemed an unlikely candidate to pitch the first perfect game since 2010. He was a top prospect, the overall 3rd pick in the 2004 amateur draft, being picked by the Mets one pick after Detroit took Justin Verlander after playing college ball for Rice University. He had been struck in the face above his right eye with a line drive off the bat of Kosuke Fukodome on August 18th 2011. Before his career even really began he damaged his throwing elbow badly enough to have to have the Tommy John elbow ligament reconstruction surgery. He had been waived by teams twice and was pitching in only his 30th big league start. He had not thrown a MLB level shutout or for that matter a complete game.

The Kevin Costner film For the Love of the Game (1999) which is based on Michael Shaara’s The Perfect Game which was discovered after he died in 1988 and published in 1991is one of my favorite films and novels and I think captures how special this feat is for any pitcher. For the pitcher cannot allow a single base runner, not just giving up hits, but walks or runners that reach base due to defensive errors even those beyond control of the pitcher. A pitcher must pitch a complete game face 27 batters and get all of them out. It is a hard thing to do at any level and most difficult at the Major League level.

Humber was low key about his feat saying “This is awesome, I’m so thankful.’’ and “I don’t know that I dominated them, obviously the ball was hit at people. I’m thankful for that. It was a well-pitched game. Definitely something I’ll never forget.’’

Congratulations to Phil Humber and the White Sox. I hope for even more success for Humber who I consider a great example of sticking to something you love doing even when things are difficult.

Peace

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under Baseball