OAKLAND—The Athletics unveiled the newly renamed Jim “Catfish” Hunter Gate (previously the C Gate) at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday, June 17 in honor of one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history.
Team officials were accompanied by former players and 1972-1974 World Series Champions Vida Blue, Darold Knowles, Bert Campaneris, Joe Rudi, John “Blue Moon” Odom, Gene Tenace, and Ray Fosse. Hunter’s wife and high school sweetheart, Helen, their three children, Todd, Paul, and Kimberly, former A’s radio and television broadcaster Monty Moore, and former A’s left fielder Rickey Henderson were also in attendance.
Hunter, a right-handed pitcher who passed away in 1999 after being diagnosed with ALS, was an eight-time all-star, a five time World Series champion (including the Athletics’ three consecutive wins from 1972-1974). He is also a two-time MLB wins leader, and an American League ERA leader (1974). He pitched a perfect game on May 8, 1968 and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. He became the first pitcher since 1915 to win 200 career games before the age of 31.
The Athletics retired Hunter’s jersey (#27) on June 9, 1991.
Helen Hunter reminisced about her deceased husband’s time as an Athletic, along with those of the former players who were in attendance.
“Jimmy said you can’t play the game without all of these guys helping you. It took nine ball players to play the game. Joe Rudi saved him in Cincinnati, that was spectacular. Vida was a great pitcher in his time, too, and Blue Moon. Campy, I just loved to see him run around those bases. Darold, he was a great relief pitcher. We’re thankful for him.” She also referred to Tenace as a “bosom buddy.”
After the presentation, Canyon News spoke with Knowles, Odom, Blue, Campaneris, and Rudi. According to them, there was more to Hunter than just his All-Star pitcher status.
“He was such a class individual,” said Knowles, a former A’s pitcher and roommate of Hunter. “It was always a pleasure to be in his company. He liked to laugh, he liked to do practical jokes. Obviously he could pitch, he was one of the greatest pitchers of all time in the Hall of Fame, but it was just a thrill being out there with him, and he will always be remembered.”
“He was a great guy, a guy that you would want on your side all the time,” Odom recalled, also noting that he would respond when asked about Hunter’s persona,.“If you don’t like yourself, you wouldn’t like Catfish. If you like Catfish, then you would like yourself.”
“We all want to think that we treat people right, the way they should be treated, and Catfish was one of those guys.”
“He was a country gentleman that always put himself last, he always talked about his teammates and was a very humble guy,” said Blue of his fellow pitcher. “He influenced me. If I could choose anyone I wanted to be like, it would be Catfish Hunter.”
“We enjoyed our time on the field with Catfish,” said Campaneris, former shortstop. “We’d always talk, and we’d make it fun. We’d have a great time every time he pitched.”
“He was a brother, we all signed at the same time (1964),” said Rudi, who spent 13 years with Hunter (who he described as a prankster) in Oakland. “You never got tired of being around him.”
“He was like somebody you’ve spent your whole life with. We all knew too much about each other.”
Following Hunter’s ALS diagnosis, Rudi shared that the Hall of Fame inductee had lost complete use of both arms. Less than a month before his death, Hunter lost his balance on a flight of concrete steps, falling and hitting his head. He went into a coma, and though he was able to return from hospitalization after several days of unconsciousness, he never woke up.
Hunter was buried at Cedarwood Cemetery in his hometown of Hertford, North Carolina, which is located next to the field where he played high school baseball.