Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #280, Jim Hunter (Article 54)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
I love that fact that the baseball-reference page for this player reads “Catfish Hunter” rather than Jim Hunter. They don’t do that for everyone. For example, you won’t find Rich Gossage named Goose on his page.
But Catfish is Catfish.
And that’s how it should be.
Some people claim that Catfish Hunter is the low bar for a Hall-of-Famer pitcher. I get the argument. But he did win 20+ games for five consecutive years. How’s this:
* 1971: 21-11, 2.96 (273.2 innings pitched)
* 1972: 21-7, 2.04 (295.1 innings pitched)
* 1973: 21-5, 3.34 (256.1 innings pitched)
* 1974: 25-12, 2.49 (318.1 innings pitched)
* 1975: 23-14, 2.58 (328.0 innings pitched)
That’s 111 wins over five seasons. That’s pretty darn impressive.
Oh, along the way, Catfish won a Cy Young Award (1974) and was also a runner-up (1975). Over the course of his career, he was an eight time All-Star.
Once he came to the Yankees (in 1975), he brought instant credibility to the team. He came as the ace and pitched as such.
And those 20+ win seasons were not his only good ones (of course). He won 18 games in 1970 and 17 games in 1976. He was one of the very best… for a long time.
Jim “Catfish” Hunter was also a winner, meaning that he was the ace on teams that won. A lot.
Catfish appeared in five World Series.
In his first nine post season decisions, Catfish sported a 7-2 lifetime record.
He was great during the season and he was greater in the post season. That’s the mark of a true ace.
Catfish Hunter was an ace.
WAR is a great stat. It tells a lot. It tells a ton.
It doesn’t tell everything.
Catfish Hunter doesn’t fair well on the WAR test, but I don’t think the history of baseball in the 1970s can be told without telling the story of Catfish Hunter. he was the ace on the decade’s greatest dynasty (the Oakland A’s) and then he was the big name pitcher who helped bring the Yankees back to prominence.
Would the Yankees have been champions without Catfish Hunter? I don’t think so.
Catfish Hunter pitched in the post season in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1977, and 1978. He wasn’t a bit player on those teams, he was the recognized ace, at least until all the innings pitched started to take a toll on him.
Can the story of Free Agency be told without telling the story of Catfish Hunter – the first huge free agent signing?
Catfish Hunter was greater than the sum total of the parts.
He might be a lower-tier Hall-of-Famer but it is no shame that Catfish Hunter is in there.
In 1975, Catfish Hunter came to the Yankees and went 23-14. He completed 30 games that year. (That needs to be repeated.) He completed 30 games that year. THIRTY! In 1975, Catfish threw 328 innings for the Yankees. In today’s world, that’s almost two seasons worth of innings.
He followed that up, in 1976, the year he helped bring the Yankees back to the World Series, by going 17-13 and pitching 298 innings (and “only” completing 21 games).
After that 1975 season, Catfish just wasn’t the same again, but… like the story of the great boxer who has that one last great bout, it was Catfish who helped the Yankees in that amazing 1978 season when they had the huge second half to comeback and win again. Ron Guidry was the ace, but he didn’t do it alone. Catfish helped – big time!
Down the stretch that year, when every game counted, every single one, Catfish found his old greatness and helped carry the Yankees.
In August 1978, Catfish went 6-0. Better, in games started by Catfish Hunter from August 1 on, the Yankees went 10-2.
There is no 1978 Yankees World Championship without Catfish Hunter.
Of course, there is also no Bucky Dent game, without Catfish Hunter.
On the last day of the 1978 season, the Yankees could have clinched the division with a win.
Catfish went to the mound to face Rick Waits of the Indians.
Catfish didn’t have it that day. By then, the calendar had turned to October and there was no more magic in the tank.
The Indians pounded Hunter. He lasted less than two innings. He gave up five runs on four hits and a walk. Andre Thornton and Gary Alexander both homered off him. The Yankees never had a chance. Rick Waits pitched great. He went the distance allowing just two runs and five hits.
The Yankees lost, the Red Sox won, and the one game playoff came next.
Catfish did come back to win a game in the 1978 World Series. After losing Game 2 (and putting the Yankees down 0-2 in the series, Catfish won the clincher, Game Six. He went 7 innings allowing just two runs.
Ol’ Catfish did it again.