Thursday, January 17, 2013

Catfish Hunter and Why They Called Him Catfish

Catfish Hunter is a Hall of Fame pitcher who hurled for the A's and the Yankees, compiling 224 wins against 166 losses, with with 2,012 strike outs and a career 3.26 ERA. Good numbers. Really good numbers. If he'd compiled those numbers ten or twenty years later it's unlikely today's Hall of Fame voters would have voted him in, but that's not this blog is about.

Every city seems to have a few men named Catfish. We have three Catfish here. And they always seem to be a Doctor John blues harmonica holdover from the days of hobos. I proposed at one time there should be a law enacted limiting each municipality to only one Catfish. Seems like one of these should be sufficient.

But James Augustus Hunter doesn't seem to fit the profile of the shambling blues man who always seems to spontaneously appear whenever there's benefit for some age-old veteran of the music scene who has passed on. So, how did Jim Hunter get the nickname Catfish?

he doesn't look very catfishy here as a young pitcher with the Oakland A's, though it's clear he self-identified himself as a Catfish by his signature.

However by 1979 he did start to resemble a catfish. Maybe it's akin to the phenomenon where pet owners start to look like their pets. Maybe people start to look like their nicknames. But what's the real story?

The story behind this nickname is quite simple. Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley made it up out of whole cloth because he thought his young pitcher needed a catchy nickname. There was also a story that he was given the nickname when he caught a large fish as a small boy, but the truth is the nickname has no meaning at all. There you have it. 

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