Imagine that you are huge movie fan. Come on...just
imagine. You know all the movie celebrities, what movies they've been in, and what year
each movie came out. You read the movie gossip magazines but don't believe all of it.
You've seen the entire AFI (American Film Institute) Top 100 and made your own list that
makes much more sense than theirs. You know the name of the sled in Citizen Kane. You
named your two goldfish Butch and Sundance.
Now imagine that through some tremendous
quirk of fate you get to actually meet Harrison Ford. Face to face. Go to his hometown and
eat dinner with him and his wife. Hang out at his home and play the piano in his rec room
while he sings along behind you.
But instead, I'm a baseball fan. I got to
meet Jim "Catfish" Hunter.
Jimmy Hunter and I both
have A.L.S., commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, named after the great New York Yankee
Hall Of Famer who died from the disease in 1941.
Gehrig was known as "The Iron
Horse" because he played in 2,130 consecutive baseball games, which stood as a record
many thought would never be broken. It did stand for 56 years until 1995 when Cal Ripken,
Jr. rewrote the record books. Ripken's own streak ended in 1998 after an incredible 2,632
All that is true.
Jim Hunter was given the nickname
"Catfish" by Charlie Finley, then-owner of the Oakland A's. He thought that
nickname would be a catchy moniker for a young man from the farmland of North Carolina. He
even devised a cute story about Jimmy skipping school to go fishing and coming home with a
couple of catfish. That story was about as true as most fish stories are, which is to say
"not much". Fact or fiction, the nickname stuck like molasses to the ballplayer.
"Catfish" Hunter went on to pitch
a perfect game for the A's in 1968 and won the Cy Young Award in 1974. Five years in a
row, from 1971-1975, he won more than 20 games in a single season. His team won the World
Series five times. And in 1971, when pitchers in the American League still batted, Hunter
went to bat 103 times at hit .350! He could definitely do it all.
Now, if you're in Hertford, North Carolina
and mention Catfish, people there think you're talking about Today's Special on the menu
at Captain Bob's Restaurant. You see, to his friends and family in the small hometown he
grew up in, stayed during his 15 years in The Show, and continues to live just a few miles
outside of now, he's just Jimmy Hunter. Always has been, always will be.
On May 8th, Jimmy Hunter stood in front of
a crowd of 5,000 at the local high school baseball field and thanked everyone for coming
to the 19th Annual Old-Timer's Game. Every year since Hunter retired thousands have come
on the Saturday before Mother's Day to eat barbeque and see "Catfish" and a
bunch of his major league friends play baseball. The money raised has helped support
Perquimins High School programs.
This year the money was raised for a new
cause but no one was complaining. This year money from the barbeque lunch, softball and
baseball games, and a silent auction went to the newly formed Jim "Catfish"
Hunter ALS Foundation.
Newly elected Hall Of Famer George Brett
sent a signed jersey. Vince Gill sent an autographed guitar. Dolly Parton sent a pair of
sequined boots. Present day Yankee stars Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter sent autographed
baseballs and Yankee owner, George Steinbrenner, sent down a truckload of Yankee baseball
Hunter's former manager in Oakland, Alvin
Dark, was on hand for the event and told the crowd that, "He has more courage in his
little finger than most people" have in their entire being.
You see, this is a disease that weakens the
body's muscles by killing the nerve cells which send brain signals to the voluntary
muscles. Sometimes ALS begins by weakening a person's leg muscles, while another person is
initially effected in the facial muscles which control eating, chewing, swallowing, and
speaking. Ironically, Jimmy Hunter's ALS went straight to his shoulders, arms, and hands:
the very muscles which helped make him a household name in the 60's and 70's and a member
of baseball's Hall of Fame in 1987.
The cause of ALS as well as its cure have
not been discovered yet. Rilutek, the only FDA approved drug for ALS, is just the
beginning in medicine's quest for effective treatments. Greater awareness and
understanding means more funding. More funding means more research, which in turn
increases the chances for finding a cure. That's exactly where the Jim "Catfish"
Hunter ALS Foundation comes in.
"I just want to help people who have
ALS and I want to help find a cure," Hunter explained. He has always been a man of
few words who let his actions do the talking. And now the same characteristics that at one
time made "Catfish" the best pitcher in baseball...courage, determination, and a
driving sense of purpose...are the same ones he'll use to strike out this different and
formidable opponent. He's living with ALS and determined to make a difference for others
who are facing the same battle. After looking into those steely blue eyes myself, I saw
the determination that hitters who faced him must have seen.
Watch out ALS. Jimmy Hunter is a winner and
he's on the mound again, throwing strikes as usual.
Mark Reiman is the Editor-In-Chief of
Incredible People. You can contact him at