Jim "Catfish" Hunter
Raised On A Farm
James Augustus Hunter was born on April 8, 1946, in Hertford, North Carolina, one of 10 children born to Abbott and Lillie Harrell Hunter, though two died at birth. The family lived in a farmhouse without plumbing and
stoked a pot-bellied stove for heat. Hunter's father was a tenant farmer who worked long days to support the family, never grumbling, never taking a day off. Through his example, Hunter learned the merits of an uncompromising work ethic.
Growing up with seven siblings provided Hunter with plenty of opportunities to practice baseball. Day after day, Hunter pitched to his brothers and developed the extraordinary ball control that would later make him famous. Baseballs, however, were rare, but the Hunter children didn't mind batting corncobs or potatoes, any substitute for a ball. Hunter also spent many long days loading cantaloupe and melons. The heavy lifting helped Hunter earn enough money to buy baseballs and also helped him develop his upper-body strength.
Hunter began playing organized baseball in grammar school and became a local hero. Though he was quite young, townsfolk began bragging about his future. In his book Catfish: My Life in Baseball, Hunter explained that all this talk bothered his father. "Don't let what you do go to your head," his father warned him. "If you play good ball, people will certainly brag about it to your face. Just thank them. If you don't play good, they will certainly tell you." Hunter's father also reminded him that a pitcher couldn't win a game by himself. Those words stuck with Hunter, and during his entire career, he never took sole credit for a win.
At Perquiman High, Hunter became a hurling hero. In Catfish, the Three Million Dollar Pitcher, baseball scout Floyd "Dutch" Olafson described Hunter's high school days. "The first time I saw Jim pitch, I knew he'd make the major leagues. He throwed smoke then." Hunter came of age before there was a baseball draft, so he was eligible to sign with any team. Scouts flocked to Hertford to watch him play.
Hunter's future took a turn for the worse in November 1963, however, when his brother Pete accidentally blasted buckshot into Hunter's right foot—the foot he used to push off with when pitching. His foot ached, yet Hunter made a comeback his senior year, though his pitching form was awkward at first. Throughout the season, Hunter improved, pitching to a 14-1 record and helping his team win the state championship.