DeCock: Catfish Hunter wins online vote

ldecock@newsobserver.comJuly 21, 2012 

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FILE--Jim 'Catfish' Hunter is all smiles as he soaks his pitching arm in ice water and talks with reporters after pitching a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins, in this May 8, 1968 in Oakland, Calif. Hunter, the Hall of Fame pitcher who ushered inbaseball's era of big bucks for free agents, died Thursday, Sept. 9, 1999 at age 53 after battling the disease named after another New York Yankees great, Lou Gehrig.(AP Photo/FILE)

1968 AP FILE PHOTO

Thirty-eight years after his sky-walking ways helped North Carolina State end UCLA’s string of national titles, David Thompson was on the other end of a historic upset.

Catfish Hunter came away the winner in The News & Observer’s online vote to determine North Carolina’s best native-born athlete, defeating Thompson in the championship round by a 56-44 margin.

The pitcher from Hertford in Perquimans County knocked off stock-car king Richard Petty, fellow baseball Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, two-sport star Julius Peppers and football Hall of Famer Bobby Bell on his way to the finals before taking on Thompson, the Wolfpack star from Shelby who brushed aside every previous challenger in the bracket.

With Thompson’s unexpected defeat, none of the top seeds emerged atop the field of 64, as Charlie Justice (football), Peppers (football and basketball) and Petty also fell along the way.

James Augustus “Catfish” Hunter – the nickname was a creation of then-Kansas City A’s owner Charlie Finley – was 53 when he died of complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1999. He won 224 games over 14 major-league seasons while helping to usher in the free-agent era when he jumped from the Oakland A’s to the New York Yankees.

Hunter was a five-time World Series champion, won the American League Cy Young award in 1974 and threw a perfect game in 1968. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987. For the past eight years, the A’s have given out an award in his name to honor the team’s most inspirational player, as voted by his teammates.

This voting was limited to athletes born in the state, so Michael Jordan, who was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Wilmington, was ineligible. But if Hunter could defeat Thompson, Jordan’s idol growing up, who knows how he’d fare against Jordan himself?

DeCock: luke.decock @newsobserver.com, (919) 829-8947

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