Stevens: Baseball pitcher was never Catfish at home

tim.stevens@newsobserver.comJuly 21, 2012 

Lillie Hunter, the late mother of Jim “Catfish” Hunter, was shocked when she saw his nickname for the first time. Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley made up the moniker and the story of Hunter either running away from home or skipping school to go fishing. The nickname was a marketing ploy.

Hunter, who was born in Hertford, had never mentioned the “new” nickname to his mother and she knew nothing about it until she saw it in a newspaper article.

“As soon as I read it, I showed it to Jim’s daddy (Abbott),” Lillie Hunter said 30 years ago. “I didn’t like it – still don’t – but I figured it would die out really quick. Jim’s daddy grinned a little bit, but didn’t have much to say about it.”

When she heard the story about her son skipping school or leaving home, she got mad.

“I raised eight children and not a single one of them ever ran away from home,” she said. “I never found out why Mr. Finley made up that name and that story. I asked him and all he said was that everybody had to have a nickname.”

Hunter, who died in 1999, had said of the nickname, “It never really bothered me to be called Catfish. After the first couple of years it didn’t matter much if I minded or not. But I knew whenever anybody called me Jim or Jimmy, they were home folks.”

Lillie Hunter never quite got over it she said. “It beats me. Folks have heard it so much, even some people around here have quit calling him Jim. But I have never, never, never called him Catfish and I never will.”

Hunter looked at the nickname philosophically. “I’m just glad Mr. Finley chose something like Catfish. Look at Blue Moon (Johnny Lee) Odom,” he said.

Lillie Hunter agreed.

“I don’t like Catfish – Jim is prettier – but he could have had a worse nickname,” she said. “If Mr. Finley had known how much Jim loves bass fishing, he might have called him ‘Bigmouth.’”

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