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Ron Guidry and Catfish Hunter
by Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
January 21, 2006
James Hunter joins the Kansas City Athletics in 1965. Three years later, the A's move to Oakland. One day, enigmatic A's owner Charlie Finley says to James that he needs a nickname, and dubs him "Catfish Hunter". From that moment on, Catfish Hunter would become a well-known, legendary pitcher. One of the all time greats. Or, well, at least he would become well known.
Other than bearing an interesting nickname, his accomplishments are few. Perhaps his most well-known feat was his five straight 20 win seasons, from 1971 to 1975. His second most significant accomplishment is likely his six World Series, and five titles in seven years. While these are certainly both very impressive, alone, absent more, they do not make for Hall of Fame credentials. Hunter's career ERA was only 4% higher than his league's (104 ERA+), which is really not good. His career strikeout to walk ratio is just over 2:1 (2012/954) which is pedestrian. His career record of 224-166 (.574 Win %) is solid, but certainly does not compensate for his other shortages.
Hunter's numbers bring to my mind another players whom I am relatively certain does not belong in the Hall – Ron Guidry. Guidry was a teammate of Hunter's on the 1975 to 1979 New York Yankees, a team which won three World Series. Guidry really wasn't a full timer until 1977, but he pitched well in the 77 and 78 Series. Overall, he played in three World Series, winning two and pitching quite well in the third, which the Yanks lost in 1981 to the Dodgers.
Guidry has fewer World Series titles and trips than Hunter, though that is probably as peripheral a stat as you can come by. He also won fewer games and, let me check, yep, pitched fewer innings than Hunter. But he also had . . .
- fewer .500 or worse seasons – 7 vs. 4 (not counting seasons when Guidry went 0-1 and 0-0)
- a significantly better K/BB ratio – 2.8 (1778/633) vs. 2.109 (2012/954)
- a better overall winning percentage - .651 (170/91) vs. .574 (224/166)
- a significantly better ERA+ - 120 vs. 104
Guidry and Hunter clearly had different career tracks. Hunter was signed as a free agent at the age of 18, and was a regular at the age of 19 for the Kansas City A's, a terrible team with nothing to lose by putting a teenager on the mound regularly. It would be three seasons before he would get his ERA under league average, and six before he would have consecutive under league average seasons. His first 20 win season came in 1971, at the age of 25, in his seventh year in the league. Hunter enjoyed several good years in the mid 1970s, but played his last full season in 1976, at the age of 30. He was out of the league at the age of 33.
Guidry played college ball in Louisiana and was drafted at the age of 21 by a solid Yankees team, and would be 26 years old before he played a full season in the bigs. In 1975, he played 10 games (15.2 innings) for the Yankees. Though he was only 5 years younger than teammate Hunter that year, it was his first season and Hunter's eleventh! He too enjoyed several good seasons, winning 20 games or more three times, and played his last full season at the age of 35, and was out of the league at the age of 37.
Hunter pitched about 1050 more innings than Guidry, had more twenty win seasons, and won more World Series titles. Guidry had a better winning percentage, a better ERA, walked fewer, struck out more, enjoyed more good seasons, and lasted longer than Hunter. Apparently, Guidry being a better pitcher is far outweighed by Hunter's clever nickname when it comes to the Hall of Fame.
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Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher B. Chancey resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and can be reached at email@example.com