Sunday, September 12, 1999
More than 1,000 turn out for Hunter's funeral
HERTFORD, N.C. -- Jim "Catfish" Hunter probably would have
despised this -- people dressed in suits making a fuss over him.
He was buried Sunday several hundred yards from the high school
field where he began a baseball career that would send him to the
Hall of Fame.
More than 1,000 family, friends and former major league
teammates turned out for the funeral of the pitcher who won five
World Series titles with the Oakland Athletics and New York
Hunter died Thursday at 53, one year after learning he
had Lou Gehrig's disease.
Former teammate and Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella missed his team's game in Baltimore to attend the service at Cedarwood
Cemetery. Other former teammates in attendance included A's Joe
Rudi, Vida Blue, Gene Tenace and "Blue Moon" Odom, and Yankees
Ron Guidry and Reggie Jackson.
The Yankees sent general manager Brian Cashman and former
manager and scout Gene Michael as their representative.
"I was looking forward to spending time with Catfish after the
season. It didn't quite get to that," said Piniella, his eyes
teary. "My wife and I and my young son are here to pay tribute to
him. He was a great guy."
A 15-year-old Hertford boy stood outside the cemetery gate
wearing a Yankees hat as the hearse carrying Hunter's drove by.
Players placed flowers on Hunter's casket as they filed out of the
Despite being baseball's first big free agent, Hunter always
returned to this small eastern North Carolina town to live, and
"It's like taking out a part of your body, like ripping out
your heart," former high school teammate Eddie Miller said.
Bill Crawford drove about 70 miles from Virginia Beach to stop
by the cemetery and walk past Hunter's marble shrine on the town's
main street, which had flowers sprawled along it's base.
"I'm not much into baseball. I just know the man and I
understand he was a great guy," Crawford said. "I heard he was
just a straight and honest man, and had one hellacious career as a
pitcher. I just thought I would come down to see where he lived."
In one store, there was a baseball autographed by Hunter that
had a sticker on the outside of the plastic case that read: "Ball
not for sale."
The most striking floral arrangement at Hertford Baptist Church
came from Hunter's three children and grandchild. It was a huge
baseball arrangement with white mums and roses as the seams of the
Another arrangement at the church came from the family of late
A's owner Charlie O. Finley, who signed Hunter and brought him
right to the majors without a day spent in the minors.
Hunter was unconscious for several days last month after falling
and hitting his head on concrete steps. But he improved and was
sent home to his Perquimans County farm on Saturday. However, he
died in less than a week.
As the centerpiece of pitching staffs, first with the Athletics
and then with the Yankees, Hunter won 224 games, produced five
straight 20-victory seasons, a perfect game and a Cy Young Award.
The Rev. Keith Vaughan eulogized Hunter as a common man who
cared deeply for others.
"He never ever acted as if he was too busy for us. He never
acted like we were a bother to him -- I know sometimes we probably
were," Vaughan said. "He never ever gave into the fact that he
was famous and we weren't. He could just as easily slammed the door
on us and told us to go on our way. That's not the kind of man he
"In all of my ministry this is perhaps the toughest day I have
ever had because all of my life Catfish Hunter was my hero."
Hunter was the second Yankees Hall of Famer to die this year.
Joe DiMaggio died March 8 at 84.
"It seems like: 'Am I dreaming or is this real?' " said Francis
Combs, Hunter's high school catcher and pall bearer. "It just
feels like it's a dream. It's going to seem funny to go to his
house and he's not going to be there."