Hunter Museum a must for baseball buffs

Published 4:45 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2024

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Gene Autry never had much trouble fighting the bad guys, but according to my late friend Frank Roberts, Autry lost one fight involving a good guy.

In 1974, after Jim “Catfish” Hunter left the Oakland Athletics to become a free agent, representatives of many Major League Baseball teams flocked to the Ahoskie law offices of Cherry, Cherry & Flythe.

That law firm represented the star pitcher when he left California to become a free agent, eventually becoming the highest paid ballplayer in MLB history – those six figure salaries are now dwarfed by many current MLB players.

Autry – aka “The Singing Cowboy” – sang the praises of his Los Angeles Angels team to Hunter and his legal advisors. But as Hunter’s Hertford friends knew – he always wanted to wear a Yankee uniform.

Once donning that prestigious outfit he continued his winning ways, racking up many more impressive statistics.

Baseball history is what the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum has been all about since opening in the Perquimans County Chamber of Commerce building in 2009, a decade after his death.

According to a story authored in 2013 by Roberts, the Hunter Museum began in a closet-sized room – a very small closet. 2013 was the expansion year thanks, in large part, to donations and the actual physical work courtesy of a national group of baseball enthusiasts, The No Bats Club. One of its most prestigious club members is Hunter’s neighbor and long-time friend, Tommy Harrell.

“Jimmy deserved better than to be in a closet,” he said.

Club member Richard Bellis of Indiana explains the interest, saying, “We read an article about Jimmy’s struggle, and saw that he still took time to found the local chapter of the ALS Foundation.”

Among the items on display in the Hunter edifice is a uniform representing the pitcher’s high school days, and a warm-up jacket given to Hunter’s late dad, Abbott, by Athletics owner Charles Finley.

A similar jacket came from the day the Yankees played an exhibition game in Chapel Hill.

There is a baseball autographed by Joe DiMaggio when he was batting coach for the Oakland A’s. Another baseball is autographed by other famous Yanks, including Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle.

There are signed meal checks and paychecks from the New York days and, interestingly, an RC can and a 7-11 cup featuring Hunter’s famous, and handsome, face.

Handsome? Affirmative! His Perquimans County High School yearbook shows that star baseball and football player, James Augustus Hunter, was voted, “the best looking guy in his class.”

Said handsome young man was on the cover of Sports Illustrated – twice. Blown-up replicas are displayed at the museum, which includes many magazine and newspaper stories (including several by Roberts. Also displayed in a glass case is the notebook used by Roberts featuring scratchy notes for one of the stories).

An emphasis at the museum is information about the ALS Foundation. The Jim “Catfish” Hunter chapter is headquartered in Raleigh. According to the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclorosis (ALS) web site, “our mission is leading the fight to treat and cure, and to empower people with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and their families, to live fuller lives by providing them with compassionate care and support.”

The name honors a previous victim, another Yankee great. Recently it has been discovered that lead poisoning is a contributing factor to the disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. (cq)

Hunter’s memory lives on, beautifully, in the museum, with displays and information about his baseball playing, and his humble, honest, and decent way of life. That baseball career spanned 15 years where Hunter was a five-time World Series champion; earned All-Star recognition eight times; won the prestigious Cy Young Award in 1974; and pitched a perfect game vs. the Minnesota Twins on May 8, 1968. Hunter was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame in 1987.

He loved his family, his hometown, and his career. He was a regular visitor to Ahoskie after his playing days were over, coming back to where he was discovered by an MLB scout while playing for American Legion Post 102.

About 1,000 people attended his funeral in Hertford’s Cedarwood Cemetery. Many of his teammates were there, including Reggie Jackson, who, since he was late getting into Norfolk, took a cab from there to Hertford. He had this to say about Hunter: “He was a fabulous human being. He was a man of honor. He was a man of loyalty.”

Harrell remembers the last days of his friend, saying, “After he was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I walked with Jimmy and Helen several mornings a week. We had long talks. He was as good a friend as anyone could have.”

The Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter Museum might have some impressive company. In a couple of years it might share some Chamber of Commerce space with another former Perquimans County resident – Bob Smith, best known as rock-n-roll radio personality Wolfman Jack. His Belvidere home is across the street from that of Hugh Copeland, founder and director of Norfolk’s Hurrah Players, the most famous childrens’ theater group on the east coast.

In 1975, Bob Dylan sang about “Catfish,” but the song was not released until 1991; Both Joe Cocker and Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys performed the same tribute.

Bobby Hollowell wrote a song about “The Catfish Kid,” recorded by the late ‘Big’ Tom White. It sold well, locally. Both men were childhood friends.

Hunter was mentioned in the movie “The Bad News Bears.” Major league pitcher James Kosow portrayed him in the ESPN mini-series, “The Bronx Is Burning.”

A catfish caught by the stars of “Grumpier Old Men” was referred to as – what else? – Catfish Hunter.

The Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum, located at 118 Market Street in Hertford, is opened from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. most Saturdays.

For information call (252) 426-5657. The e-mail address is

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-443-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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