I’m not sure there’s any player whose Hall case I’ve attacked as much as that of Catfish Hunter. To review, click here, here, here, and here. Since it’s been about three years I’ve gone without trashing his case, perhaps it’s time once again. When recently researching Carlos Beltran’s playoff home run log, I learned, or maybe relearned, that Hunter has given up tied for the second most home runs in playoff history. That’s right, despite the fact that he’s not in the top-ten in playoff innings, he trails just Andy Pettitte on playoff homers allowed. And Pettitte pitched more than twice as many innings. Let’s take a look.
Hunter’s A’s were swept by the Orioles, and it was Hunter who lost the middle of the three games. Brooks Robinson’s solo shot got things started in the second. Boog Powell followed with one of his own in the third. There was no more Oriole scoring until the seventh when Elrod Hendricks took Hunter deep for one more run. And Boog Powell capped things off with a two run shot in the eighth. One game, four homers.
Hunter started the first game of the series against the Tigers. After a scoreless first, Norm Cash took him deep for a solo homer. Hunter would allow no more, and though Al Kaline homered against Rollie Fingers in the eleventh to break a tie, the A’s scored two in the bottom of the inning to win it. Two games, five homers.
Game four in Detroit also went into extras. The road team again scored, and once again the home team scored more to win it. As with the first game of the series, Hunter allowed the game’s first run on a homer, this one a third inning solo shot by Dick McAuliffe. While McAuliffe was not without power, he hit only eight during the regular season. Three games, six homers.
With the A’s leading the Reds one game to none, Hunter started the second game and was excellent, allowing just one run in the ninth on a single, ground out, and another single. Four games, six homers.
Up 3-1 in the series, Oakland called on Hunter to close things out at home. He allowed a solo shot to the game’s lead-off hitter, Pete Rose. In case you’re wondering, Rose hit just six home runs during the 1972 regular season. The A’s then gave Hunter three runs in the second. But Hunter allowed a Dennis Menke homer in the fourth to get Cincy to within a run. It was yet another solo shot. And again it was hit by a guy who didn’t reach double figures during the regular season. Hunter didn’t get out of the fifth. Five games, eight homers.
Hunter pitched decently in relief two days later to grab the win and the World Series for the A’s. Six games, eight homers.
The Orioles were back this year, and like he did in 1971, Hunter started the second game with his team behind in the series. This game worked out better than did the one 24 months earlier. Hunter threw seven and a third innings, allowing three runs but zero homers. The A’s tied the series at one game each. Seven games, eight homers.
Catfish twirled a gem with a five-hit shutout in the deciding fifth game to lead the A’s to their second consecutive World Series. Eight games, eight homers.
With the series tied, Hunter got the start in the third game. And as was fairly common for him, he allowed a solo home run. This time it was Wayne Garrett taking him deep leading off. It’s rather fortunate that eight of the nine homers Hunter had given up in his playoff career to this point were solo shots. In any case, the A’s won to take the series lead. Nine games, nine homers.
With their backs against the wall, Oakland turned to Hunter for the sixth game. He didn’t give up a homer, and with the help of Darold Knowles and Rollie Fingers, he outdueled Tom Seaver. Oakland went on to win the next game and their second consecutive World Series. Ten games, nine homers.
Once again it was the Orioles in 1974. Hunter took the ball in the opener, and he wasn’t good. He retired the leadoff hitter, but then Paul Blair gave the O’s the lead with a solo shot. In the fifth, Brooks Robinson added a solo shot of his own. Five hitters later Bobby Grich hit a two-run bomb ending Hunter’s night and giving Baltimore the series lead. Eleven games, twelve homers.
Another World Series was coming after Hunter’s gem in the fourth game. He gave up just three hits over seven shutout innings, and the A’s closed out the O’s. Twelve games, twelve homers.
With two outs in the ninth inning of the first game, Hunter struck out Joe Ferguson for the save. Thirteen games, twelve homers.
The third game, again in a tied series, Hunter took the ball against the Dodgers. Up 3-0 in the eighth, Bill Buckner, he of seven regular season homers, brought LA to within two runs. They got closer against Fingers but couldn’t get the job done. The A’s got to within two wins of their third straight title. Two games later, without another Hunter appearance, they got there. Fourteen games, thirteen homers.
Catfish started the opener, went the distance, and allowed just one run on five hits with no homers. Fifteen games, thirteen homers.
Trying to close things out in the fourth game, Hunter was a wreck. He gave up two doubles and a triple, but no homers, as he was bounced after three innings. Hunter’s Yankees would finish things off the next night. Sixteen games, thirteen homers.
Down a game in a series where they’d get swept, Hunter gave up ten hits, including three for extra bases, but no homers. The Yankees lost 4-3. Hunter didn’t give up a single homer in the 1976 playoffs, but he didn’t pitch well either. Seventeen games, thirteen homers.
The Yankees won in five games, but Hunter didn’t pitch.
Up a game, the Yankees sent Hunter to the mound for the first time in the 1977 playoffs. And his good fortune with solo home runs came to an end. Ron Cey opened the scoring with a two run shot in the first. Steve Yeager hit a solo homer in the second. And Reggie Smith took him deep for two runs in the third. Hunter got only seven outs while giving up three homers, a double, and a single. Eighteen games, sixteen homers.
In the fifth game, getting crushed, Hunter pitched two innings in relief with no homers. New York closed things out one game later. Nineteen games, sixteen homers.
With the series tied, Catfish got the ball trying to get the Yankees closer to their second consecutive World Series. This is the game during which George Brett went crazy. To start the game, he became the third guy to hit a leadoff homer against Hunter. Another solo shot in the third followed. And when Brett came to the plate again in the fifth, he made it three straight solo shots. A fly out to center and a fly out to right against Goose Gossage in his final two trips ended Brett’s night, and backed by a Thurman Munson two-run shot in the eight, the Yankees managed to top the Royals. Twenty games, nineteen homers. New York closed things out the next night.
New York was down 1-0 when Hunter took the ball in the second game. Up 2-1 in the sixth, Ron Cey came to the plate with two outs and hit the most damaging home run Hunter ever gave up, a three run shot. Hunter gave up four runs in six innings to take the loss. The Yankees were down two games. Twenty-one games, twenty homers.
After three straight Yankee wins, Catfish was on the mound to close things out. He didn’t get things started well at all. Davey Lopes hit a leadoff homer. But the Yankees touched Don Sutton an inning later, Hunter was solid the rest of the way, and the Yankees won their second straight World Series. Twenty-two games, nineteen starts, twenty-one homers.
Don’t get me wrong. Catfish Hunter was a talented pitcher. And in the playoffs, he generally did well, posting the exact same 3.26 ERA that he did during the regular season. Of course his hit rate, his home run rate, and his K/BB ratio were all up in the playoffs. He allowed 1.0 homers per nine in the regular season, but that number spiked to 1.4 per nine in the playoffs. Still, I can’t quite crush the guy for that since he was pitching against better competition. Here’s the problem. He gave up way too many home runs. And he got lucky with them.
Regular Season Playoffs ======================================== Bases empty 67% 81% One on 26% 14% Two on 7% 5% Three on 1% 0%
Hunter gave up a decent number of solo shots or those with just one man on during the regular season as well. In the regular season, his home runs resulted in an average of 1.41 runs. In the playoffs, that number dropped to 1.24. Let’s pretend he allowed runs to score on his home runs at the same rate in the playoffs as he did during the regular season. His 3.26 payoff ERA would jump to about 3.85. Suddenly, Hunter seems a tick worse in the playoffs than he looked during the regular season. By itself, that’s pretty much a meaningless. However, when a Hall argument in his favor is playoff greatness, we have to reconsider that thought process. Based on his regular season, as I wrote a bunch a few years ago, Hunter is not a Hall of Famer. And it’s not like his playoff pitching drags him much closer.