" 'Cause I ain't got a curveball today," said Hunter, who struck out Ferguson on five straight heaters. The A's won 3-2 and destroyed the Dodgers in the Series, four games to one. By the fifth game, in Oakland, the A's had finally won a hometown following: Dodgers' leftfielder Bill Buckner, who had dissed the A's to reporters after Game 3, was pelted with Frisbees, garbage and whiskey bottles. The World Series, as an institution, would not be kind to this man.
Indeed, Game 5 would provide another indignity for Buckner and a coda to the A's greatness. Leading off the eighth, he singled to center and, when the ball got past North, took second base and headed for third. Jackson, backing up North, fielded the ball and fired to Green on the edge of the outfield grass. Green threw a perfect relay to Bando, who applied the tag. Buckner was out. "The play that epitomized the Oakland A's dynasty," Jackson calls it today. "We had played so long together as a unit that we knew where everybody would be without looking.... It was all instinct with us."
Jackson and Hunter would go on to win two more world championships—with the Yankees. In December 1974, an arbitrator ruled that Finley's failure to make payments to Hunter's insurance annuity in a timely manner voided his contract with the A's, and Hunter was free to sign with any team. He chose the Yankees, on New Year's Eve, for $3 million over five years. Thus ensued one of the longest and most diabolical wars in baseball history.
In the winter following the 1974 season, Bando purchased a new overstuffed leather chair to put in front of his locker. The first time the Yankees played in Oakland in '75, Hunter slipped into the A's clubhouse very early one afternoon and cut the chair to tatters.
Bando said nothing for two years, during which time he signed as a free agent with the Milwaukee Brewers after the 1976 season. Hunter pitched in Milwaukee one afternoon in 1977 and then retreated to the visitors' clubhouse. "I took a shower and put my pants on, and they felt kinda loose," Catfish says. "I go get my wallet out of the valuables locker, try to put it in my back pocket and it falls out on the floor. I walk to the mirror, take a look: I don't have the ass-end of my pants! I start yellin' for the clubhouse guy: Big Jim! Has Sal been in here? Big Jim says, 'Mmm-hmm. Sal has been in here.' So I have to wear my jacket around my ass to get to the bus. When I get there, Sal and his wife are waitin' in their car. He says, 'I've been waitin' two years, Cat.' " Bando used to wear a beautiful white fedora. Once,1 when the Brewers were playing in New York, he returned to his locker after a game to find the crown autographed, in bold black Magic Marker: JIM "CATFISH" HUNTER.
"His personality has not changed one bit since 1965," says Bando. "From the time Cat signed his first contract through stardom in New York, he has remained the same, down-to-earth, good person. If you didn't know who he was, you would never guess he was a famous athlete."
Hunter lives in a small ranch-style house in Hertford, two miles from the house he grew up in. His wife of 33 years, Helen, is his former high school sweetheart. When Hunter's illness became public last November, Bando telephoned immediately. "Most of the guys didn't know if it was O.K. to call," says Hunter, "but then word got out"—he was the same old Catfish—"and a lot of people started callin'."
"It kind of brought guys together," says Bando.
People send him quack medications in the mail—"hoaxes," Hunter calls them—followed, two weeks later, by a bill. But he has also received cards and letters that have touched him beyond measure: Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax and Harmon Killebrew are among those who have written. He received a donation for ALS 1research from the final batter of the perfect game he pitched in May 1968. Former Minnesota Twin Rich Reese wrote on the memo line of his check, "The Last Out."
There are two 1,000-yen notes on Hunter's kitchen table. They're not charitable donations. A Japanese man sent him baseballs to sign, and Hunter mailed them back unsigned. "Cost me $22 in postage," he mock-complains. "He sent me back Japan money."