OAKLAND -- During his time as an ace right-hander for the A's, Jim "Catfish" Hunter was known as someone who carried more than his share of the load. Current A's catcher Kurt Suzuki can certainly identify with that, and so Wednesday's announcement that Suzuki was selected by his teammates and coaches as the recipient of the 2009 Jim "Catfish" Hunter Award seemed fitting. Suzuki, who likely will lead American League catchers in games started for the second consecutive season, and Hunter, who twice threw more than 300 innings and eclipsed the 250-frame mark in six other seasons, would have made quite the battery.
The kind that never runs out of juice. Before being formally presented with the annual award, which, according to a team release, honors an A's player "whose play on the field and conduct in the clubhouse best exemplifies the courageous, competitive and inspirational spirit demonstrated by the late Hall of Fame pitcher," Suzuki admitted that he doesn't have an encyclopedic knowledge of Hunter's legacy. Former A's catcher Ray Fosse, a teammate of Hunter's and a longtime broadcaster with the club, helped fill Suzuki in. "Foss told me some things," Suzuki said during batting practice before the third game of a four-game series against the visiting Rangers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. "Three-hundred innings, man. That's a workhorse." There was quality with the quantity, too. Hunter posted a 224-166 record and a 3.26 ERA in his 15-year career with the Kansas City/Oakland A's and New York Yankees, he holds Oakland's all-time career mark for wins (131), and he won 20 or more games in five consecutive seasons (1971-75). After helping the A's to their third consecutive World Series title in 1974, Hunter, who won a career-high 25 regular-season games that year, won the AL Cy Young Award. He earned five World Series rings during his career and was 4-0 with one save in seven World Series appearances with the A's, was an eight-time All-Star, did not miss a start from his '65 debut until the '77 season and was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in '87. "The guy was a stud," Suzuki said. "It's pretty cool to win an award with his name on it." Suzuki is on pace to become the second catcher in club history to lead the team in RBIs, and he was recently installed as Oakland's cleanup hitter, but he's also considered one of the game's top defensive catchers. This season, he has played a vital role in developing one of the youngest pitching staffs in the Majors, including a starting rotation that averaged 23 years of age for most of the season, including two 21-year-olds in Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, and a closer, Andrew Bailey, who is considered a leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year honors. Under Suzuki's leadership, the staff entered Wednesday's game ranked third in the AL in ERA (4.25) and has allowed the fewest home runs (145) in the league. "Any honor Kurt gets, he deserves it," said A's manager Bob Geren. "He's just a tremendous player all the way around." Hunter was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in September 1998 and died of complications from the disease on Sept. 9, 1999, at the age of 53. Previous winners of the Jim "Catfish" Hunter Award include Tim Hudson (2004), Mark Ellis (2005, 2007), Jason Kendall (2006) and Mike Sweeney (2008).
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.