By People Staff
Updated January 07, 1999 12:00 AM
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Baseball legend Jim “Catfish” Hunter, the Hall of Fame pitcher who ushered in the era of big bucks for baseball’s free agents, died Thursday after battling the disease named after another New York Yankee great, Lou Gehrig. Hunter, who always considered himself just a local North Carolina boy (he died at his home in Hertford, N.C., just a few miles from where he was born), was one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers during a 15-year career that brought him five World Series rings — three with the Oakland Athletics and two with the Yankees. He strung together five straight 20-victory seasons, pitched a perfect game in 1968, won a Cy Young Award in 1974 and was an eight-time All-Star. James August Hunter — nicknamed “Catfish” by the A’s flamboyant owner Charlie Finley but called Jimmy by his family and hometown friends — was 53.