This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Buddy Hunter described himself as an S.O.B. – a South Omaha Boy. Harold James Hunter was born in Omaha on August 9, 1947, and went to South High in the Nebraska city. As of 2014 he still lived about 20 miles south of downtown Omaha.
Hunter’s parents were both involved with cattle. His father, Harold Jr., was a cattle salesman in the stockyards, and his mother, Blanche (Zlata) Hunter, was a cattle-hide saleswoman. There was a little bit of baseball ancestry. Buddy’s uncle Don Hunter played for nine years in the Dodgers, Orioles, and Milwaukee Braves systems, making it as far as Triple-A, playing for the Sacramento Solons in the late ’50s. This was before expansion; there were 16 major-league clubs instead of 30. Don might well have made the majors in today’s baseball. And Buddy’s father played ball, too. He signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates and was assigned to their farm team in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The Sheboygan Pirates were like a low Class A team. It was a career that washed out pretty early, though. When he arrived in Sheboygan, it rained for 10 days and he never played a game. Frustrated, he said, “If it rains tomorrow, I’m going home.” It rained the next day, so he hopped a freight train and got back to Omaha three days before a letter he’d mailed to his wife arrived home.
Buddy even had a brother, Jeff, who was signed by the Red Sox. Jeff, 11 years younger than Buddy, found himself assigned to the Winston-Salem Red Sox. And found that his brother, Buddy, was the manager of the team. “He played three years and that was it,” said Buddy. “He was a home-run hitter that struck out a lot. He didn’t put the bat on the ball enough. He’d seen the handwriting on the wall and left. He had a job in the offseason and they said if you go off to play, don’t come back here anymore.” He stuck with the job.
It was Buddy’s father who got him started, taking him out into the yard when he was about 4. “He used to hit me groundballs, hit me fly balls. Hit, hit, hit, hit. That’s why I was a pretty good infielder and not a very good hitter; we practiced on me catching the ball all the time.” Evidently dad liked to hit too much himself and didn’t let Buddy get in enough cuts at the plate. Buddy played Little League, but credited the time he spent playing pickup games with friends on city parks and sandlots as more important to his own development. “If there wasn’t nine players on each team and there was nobody in right field, you hit to right field, you’re out. And then you had to go get the ball. That’s where I really learned how to play the game. You don’t see sandlot baseball anymore. It’s all organized. We patrolled ourselves. We didn’t have any parents around.”
Buddy played ball for South High in Omaha and made all-conference and all-state. He won himself a full-ride scholarship to the University of Nebraska. “I did well in sports, not too well in academics.” That was an understatement when it came to university. He lasted only one year. Hunter transferred to Pershing College, a small college in Beatrice, Nebraska. Pershing had an excellent baseball program, and Hunter recalled that in one three-year stretch six Pershing players were drafted into Organized Baseball. “There were more scouts in the stands than there were fans! If you had 24 major-league teams, there were 24 scouts there.”
Hunter was signed by Red Sox scout Danny Doyle, but it was a visit by farm director Neil Mahoney that probably sealed the deal. Mahoney, Hunter recalled, asked a lot of questions about family. He apparently liked what he learned; Hunter was drafted by the Red Sox on June 5, 1969, in the third round of the amateur draft, 61st pick overall. Rick Miller was picked in the second round that year, and Dwight Evans was picked in the fifth round. “I grew up a Yankees fan, but I got drafted by the Red Sox and kind of changed my allegiance a little bit and now I hate the Yankees.”1
Hunter got a $15,000 bonus. “Bought a half a house with that,” he recalled. He was assigned to Double-A Pittsfield in the Eastern League, and played at Waconah Park. It was unusual to start in Double-A right after being drafted, but there were a number of injuries and the Red Sox felt he could fill in one of their holes at Double-A. It may have been an unfortunate decision, because Hunter found himself in a tough pitching league. “I should have gone to A ball,” he said. But roving Red Sox coach Sam Mele was pleased that the youngster could hit .244 in the league, facing pitchers like Ed Farmer and Skip Lockwood. The next year, 1970, Hunter played in Pawtucket, as the Red Sox moved their Eastern League affiliate to that city from Pittsfield.
Pawtucket in 1970 was still a Double-A team. Hunter played in Pawtucket in 1970, then moved up to Triple-A Louisville in 1971 and 1972. In ’72, Louisville won the pennant, thanks to the play of Dwight Evans and a number of other talented players. In the winter of ’72, though, the park in Louisville was knocked down and made into a football stadium. The Red Sox transferred their Triple-A club to Pawtucket, where it was still located in 2014. For Buddy, it was like going from the big leagues back to the minors, because Louisville was “a great town” and then he was sent back to Pawtucket, which had been a Double-A town.
Hunter’s first year with the big-league club in spring training was actually 1970, though there was never any thought that he would make the major-league team. He was on the 40-man roster, though, on a major-league contract. Hunter made his first visit to the majors in 1971, debuting on July 1. Second baseman Doug Griffin had hurt his back, and the Red Sox wanted a little more depth behind veteran utilitymen John Kennedy and Phil Gagliano. Hunter didn’t get to play much, and said it was four or five weeks wasted sitting on the bench. But he did experience something that thousands of minor leaguers never have: the chance to get in a major-league game.
Buddy Hunter appeared in eight games in 1971, with a total of nine at-bats. He collected a single and a double, for a .222 average. And he got a taste of major-league ball. There are a couple of interesting side stories about Hunter’s first visit to “The Show.”
In Hunter’s first game, he ran for Luis Aparicio in the top of the ninth in Tiger Stadium, after Aparicio had been hit by a pitch. He moved to second on Reggie Smith’s single, then was able to trot home when Rico Petrocelli hit a three-run homer that lifted the Red Sox from a 7-5 deficit to an 8-7 score that held up for the game’s final score.
It was in his second appearance that Hunter got his first major-league at-bat. Way back in high school, playing for Omaha’s South High, the first pitcher Hunter ever faced was a kid from the Council Bluffs, Iowa, high-school team named Stan Bahnsen. Hunter was a freshman and Bahnsen was a senior. Buddy got a hit up the middle. When he entered the game on July 2 at Fenway Park, the starting pitcher for the Yankees was … Stan Bahnsen. Hunter came in to sub for Aparicio to start the seventh inning, and got his first at-bat leading off the bottom of the eighth. Bahnsen “threw me a fastball right down the can. And I popped it up. And I was looking for a fastball! I swing big-time. Major-league popup. It could just as easily have been a home run, but …” It was not until his fourth game that Hunter collected his first hit, in the eighth inning of a game in which he’d already worked two walks. He singled to Cleveland Stadium’s right field off Ed Farmer.
When Hunter had first arrived in Boston, he checked into the Fenway Motor Lodge (later the Howard Johnson’s on Boylston Street) and went over to the ballpark three hours before he was due to report, just to meet the batboys and clubhouse kids. “So I go over there and I meet them, and there’s this old guy and he picked up this towel. He’s got this white shirt on and it’s a real thin white shirt, and in his pocket he’s got this card that’s a yellow card. You could see the yellow color through. … That’s how thin his shirt was. The next day, same old man, picking up the towels. I went to the clubhouse kid and I went, ‘Hey, who’s the old man over there, picking up the towels?’ He says, ‘That’s Mr. Yawkey. He owns the team.’ So I went up to Mr. Yawkey, and he had the same white shirt on. The same yellow card in his pocket. I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘Mr. Yawkey, I heard so many nice things about you. I just want to introduce myself. I’m Buddy Hunter from South Omaha, Nebraska.’ He said, ‘Well, Buddy, congratulations on making the Boston Red Sox. I hope you have a great career.’ Two months later, I get called down to Louisville, and Dick O’Connell – he was the general manager, Dick O’Connell – he calls me in the office and he says, ‘Buddy, we’ve got to send you down. Doug Griffin’s coming off the disabled list. We’ve got to send you down to Louisville, and I don’t know what you said to Mr. Yawkey, but he wanted you to keep your major-league money and send you back to the minor leagues.’ And he said, ‘That’s the first time this has ever been done.’ I was making more than the managers were down there. It was only like $20,000 a year but still … playing minor-league baseball. Those guys were only making around $1,200 a month, you know, at the most.”
That was 1971. As we saw, Hunter played in Louisville in 1972, and the team won the pennant. Starting the season with Pawtucket in ’73, Buddy got another call-up to the Red Sox, when he was asked to join the team in Kansas City in late May. He took over defensively for Petrocelli at third base in the seventh inning of the May 27 game, and came up to bat in the top of the eighth. He hit a long single to left field, scoring Carl Yastrzemski from first base for his first RBI – albeit it in a game the Red Sox lost, 13-3.
In 1973 Hunter appeared in 13 games, but garnered only seven at-bats. He did have one big game, on July 8 in the second game of a doubleheader in Chicago. The White Sox had won the first game, 6-1, and the teams were tied 2-2 in the second game after nine innings. Before the game, outside the park the Wilson Sporting Goods sales rep was there meeting some of the players who were signed to Wilson. As Buddy recounted the story, “There’s about five guys, and myself, that were on Wilson contracts. Yaz goes up and he gets about three pairs of shoes and a glove. Aparicio goes up and gets about three gloves and a pair of spikes or two. After all of them were done, I went up to the guy and tell him, ‘Buddy Hunter.’ ‘And can I help you?’ I go, ‘Yeah, I’m on a contract, too.’ He looks me up and he goes, ‘Oh yeah, Buddy, yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re on the contract. What do you need?’ I said, ‘I need one pair of shoes. Size 10.’ And he looked, and he goes, ‘Out of them. I’ll send you a pair.’ “
Dwight Evans led off the Boston 10th with a double, and Hunter singled him in with the go-ahead run. That was all it took, as the White Sox failed to score in the bottom of the 10th, but as it happened, the Red Sox scored nine times in the top of the inning. Hunter doubled his second time up. So, back to the Wilson rep. Hunter picks up the story: “I’m in the game. I win the game. I turn two double plays that game. I had a great game. After the game, he comes up to me. After I get the game-winning hit and turn five double plays in nine innings. … I get the game-winning hit, and he comes in the locker room. He goes … ‘Buddy … uh … I found two pairs of size 10s. … ‘ “2 Buddy was up for about six weeks, then was sent back down, but meanwhile had gone 3-for-7 at the plate. His .429 average led the team in 1973 (but it was with only the seven at-bats).
At the very end of 1973, though, on December 10, Buddy Hunter was sold to the Kansas City Royals. He played the 1974 season in Omaha, of all places, for the Omaha Royals. It was his hometown, but as it happened, it was the worst year of his career. George Brett was on the team. So was Dennis Leonard. It was a great team on paper, but too many players were called up to the parent club. And Buddy had a bad year, batting just .216.
A funny thing happened on the way to the 1975 season. “In the spring, like in February when your contract comes out, all of a sudden I get a contract from Boston instead of the Royals. And I’m going, Wait a minute? Who am I? Royals or Red Sox? Well, anyway, I got this contract so I called Boston. They said, ‘We bought you back.’ It was a scam deal. They just protected me.” What really had happened, he pieced together later. The Red Sox had acquired Juan Marichal in December 1973, but had no room for him on the 40-man roster. As it turned out, Kansas City had only 39 players on its roster. So a deal was done, and Hunter played 1974 in the Royals system only to find himself back with the Red Sox when he was, in the words of baseball-reference.com transaction data, “sent from the Kansas City Royals to the Boston Red Sox in an unknown transaction.” Hunter said he subsequently learned that a couple of years later Mike Easler had sued and won a lawsuit over the same practice. We were unable to verify this. Essentially, the Red Sox had parked Hunter on the Kansas City roster for a year, and then collected him back in time for the 1975 season.
Hunter started the season with Pawtucket and was called up, again at midseason, again due to injury. “They always sent me up in the middle of the year. That’s why I don’t have a baseball card,” he said. Baseball card photos were typically taken in spring training. He got in just one game, on June 1 against the Minnesota Twins. He got up once – his last major league at-bat – and grounded out to end the seventh. He’d been up every other year – 1971, 1973, and 1975. He would never come up again, though he didn’t know that at the time. “Darrell Johnson … said the guy at second base is not doing good for me, Buddy. I’m going to work you in the tail end of games, get you some experience. You’re going to be my starting second baseman. So I sat on the bench for about a week and never got in a game. I got in one game, and all of a sudden, he calls me in his office and he says, ‘We’re going to send you back to Pawtucket. We have three doubleheaders in five games. I need to call up a pitcher. We’re going to send you down and then we’re going to call you right back up after these doubleheaders. I still want you to be my second baseman.’ I went down to Pawtucket. They’re playing in Rochester. First game in, broke my wrist. So I don’t know if I would have been called back up again. I wasn’t, because I was injured. That’s when they purchased the contract of Denny Doyle. He did one hell of a job for the Red Sox and I never returned to the big leagues.”
Hunter did resume play with Pawtucket in ’75, but watched on television as the Red Sox competed in the World Series. He got a $250 share, less than the batboy, $186.12 after taxes. It paid the rent the month it arrived, though.
Buddy spent 1976 in Pawtucket and had a very good year. In 1977 Pawtucket won the International League pennant and Hunter was named co-MVP of the league, with his teammate, third baseman Ted Cox. Hunter has nothing but good things to say about Pawtucket manager Joe Morgan. He said he still kept in touch with Morgan every two or three weeks. In 1978 and 1979, he played with Pawtucket, but never got a call-up, even late in the season. Denny Doyle was the regular second baseman for the Red Sox through 1977, and Jerry Remy took over in 1978. Hunter was already working with the PawSox as a player-coach, in effect getting training to become a manager after he was finished playing. He was getting older, and “that last year, I think I collected my check with a gun and a mask. I wasn’t very good.” Starting in 1980, Hunter managed in Winston-Salem for two years. As we have seen, one of the players he managed for the Winston-Salem Red Sox was his younger brother.
At that point, Hunter decided to leave baseball. What happened was that Red Sox farm director Ed Kenney called him up and offered him a job taking over for a scout who had just retired in California. Buddy and his wife, Lori, had met in high school. They visited the area to look for a home, but found the cost of living such that even with the small raise the Red Sox offered, “We would have went broke out there. We would have had to live in the slums.” He went into sales instead, and as of 2014 had worked for more than 32 years, quite successfully, for a company selling material handling products – from school and employee lockers to warehouse shelving and racking, conveyers, carts, and dollies.
Jeff Hunter’s daughter Lindsey was second-team all-American in volleyball with the University of Missouri in 2004-05, her junior year, and later played in international competition. She was named Mizzou Women’s Athlete of the Decade and awarded a spot in the Mizzou Athletics Hall of Fame. Buddy’s nephew Staff Sergeant Jason A. Parker, his sister’s son and a fiur-time Olympian, won the Gold Medal in the air-rifle shooting World Cup in 2003, setting a new world’s record in the process with a score of 702.5 out of a possible 709.
Buddy Hunter’s own daughter, Cari, played some softball; she worked for her mother running a Curves franchise but raising three children on her own while getting a master’s degree in corporate leadership kept her busy. She took a position with Berkshire Hathaway.
His oldest son, Casey, earned a full scholarship to play baseball at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, but his engineering curriculum prevented him from pursuing the game further. In 2014 he was running the Toyota forklift distributor in Nebraska. The Hunters’ youngest son, Andrew, is a professional golf instructor.
Buddy Hunter was pleased to be included in the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park celebration in 2012, and remains a Red Sox (and Patriots and Celtics) fan to this day.
Last revised: September 5, 2014
Interviews with Buddy Hunter, August 24, 2005, and August 28 and 30, 2014. All quotations from Hunter are from his interviews unless otherwise indicated.
Thorn, John, Pete Palmer, and Michael Gershman, Total Baseball, Seventh Edition (Kingston New York: Total Sports Publishing, 2001).
1 Author interview with Buddy Hunter on August 30, 2014. The first-round pick in 1969 was Noel Jenke, who was drafted by three pro sports teams – the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the Boston Red Sox. He signed with Boston, and played 2½ years in the system, but didn’t do as well as hoped. He did reach the top ranks in football, though; Jenke played four seasons in the NFL.
2 There were actually only two double plays, in ten innings.