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Hunter conscious but still is critical

Jim "Catfish" Hunter was conscious and responding to doctors' commands Wednesday, three days after the Hall of Fame pitcher who has Lou Gehrig's disease fell down concrete steps at home and hit his head.

Hunter, 53, a 15-year veteran who earned five World Series rings, remained in critical condition in Pitt County Memorial Hospital's intensive-care unit, where he was hooked to a ventilator.

Doctors said Hunter, diagnosed last year with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis _ a gradual, irreversible deterioration of the muscles _ bruised his brain in the accident. He likely will require rehabilitation because he already was weakened by ALS.

"But it would be premature to even think about that," said Dr. Paul Cunningham, a trauma physician and professor of surgery at the East Carolina University School of University.

"His prognosis is still somewhat guarded. We're being hopeful as we can be, but we're taking things one day at a time."

Cunningham said no surgery was planned.

Hospital spokesman Doug Boyd said Hunter regained consciousness Wednesday after being unconscious much of the previous day. He began responding to commands _ "wiggle your toes and that sort of thing."

Hunter's wife, Helen, and other relatives gathered in the ICU declined to talk to the media.

Hunter played for the Kansas City and Oakland Athletics from 1965 until the Yankees made him the first multimillionaire player in 1974. He won 20 five straight seasons beginning in 1971 and won the Cy Young Award in 1974. He retired in 1979 with 224 wins, including a perfect game in 1968.