Pat Hughes is beginning his 43d year in the big leagues. He began with the Twins on television in 1983, spent just one season, then to radio in Milwaukee under the imperial aegis of Bob Uecker. Baseball on radio became his love.
“Radio in my view is more intimate. The announcer is given the opportunity to develop a closer relationship with the audience. Remember, the TV guys shut up for a long time.” Uecker is still the number one man in Milwaukee and still nationally known. He turned 89 in January. You’d often see him as a guest of Johnny Carson on NBC’s Late Show. Uke turned a mentor of sorts to Hughes. as his number two for 12 years, between 1984 and ’95. In those days, Uke was out a lot on national MLB telecasts too.
By 1996, the dulcet toned and soft spoken Hughes, left Milwaukee for Chicago. Hardly a difficult decision! From number two in a smallish MLB town to number one in the third biggest market in America, Chicago. Cubs’ management, was able to listen to Hughes clearly on WTMJ 620, up the road in Milwaukee. He impressed them. For Pat, it was the biggest and brightest promotion of his career. He must have thought that he died and went to heaven! It’s his 28th season with the historic ballclub.
He’s been honored by the Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year Award three times and an Illinois Sportscaster of the Year Award nine times.
Hughes is committed to baseball which he absolutely loves. When I spoke with him late Sunday, while he was in Arizona, he was getting ready for a Cubs telecast which he’ll occasionally do as well. One of the first things he told me, “I sometimes enjoy preparation more than broadcasting. Preparing is love!”
Scully would tell interviewers that from his perspective, he eventually differentiated coverage, “On radio you’re puncher and TV a counter-puncher. Interestingly, Pat’s three best sports are in no particular order, Bob Costas (national), Bill King (Oakland football, baseball and basketball) and the invincible, Vin Scully. (Dodgers and NBC). Pat spent lots of time growing up in Northern California.
He won over Chicago early, painting accurate and comforting word-pictures, invariably and pleasantly. The late Ron Santo-Hughes duo made for an entertaining mix and became an informative combo in the Windy City. Pat segued Santo’s comments smoothly, giving the Cubs’ ex-third baseman his unpredictable space. His current color commentator is Ron Coomer and the two have also seemed to build a nice bond.
Pat’s had issues with his vocal cords, a little frightening for a talented announcer. He had to undergo surgery three times. He’s in high praise of his surgeon, Dr. Aaron Friedman. You can imagine someone making a living with his golden pipes and dulcet tone. Lots must cross your head when you’re throat is in the hands of a doctor. Your future is in his hands.
When we talked Sunday, Pat told me with a slight chuckle. “I am writing slowly.” Last fall, the native Arizonian, was voted the 2023 Ford Frick Award, considered the most coveted of baseball’s honors.
As preparation goes, getting ready game-after-game, Hughes will be given the biggest stage of his career, an opportunity to deliver a speech in Cooperstown. Think of the names he joins, Red Barber, Mel Allen, Vin Scully, Bob Costas and tens of others including mentor Uecker, still working, albeit a truncated schedule. You want it to be a jewel of a golden piece of vocal art.
If you’re wondering, the Royals’ Denny Matthews, 80, is in his 55th year. He leads both leagues. Uke is in his 53d year, a native son of Wisconsin.
Oh yes, the Pitch Clock? “We’ve already played three games,” Pat said. I’d say that we’ve averaged about two and a half hours each. One was closer to two hours.” A positive gentleman, he goes on to say that “the ball will be in play more than ever.”
After I told Pat that in my last interview with Vin Scully a few months before his death, he told me that too much of a fuss was being made of games being too lengthy. “Fans want to enjoy the ballpark.”
Hughes said he believes that players will adjust and the pitch-clock will help, pitchers, particularly, “because they’ll throw more rhythmically.”
I asked about what challenges this presents for on-air analysts who’ll now have to squeeze in their commentary. He said that all radio announcers in particular will have to adjust more quickly. How about time for commercial drop-ins? “It can be an issue. We generally weigh our commercial live reads through the first seven innings. If it becomes an issue of disruption, management might require shortened copy, or reading spots instantly, coming out of a break. We’ll figure it out.”
Fans interested in these matters should focus on whether fewer stories are shared, be it radio or TV. How about income from the concession stands? Folks like John Sterling, for all his play-by-play foibles is strikingly flawless reading copy, rarely, if ever making booboos.
For Hughes, he’ll be honored by The Baseball Hall of Fame this summer with the Frick Award. There will never be a prouder and more memorable day.
We were all saddened on Sunday to learn of the death of Tampa Bay radio announcer, Dave Wills, 58. A good, friendly man from the Chicago are! He joined the club in 2005, working with partner Andrew Freed for 18 years, when he died suddenly on Sunday.
“Yesterday was like every other day for the last 18 years. Sharing. Laughs. Baseball. Fun. No way to know it was the last time. Sadness beyond words today. It always felt like we were actual brothers. Will miss him forever. Love to him and his family.” Never easy!