Pat Hughes considers himself one lucky guy.
“When I was in college, if anyone would’ve said you’re going to have a long career and be in the big leagues for five years, I would’ve said, ‘Great, sign me up,'” Hughes said. “Now 41 years, it’s almost ridiculous. It’s so sublime it’s incomprehensible. How did I get here?”
The answer to that question seems obvious to anyone who has followed his career.
Hughes worked hard at his craft, was dedicated to learning everything he could about the game and its players, became a respected and beloved voice of the Chicago Cubs and performed his job long enough and well enough to earn the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting.
Saturday afternoon at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, NY, a day before the National Baseball Hall of Fame inductions of Scott Rolen and Fred McGriff, Hughes will be honored by the Hall and receive his plaque, putting him in the company of Cubs greats Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray.
During Wednesday’s Cubs game at Wrigley Field, Hughes said in an interview with the Tribune he has been working on his speech for several months, writing “a little bit here, a little bit there.”
Hughes, 68, flew to Cooperstown on Thursday to prepare for the big weekend, with family, friends and several co-workers from the Cubs organization and WSCR-AM 670 on hand.
“I’m sure it’s going to be exciting,” he said. “Primarily what I’m going to do is thank a lot of people. I’m not really comfortable talking about myself. I will talk a little about myself, because I have to, but I’ve had so many great partners and engineers and the people that hired me way back when.
“A little bit about my family and my parents, my wife, Trish, my kids, and my two brothers.”
Hughes’ speech will be streamed live on mlb.com and available on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Facebook page. MLB Network will air Saturday’s HOF weekend events, including baseball writer John Lowe’s acceptance of the BBWAA’s Career Excellence Award, and former Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine getting the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, on Sunday.
After WSCR broadcasts the Cubs’ afternoon game against the St. Louis Cardinals, morning show host David Haugh will man a postgame show that will air Hughes’ speech. The station will also air a three-hour special on Hughes’ career from 6-9 pm Friday, including interviews with current partner Ron Coomer, former partner Bob Uecker and others, and taped highlights of his greatest calls.
So how did Hughes get here?
He grew up in San Jose, Calif., wanting to be either an NBA point guard or a major-leaguer but realized around age 17 he couldn’t realize either dream.
“But I wanted to make a living in sports somehow,” he said. “Coaching, umpiring, refereeing. I did both of those jobs putting myself through college (at San Jose State).”
He credited his late brother, John, for pushing him into the business. John was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Pat said.
“He made some bad choices and passed away about 15 years ago, but he got me started in broadcasting,” he said. “He was a senior when I was a freshman in college, and he was taking broadcasting classes and dabbling in play-by-play. He suggested broadcasting, so I gave it a shot. I worked at it and took it seriously. I made a dedicated commitment, and I was lucky.”
Hughes started out in the minors at age 22, broadcasting games of his hometown San Jose Missions, a Triple-A team, and worked his way up to the Minnesota Twins TV play-by-play man by 1983.
“I was 27 when I called my first big-league game, so it’s not like I had to wait that long,” he said. “I was really lucky and I worked really hard to get there. I knew the competition was going to be severe and the odds were overwhelmingly against you ever doing a big league game. I thought I’d give it a shot, and if it doesn’t work out then I’ll go to Plan B.”
Which was what?
“I don’t even know what Plan B was,” he said with a grin. “Law school maybe?”
Hughes soon left the Twins for a job broadcasting Milwaukee Brewers games and spent 11 years with the legendary Uecker, another Frick Award winner, while calling Marquette basketball in the offseason. Hughes and Uecker had a good rapport, but Hughes knew he could never be a No. 1 in Milwaukee as long as Uecker was in the booth.
The Cubs’ radio job on WGN-AM 720, working alongside former player Ron Santo and occasionally between Santo and Caray, was too good to pass up.
“I told him the team and the game are what people are listening for,” Uecker told the Tribune after Hughes was hired to be the Cubs play-by-play man in 1995, replacing Thom Brennaman. “We won’t last forever. There is always going to be someone else who will come along and announce the game. Pat believed me when I said it.”
When Hughes signed a two-year contract as the Cubs play-by-play man in 1995, he told the Tribune he was done changing jobs.
“I’m not a gypsy broadcaster,” he said. “I’m already uprooting one daughter from 1st grade. And you know how traumatic that can be. I’m content to stay here the rest of my life.”
The rest is history. Hughes became a staple on the North Side, where a cool and calm delivery mixed with bursts of excitement on big plays and humorous banter with his analysts melded into a staccato rhythm enjoyed by Cubs fans young and old.
Then one day in 2016, Hughes became part of history.
On Nov. 2, after the final out of Game 7 of the World Series, Hughes would become the first and only Chicago broadcaster to make the call — “the Chicago Cubs win the World Series!” Radio, of course, had not been invented when the Cubs last won a championship in 1908.
On Saturday afternoon at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, Hughes is set to be recognized as one of the greatest baseball broadcasters of all time.
So sublime, and so well-deserved.