The Ballpark Digest Awards not only honor the very best annually in professional baseball, they spotlight those individuals putting in the extra effort to pave new, successful passages on top of their other triumphs. Announcing our 2018 Ballpark Digest MLB Broadcaster of the Year: Pat Hughes, voice of the Chicago Cubs.
When it comes to broadcasting, an important aspect is connecting fans with the game, a role where Hughes, completing his 36th year as a Major League announcer and his 23rd as the Voice of the Cubs. succeeds. With his professionalism, warmth, passion, voice, and humor, Hughes is a standard bearer in the field of baseball radio play-by-play. He has furthermore contributed a great service by writing, producing and hosting “Baseball Voices,” a CD series honoring 15 broadcasting greats, from Jack Buck and Harry Caray to Dave Niehaus and Marty Brennaman.
“Nothing says summer like a drive with the windows open and Pat Hughes calling a game on the radio,” said Ballpark Digest Publisher Kevin Reichard. “Every game is a new game when he’s calling the action, even if you’re hundreds of miles away from the Friendly Confines.”
“I’m very pleased,” Hughes told Ballpark Digest. “It’s a wonderful honor…. I would say that there’s a part of me that just feels very happy that I’ve gotten this position in society where I’m a person that many, many people listen to every single day during the baseball season. They seem to like what I do.
“Every once in a while you complain in the season about the travel, or about not getting a day off, and then you drive by some construction site and you see some guys with the hard hats and the jackhammers, and it’s 95 degrees and here they are trying to break up a chunk of concrete and getting concrete bits flown into their face, and I think, you know what? Being a baseball announcer is not a bad way to go through life.”
Becoming a Broadcaster
Hughes grew up in the Bay Area, his ear bent to the sounds of Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons calling the Giants games, summer after summer. “I think when you’re 10 or 12 years old,” said Hughes, “you always think that the announcers you listened to were the greatest ever, and they’re better than anyone else. Of course you have no frame of reference because you haven’t heard anyone else. But oddly enough, Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons were two of the greatest ever, as evidenced by the fact that they both became Hall of Fame baseball announcers.
“And then over on the football and basketball sides, there was a guy named Bill King in the Bay Area, a legendary radio play-by-play announcer for the Golden State Warriors, the Oakland Raiders, the Oakland A’s, and I know that not many people nationwide know about Bill King, because he was primarily a regional or local radio announcer, but I would say, in the across the board category of football, basketball and baseball radio play-by-play, Bill King is not only the best in the history of our country, nobody else is even close.”
Hughes grew up playing both baseball and basketball, though he came to the realization in his late teens that there was a ceiling on his talent. “So I thought,” he recalled, “that the next best thing to go through life would be to be a play-by-play announcer for one of America’s great sports franchises. And when I was about 19, I began my play-by-play career.” This was Hughes’s life: Listening dutifully to Bill King, taking courses at San Jose State University, and broadcasting as much as he could. “I started doing play-by-play on anything and everything, football, basketball, baseball. I did radio, I did interview shows, I did sports reporting, I umpired and refereed.”
From San Jose State, he joined the San Jose Missions, and from there to San Jose cable sports, where he called every sport under the California sun. He rejoined baseball in the early 1980s, moving to the Columbus Clippers, where his work brought him the opportunity to jump into the Minnesota Twins television booth in 1983. The next season, he was in Milwaukee working at Bob Uecker’s side, serving as the No. 2 voice of the Brewers through the 1995 season.
Making it to Wrigley
And then, in 1996, he called his first season as the radio voice of the Chicago Cubs, taking over for Thom Brennaman. “They’ve called me the Voice of the Cubs for 23 years,” said Hughes. “I can assure you that is a very sweet way to go through life, being the Voice of the Cubs.
“I tell all kinds of young broadcasters, I say, just get out there and start doing it, take a recording device out to your local American Legion baseball field and sit way down the left-field line in foul territory. (I say foul, because I think umpires might frown if you were in fair territory.) But I say sit out there and just start doing play-by-play. It’ll feel very awkward the first time you do it. Hopefully the second time you do it, it’ll feel less awkward and so on, and so on. There’s nothing you can ever learn about doing play-by-play in a classroom or in a book. You can learn certain things, but the only true way to learn how to do it is to get out there and practice.”
Pat Hughes’s “Baseball Voices” CD set found its genesis in 2005. “It was wintertime in Chicago,” he remembered. “The winters prior to that, I had been a basketball coach for my daughter’s youth local basketball teams, but then they got a little older and they were no longer really into that. And I also had some shoulder surgery so I couldn’t work out as much. I was basically sitting around the house and cleaning out my den. In my position, you always receive promotional books and CDs and cassette tapes in those days of people who want you to have a copy with the hopes of you promoting it to improve their sales, and I understand how that works. But I would listen to some of these tributes, radio and video, and I would think, well, this is a good piece, but the guy who produced this has never been an announcer, and so he’s doing a CD or a book on an announcer, and what does he know about play-by-play?
“I started thinking about great calls…. If there was one spark of inspiration that initiated the entire series, it would be Jack [Buck]’s call of the Ozzie Smith home run in 1985, where he’s doing Cardinal radio, game against the Dodgers in the NLCS. Ozzie Smith hits the home run and Jack says, ‘Go crazy! Go crazy, folks!’
“Jack had passed in the year 2002, I believe, but he had been in our booth right before that, a year or two before, and he was so kind, and he was always good to me, and I said I love that call, the Ozzie Smith homer, he says, ‘I just pulled it out of one of the crevices of my brain, and that’s what came out.’” Thus motivated, Hughes first recorded a track on Smith’s class, and then a track on Buck’s call of Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series Game 1 home run to beat The Eck and Oakland (‘I don’t believe what I just saw!’), with the rest of the CD formulating thereafter.
From Buck, Hughes moved on to a Harry Caray collection, a natural transition since the two had served as broadcast partners in 1996 and 1997, Hughes’s first two seasons in Chicago and Caray’s last two seasons on the air. There was the connection, too, between Buck and Caray, who had been broadcast partners with the 1964 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. Once the two CDs were recorded and produced, Hughes mailed them off to Dan Caesar, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch media reporter. “And around Thanksgiving,” said Hughes, “maybe a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, [Dan] calls me and says, ‘Gosh, I listened to these two CDs and they’re really great.’ And I said, ‘Well, thank you,’ and we talked about it, and I hung up and thought nothing more about it.
“Then, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I get a call from a friend of mine in St. Louis. He says, ‘Wow, Dan Caesar just did a full column on your CDs. I think you’re going to get some sales.’ This was Saturday. And again, I thought, well, there might be ten, fifteen people that want to buy them. Well, Monday, I go to the post office, my little post office box there, and there was nothing, nothing in there. But then Tuesday, when I go there, the guy from the UPS store calls and says, “Uh, Pat, you’re going to have to come in and get your mail. We have no room for this many letters. There were literally 300 letters, all of them with a check in there, some of them wanting to buy Jack Buck, some of them wanting to buy Harry Caray. Most wanted to buy both of them. And I was overwhelmed. And then the next day, another hundred…
“The project was off and rolling, and the plane was in the air, and really it’s been airborne ever since.”
2018 Ballpark Digest Award Winners
MiLB Broadcaster of the Year: Tim Heiman
Commitment to Charity: Hartford Yard Goats
Team of the Year: Indianapolis Indians
Executive of the Year: Doug Scopel
Ballpark of the Year: SRP Park
Past Ballpark Digest Broadcaster of the Year winners:
2018 (MiLB): Tim Heiman, Binghamton Rumble Ponies
2017: Mick Gillispie, Tennessee Smokies; Howard Kellman, Indianapolis Indians
2016: Sean Aronson, St. Paul Saints
2015: Josh Whetzel, Rochester Red Wings
2014: Steve Klauke, Salt Lake Bees
2013: John Sadak, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
2012: Donny Baarns, Visalia Rawhide
2011: Jay Burnham, Trenton Thunder
2010: No award
2009: Mike Capps, Round Rock Express
2008: Paul Edmonds, Winnipeg Goldeyes (now voice of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets)