Get out the tape measure, Cubs radio legend Pat Hughes is going to the Hall of Fame (2023)

When Pat Hughes got the call to make the Hall of Fame, he was in his living room with Cubs officials and cameras there to capture the event for posterity, just in case he made it.

“I believe I had black trousers,” he said. “I had a sweater, it was vintage 1988, kind of a plaid number, very tasty to some people …”

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It wasn’t quite true as the video below attests, but you can hear Hughes’ voice in that quote, can’t you? His description of the Cubs’ uniforms before every game has become a part of the team lore. That’s when you know you’ve made an impact that will outlive you.

Pat Hughes gets the call from @baseballhall! pic.twitter.com/01qRlhc1ir

— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) December 7, 2022

Through good times and bad, Hughes has been the constant voice of Cubs baseball since 1996, a sweater-clad narrator for a franchise known for its rich history, day baseball and its many, many foibles.

And now he’s going to Cooperstown as the 2023 Ford C. Frick award winner.

“It’s just ridiculous,” he said Wednesday. “I can’t even believe it.”

It was fitting he got to call the last out of the World Series in 2016, making him the only broadcaster in team history to have that honor. After all, the first baseball game on the radio was broadcast in 1921, 13 years after the Cubs had last won it all in 1908.

Hughes, 67, was on the mic for many famous moments over the years but in truth, his value was always calling a Friday afternoon home game against the Pirates or a Tuesday night in Miami. Hughes, working with the late Ron Santo or his current partner Ron Coomer, can make any game sound interesting and important to a fan stuck in traffic or sitting in their backyard.

“I think I realized early on when you’re a big league announcer it’s a big responsibility, especially in a market like Chicago with the incredible fan base that comes out,” Hughes said Wednesday. “I don’t take any game lightly. They are out there in big numbers, whether the team is winning or losing. So you give them the best effort the best show, you try to make them laugh or smile a few times.”

Hughes’ voice is as smooth as an ice-cold Budweiser and as his friend Len Kasper says, “he’s as good a game caller as anyone I’ve ever heard. My favorite of all time is Ernie Harwell and Pat is in Harwell’s class just in describing when the ball’s in play.”

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He takes his job seriously, but not himself and certainly not his partners. He loves baseball, he loves the radio, but he knows it’s just a game. As he said Wednesday, it’s escapism.

For as much preparation he does, for as much care he puts into every call, Hughes’ dry wit is his secret weapon.

“You know, he was Bob Uecker’s straight man for 12 years and kind of became Santo’s straight man, but he’s not really the straight man,” said Kasper, who worked in the TV booth next to Hughes for 16 years with the Cubs. “He’s really funny, he’s got great stories. Obviously, the voice is incredible. So he has the whole package. He was just born to do this.”

Along with Uecker and Santo, Hughes also worked with Al McGuire doing Marquette basketball and would welcome in Harry Caray for regular radio appearances in his last years.

“What’s really terrifying is that the most normal of the four is Harry Caray,” Hughes said.

Of all his partners, he’s inexorably linked to the late Santo and their broadcasts on WGN Radio. Hughes has probably only told the story of Santo’s toupee catching on fire at Shea Stadium 500,000 times and each time he exaggerates a detail or two for comedic effect.

“I’ve thought a lot about him and I’m sure I will even more when the day kind of settles in and I have a chance to reflect back on today,” he said. “Ronnie was a great partner. We had a wonderful partnership. It was very unique. They call it the Pat and Ron show. I think we dominated the ratings for years and years. It was immensely profitable for the broadcast entities. And it was good for us too. But he was a lot of fun. We laughed a lot. And the stories about Ronnie will never get old and I’ll continue to tell them as long as people want to ask about them.”

Santo could give it back to Hughes too, especially about his sweater collection, which should have its own exhibit in Cooperstown. Once, I was flying back from spring training with Hughes and he was wearing a Canadian tuxedo and a long leather jacket.

The legend Pat Hughes is wearing his ceremonial opening-day sweater. He wore it on his first game as a Cubs radio man in 1996. “It looks very ‘90s, doesn’t it?” pic.twitter.com/rFGx7SH8Fu

— jon greenberg (@jon_greenberg) April 7, 2022

That he still has the sweater he wore for his first Cubs game in 1996 isn’t a shock. That he can fit into it is a testament to his workout routine, which is mostly playing basketball. He briefly played at San Jose State and can still shoot the rock.

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Hughes joins Jack Brickhouse (1983) and Caray (1989) as Frick winners. He made it over a slew of worthy rivals, including Duane Kuiper, Tom Hamilton, Gary Cohen and Chicago’s own Steve Stone. Hughes was on the ballot in 2017 and 2020, when Bill King, one of Hughes’ idols, and Hawk Harrelson won. He knew he was a finalist again in October but couldn’t get his hopes up.

“It’s something you can’t help but think about because it’s a possibility,” Hughes said. “But it’s something you never would take for granted. And you don’t expect it to happen. And you don’t think, ‘Oh yeah, I’m in. I’m gonna be there.’ You’re not sure, because there’s so many other good people that have a chance. So you just keep on keeping on. You keep on working as hard as you can and you keep doing the best job that you can. But that has nothing to do with the Hall of Fame. That just has to do with your basic work ethic.”

Hughes grew up in the Bay Area where he could listen to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons call games for the Giants and King do the Oakland A’s, Warriors and Raiders.

“I think Bill probably as much as anybody influenced the way I do radio work,” he told me in 2021.

All three are former Frick winners. And now that little boy from San Jose joins them in Cooperstown.

“Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons for theGiantsradio team when I was a kid,” he said in 2021. “And when you’re 10 years old, you think the guys that you’re listening to are the greatest announcers who have ever lived because you have no frame of reference, you haven’t heard anybody else. But boy, you sure like these guys, because they’re telling you about your favorite team. And you just kind of, you love what they do. And you’re there every day or every night. And you know, the funny thing is, when I got older, I realized that since both Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons are in the Hall of Fame, they are two of the greatest announcers who have ever lived. So I was very fortunate.

At night, he could get Vin Scully on KFI 640 AM. What a life for a baseball junkie.

“Sometimes, when the Giants played theDodgers, just for fun, we would turn on his broadcast and see what his interpretation was of (the) Giants-Dodgers game,” Hughes said.

Hughes is that man for millions of people. When teams kept limiting broadcasters’ travel in 2021, there were worries about radio’s future in this game. Hughes was sanguine about it then and now that things are back to normal, he sees a long life for this broadcast medium.

“I think that they’ve been talking about the demise of baseball on the radio ever since television began,” Hughes said. “But they haven’t killed radio yet. And I don’t think in the big markets like Chicago, where you have millions of people on the freeways, and on the streets, listening in their cars, every single minute of the game, I don’t think it’s gonna go away anytime soon. I really don’t.

“But it’s a special thing. I think part of it has to do with the fact that on radio, you have a constant chatter, and you’re a constant companion to the listener on the other end, and they feel sometimes like you’re part of their family. And to be frank about it, they tell you that. ‘You’re like a part of our family. In the summertime, whenever we have a barbecue, we always have you on the radio, whenever we’re in the car, we’re always listening to you on a long trip or a short trip.’ So there’s that intimate feeling that I don’t think you get on television.”

Hughes loves talking about his final out call for the World Series on a technical level, but if you really want to hear him at his best, just turn on the radio and listen to him banter with Ron Coomer and Zach Zaidman on some random summer night. That’s how a Hall of Fame career is made.

“The big calls are really important,” Kasper said. “But the sign of a great broadcaster almost has nothing to do with those. Because most broadcasters can nail the big moments by just basically getting excited, right? In our sport, it’s so much more important to just turn on a game and for five or 10 minutes, just feel like you’re listening to friends. And it’s comfort, it’s pacing, it’s energy. It’s a sense of humor, it’s broadcasting with a smile on your face.”

Hughes will be honored at the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in July. It will be a celebration for the Cubs, their fans and for Hughes and his family. But the best news is that he will still be calling games all season. While Caray’s TV broadcasts made Cubs games look like a party, Hughes still makes each game sound like a dream.

(Photo: Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune / TNS via Getty Images)

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