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Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Sun-Times
22 Jul 2023

NextImg:Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes expresses gratitude to all in Hall of Fame speech

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Pat Hughes makes his living speaking extemporaneously to tens of thousands of listeners on Cubs radio broadcasts. So it’s interesting that reading a prepared speech at a private ceremony would make him nervous.

That was Hughes’ task Saturday, when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting. 

“Just that concept alone, speaking at the Hall of Fame, is enough to make your hand shake just a little bit,” Hughes said beforehand. “But I’ve been a trained broadcaster for a long time. I speak for a living. Just hoping that today is kind of like the final out of Game 7 of the World Series where you hope that the words tumble out of your mouth in the proper order.”

To the surprise of no one, that’s exactly what the words did.

Hughes expressed gratitude to family, friends and colleagues for helping him make it in the business. He shared behind-the-scenes stories, including the first time he worked with longtime radio partner Ron Santo. And he thanked Cubs fans for making him feel like part of their family.

He shared another story about the first time he called play-by-play — sitting on the bench as a reserve for San Jose State’s basketball team. Out of “sheer boredom,” Hughes called the action of his own team, then stopped before anyone grew annoyed. But a teammate said, “Pat, you’re not that bad. Keep that going.”

“So you could say that in my play-by-play career, the first listening audience consisted of other benchwarmers on my college team,” Hughes said. “Sort of an inglorious beginning.”

But Hughes took off from there, calling any game he could on student radio station KSJS, harshly critiquing his own work and incorporating elements he liked from established broadcasters, such as Russ Hodges, Lon Simmons and Bill King, whom Hughes listened to growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

Hughes shared the story of Santo calling him the night before their first Cactus League game together on WGN in 1996. 

“He said, ‘Pat, I know you’re nervous. Don’t be,’ ” Hughes said. “ ‘You’re going to be fine; we’re going to have fun. OK? I’ll see you tomorrow.’ As he spoke those words, I could feel the tension leave my body. 

“The next day, in the first half-inning, Ron Santo and I clicked immediately. After the third out, he stands up, smiling, and shakes my hand. And the look on his face said, ‘Oh, boy, this is gonna be great.’ Ronnie and I shared a unique chemistry.”

Thus began the “Pat and Ron Show,” which lasted 15 years. 

Hughes also shared the advice then-Cubs TV voice and 1989 Frick Award winner Harry Caray gave him. It would prove useful calling the Cubs, especially. 

“He said, ‘Pat, when you become a baseball announcer, you don’t just sign up for the winning games and the exciting seasons,’ ” Hughes said. “ ‘You sign up for everything.’ ”

Hughes praised his current radio partner of nearly 10 years, Ron Coomer.

“He explains the game in a way that is easy for the audience to understand,” Hughes said. “As long as I’m doing radio play-by-play for the Cubs, I want to have Ron Coomer right next to me.”

He acknowledged all the third voices he has worked with in the booth (Zach Zaidman, Andy Masur, Cory Provus, Judd Sirott and Mark Grote), in addition to engineers, producers and executives. And he saved his last thanks for Cubs fans, who have thought enough of Hughes to invite him to graduations, bar mitzvahs and birthdays.

“I love those games at Wrigley Field where you fans are not just part of the ballpark atmosphere, you become part of the ballgame itself,” Hughes said. “As a broadcaster, I feed off your energy. It has been my extreme privilege to be one of your announcers.”