The Voice: Pat Hughes’ sound, style are worthy of Hall of Fame
Cubs radio play-by-play man of 24 seasons doesn’t just call games, he reports them. He’s among eight candidates for the Ford C. Frick Award, which will be announced Wednesday.
A great broadcasting voice is more than a sound; it’s an instrument and a comforter. It’s authoritative and informative. It takes you places without having to travel. It provides color where there’s none. It’s a playground slide of words that roll smoothly off the tongue.
The Baseball Hall of Fame has its own qualifications for being inducted into the broadcast wing: ‘‘Commitment to excellence, quality of broadcasting abilities, reverence within the game, popularity with fans and recognition by peers.’’ And that’s all well and good.
But my checklist is more specific. It includes a voice of distinction, professionalism and trust. So when the Hall of Fame announces the recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award on Wednesday, I hope it goes to Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes.
Hughes, 64, was a finalist in 2017 (the award runs in three-year cycles of team announcers, national announcers and broadcasting pioneers). He has called baseball for 37 seasons, beginning with the Twins in 1983 before moving to the Brewers in 1984 and the Cubs in 1996.
Hughes doesn’t just call games, he reports them. He’ll say, ‘‘This is Pat Hughes reporting,’’ at the start of each broadcast, and that distinction isn’t lost on me. It has the sound of a bygone era, which is fitting for a franchise as old as the Cubs. I picture Hughes wearing a fedora with a card that says ‘‘PRESS.’’
He shows the attention to detail a reporter would. His descriptions of teams’ uniforms are renowned, even earning a sponsor. He also will describe the scene beyond the game, especially at Wrigley Field, where he often will comment on his view of Lake Michigan and the neighborhood.
But Hughes gets the most out of his voice calling the action. It rises and falls with the Cubs’ fortunes, but not to the degree of homerism. He won’t cover for a Cubs player’s mistake, nimbly being critical without criticizing. Even if he wanted to, it’s hard to believe he has a negative bone that would allow it.
Hughes’ play-by-play calls are stories within the game. There’s a beginning (‘‘He cracks one in the air’’); a middle, in which his voice builds as he describes the action; and an end, after which he’ll retrace the players’ steps, as though to report his account officially.
Hughes will share other stories, too, from baseball history. He must have an encyclopedic knowledge of the game because radio booths aren’t big enough to store it all. He also will turn to his trusty ‘‘This date in baseball’’ list during lulls and blowouts. Hughes’ preparation is evident.
But he doesn’t let his professionalism sap his sense of humor. Hughes would make a good straight man in a comedy bit, considering his many one-liners that elicit laughter in the booth. And he doesn’t shy away from poking fun at himself, either.
Hughes has been fortunate enough to call more postseason Cubs games than anyone, and he’s the only one to call a Cubs World Series winner. But when the Cubs haven’t been watchable, Hughes has made them listenable, and that’s a special trait for a broadcaster.
FORD C. FRICK AWARD BALLOT
Candidates are listed with their longest affiliation. Electorate is comprised of the 11 living award recipients and four broadcast historians/columnists.
Joe Castiglione: Red Sox radio
Jacques Doucet: Expos French radio
Tom Hamilton: Indians radio
Ken Harrelson: White Sox TV
Pat Hughes: Cubs radio
Ned Martin: Red Sox radio/TV
Mike Shannon: Cardinals radio
Dewayne Staats: Rays TV