Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes honors late older brother who sparked Hall of Fame career

“He more than anyone else got me started in broadcasting,” Hughes said of his brother John, who died in his mid-50s. “He had a very difficult life; just problem after problem.”

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Pat Hughes throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Opening Day game between the Cubs and Brewers on March 30 at Wrigley Field.

Pat Hughes throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Opening Day game between the Cubs and Brewers on March 30 at Wrigley Field.

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As a freshman at San Jose State, Pat Hughes would visit his older brother, John, a senior, at his apartment on campus. Both aspiring broadcasters, they’d listen to tapes of play-by-play announcers and analyze every word, pause and inflection. They’d crack open a beer and listen to the same plays 10, 20 times.

They’d listen to Vin Scully, Russ Hodges and Bill King. In fact, one of Pat’s favorite calls is King’s description of the “Immaculate Reception” in 1972.

“We played that over and over,” Hughes said. “We said, ‘How could he have identified that it was Franco Harris in the middle of the field catching that ball out of the air?’ You really have to concentrate; you don’t just watch the ball, whatever the sport is. It taught us good play-by-play lessons.”

Hughes put those lessons to work, calling Twins games in 1983 and Brewers games for the next 12 seasons before joining the Cubs’ radio booth in 1996. His brother wasn’t able to.

“John was a paranoid schizophrenic,” Hughes said. “He did not have a good life. He made some bad decisions. But I think the illness had something to do with that. He was so full of fun before he had some of the self-inflicted problems that he had in college and shortly thereafter.”

John died in his mid-50s.

“But he more than anyone else got me started in broadcasting,” Hughes said. “So John was a very special guy in my life.”

John was one of the many people on Hughes’ mind as he prepared his speech for his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. On Saturday, he’ll be the 47th recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award, presented annually to a broadcaster for “major contributions to baseball.”

John’s influence on Pat wasn’t limited to broadcasting. John was about 3½ years older than Pat, and when Pat turned 11, John would let him tag along and play games with boys who were 14.

“That’s hard when you’re 11 trying to play against guys that are a head taller than you,” Hughes said. “But it really toughened me up, and then when I would play against kids my own age, I dominated, you know? So he was good on that, too. We used to shoot baskets by the hours and play football and baseball. He always included me, always took me along.”

For Hughes, 68, writing the speech was like taking a trip back in time. He thought of everyone he could thank for helping him reach the pinnacle of his profession. Then he whittled the list to fit in a 15-minute time limit, leaving enough room to share a story or two.

He’ll begin with his late parents, Mary and Vergil. Both were educators, Mary an elementary school teacher before marrying, and Vergil a college professor. To their five children — Pat was No. 3 — they stressed reading and getting good grades in school. They weren’t strict about it; they tried to make learning fun by playing word games and Trivial Pursuit and watching “Jeopardy!” together.

“They’re a big part of who I am, my parents,” Hughes said. “You start thinking about them, and I really wish they could be here.”

Vergil died in 1994 and Mary in 2020. But Hughes will have plenty of family and friends on hand. His younger brother, Chuck, will fly in from San Jose. A high school basketball teammate, a college friend and a golf buddy will be there. And, of course, his wife, Trish.

Hughes also will be joined by his Cubs radio partners, analyst Ron Coomer and pregame and postgame host Zach Zaidman, who also fills in for Hughes. They’ll miss games Friday through Sunday against the rival Cardinals to celebrate with Hughes.

“This makes me feel great [that] they’re going to be there,” Hughes said. “It meant so much to me that they wanted to be there with me.”

If there’s a theme to Hughes’ speech, it would be gratitude. Listeners might hear the word “grateful” a time or two as Hughes reflects on calling major-league baseball for generations of fans who enjoy his descriptions and accounts of the game, as well as his smooth and often deadpan style.

“One of the lines I’m going to use early is, ‘I realize that the Ford C. Frick Award is a coveted and cherished individual honor, but there is simply no way I ever could have gotten here without the support and help of a lot of other people,’” Hughes said. “So I’m grateful. That’s the one word.”

Almost a year after joining the Cubs’ Hall of Fame at Wrigley Field, Hughes will step up in class, joining the best of the best in baseball. That includes former Brewers partner and 2003 Frick Award winner Bob Uecker and former Cubs partner and 1989 winner Harry Caray.

But like during his broadcasts, Hughes is trying to keep an even-keel with his emotions and even add some levity. After he finalized his speech this week, he sent it to staff at the Hall of Fame who would put it in a binder for him.

“I told him, ‘Please make it large print because I’m an older fellow and I need to be able to see the words,’ ” Hughes said. “It’s all good. I’m trying not to ruin anything by having too much tension because it’s the thrill of a lifetime.”

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