Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pat Hughes

Pat Hughes has been the play-by-play voice of the Chicago Cubs on WGN Radio since 1996.

Rick: Doing baseball play by play is one of the most difficult jobs in radio. You have to paint a picture with words—something I think you do incredibly well, by the way, but you have to do it day in and day out, 162 games a year. Plus, baseball is a sport that has a lot of down time that needs to be filled. What do you consider the biggest challenge of the job?

Pat: I think the sheer volume of games—most people have no concept of what it’s like to do 162 games. Unless you’ve actually done it—it’s hard to describe how difficult that is. Add to that, the travel, which can be absolutely exhausting.

Take tonight as an example (we did this interview on Tuesday). The game starts at 7, so even if it’s a quick game, it won’t be over until 10 or so. Then I have to drive to the airport, wait for the team to arrive, and if we’re lucky, we’ll leave Chicago around 12:30. We’re going to Philadelphia, which means we lose an hour, so it’s really going to be 1:30 when we leave. We’ll arrive there at 3:30 or so, wait for our bags, get to the hotel around 4:00, wait for our luggage again, get checked into our rooms, and by the time this 54-year-old head hits the pillow, it will be 5:30 in the morning. The travel is probably the most grueling part of the job.

Rick: This is your fifteenth season with the Cubs, and you’ve obviously had to broadcast your fair share of games when the Cubs are out of the race, or out of the game. I would guess that’s when it really gets really difficult. Do you prepare extra material for games or seasons like that?

Pat: I kind of do. I have a baseball history file as thick as Webster’s Dictionary for each month, and you get a sense when you’re going to need to dip into it more. But you’re right—that’s a very good observation. It’s much more difficult during a losing year.

Rick: You’re obviously a student of the art form. I read your book about Harry Caray, and I know you’ve also narrated a series about other greats like Bob Uecker, Jack Buck, Harry Kalas, and Marty Brennaman. There are some more I’m forgetting...

Pat: Red Barber’s another. There are a few more. You can check them all out at

Rick: It’s obvious you look up to all of them for different reasons, but is there one broadcaster that you consider the very best?

Pat: Personally, my favorite was Bill King (photo). He was the radio voice of the Raiders, the Warriors, and the A’s in the Bay Area. He passed away about five years ago. He was an absolute Bay Area legend. I considered him to be a genius. In my opinion, he was the best radio play by play man in history—no-one else is even close.

There have been three grand masters, in my view. One of them is Vin Scully—he’s tremendous—truly great. The second is Bob Costas, who in a way is in a class by himself, because of all he does in all the different venues and sports, in studio and play by play—just amazing, and the third is Bill King.

Those three are above all the rest, even better than some of the other greats like Al Michaels. That’s my opinion, anyway.

Rick: Your chemistry with Ron Santo is really amazing—it’s like yin and yang. He is pure emotion—and you are the voice of reason. I’m sure that’s part of the secret to your chemistry, but there’s obviously more to it than that. It seems like you also have real affection for each other. Would that be fair to say?

Pat: Yes it would. We have amazing harmony, very few bad vibes. Forget baseball, he’s just an extraordinary human being. I’ve never met anyone like him. Beyond baseball, he’s an icon for diabetics everywhere. What he’s been through! What he’s accomplished! Ron’s an inspiration.

Rick: Have the two of you ever had a fight?

Pat: (laughs) Hell no. Anytime you work together as long as we have, you have a few minor little disagreements, but nothing bad. Never.

Rick: I used to love when you did the attendance game with him and you beat him every day. Even for something like that—his emotions were on his sleeve—he would get so upset. I know that’s what Cub fans love about him. As much as it hurts us to lose, we can hear in his voice that it hurts him even more. Do you ever worry that the strain of that is having a detrimental effect on his health?

Pat: I used to, but not anymore. The man is 70 years old. He’s had diabetes, and cancer. He’s lost his bladder and his legs. He’s gone through everything you can imagine. Why would you worry anymore? He’s like a superman, a man of steel. Plus, I think it’s better for him to get it out of his system, than to let it build up inside him.

Rick: How would you compare working with Ron to working with Bob Uecker?

Pat: It’s a totally different format. In Milwaukee we worked solo really, switching off play by play. In Chicago, other than the inning or so I get off, I do all of the play by play, and Ron does all the color.

In some ways the two of them are similar: They’re among the most popular figures in the history of their respective cities, they’re both ex-players, although granted—a slightly different caliber—Ron was a great player and Uecker was more of a mediocre one. But I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have worked with both of them. In addition, I worked with Harry Caray for two years, and did Marquette basketball with Al McGuire. Those are some larger than life personalities. I’m lucky to have known and worked with all of them.

Rick: Obviously your workday isn’t just the broadcast itself. You’ve already mentioned the travel, but take me through a typical game day, before the game. I understand you have a few rituals.

Pat: I do have a routine, like anyone. I do prep, I read as much as I can, because I like to know what I’m talking about, but I don’t overdo it—you don’t want to just give stats all game, but if you pull out the right ones, that’s the secret to making it compelling. As for my routine, I like to work out every day.

I’m not obsessed with baseball or talking like most broadcasters are. Most of them are natural yakkers, and talking about the game itself is just a natural extension of how they are the rest of the day. I’m not that way. For me, it’s a performance, there’s an element of acting involved. I don’t talk talk talk all day—rehashing what just happened. I couldn’t live that way. When the game is over I move on.

Rick: As you mentioned earlier, in the past few years you’ve gotten to take off an inning or a half inning—and turned over the microphone to Andy Masur, then Cory Provus, and this year it’s Judd Sirott. Was that something you asked for in your contract—to get a little breather during the game?

Pat: Absolutely. I’ll continue to ask for that, because I really do need it. I don’t think people appreciate how difficult it is to do a whole game like that without a break—especially if you make it sound fun and easy. If it sounds easy, it must be easy, right? Not exactly. It’s hard work. Last night I did a three hour game, and I was exhausted after it was over. It’s a tiring job.

Rick: What do you do during your inning off?

Pat: Nothing set every time. I usually walk around a little bit, have a little water, turn my mind off, talk to some people. I’m still paying attention to the game, but it’s a mental break more than anything.

Rick: I know you’re incredibly busy—so thanks for taking time to do this. I only have one more question. How long do you see yourself working as the play by play man for the Cubs?

Pat: I’m not sure. It’s a good way to make a living, but I just don’t know. I’ve done five years in the minors, and 28 in the big leagues, and I’d like to do it as long as I’m healthy enough. I’m 54 years old. This isn’t a cop out, but I can’t really put a number on it. You never know what will happen. Sometimes your life situation dictates something you hadn’t anticipated. I’m in the last year of my contract, and while I’d love to stay –I take nothing for granted. I’ll put it this way—I hope it doesn’t end anytime soon.