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From the pitching mound to the tractor...The Dick Hughes Story

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Courtesy of William J. Clinton Presidential Library Former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dick Hughes alongside his wife, Anne, are pictured in front of the St. Louis Cardinals display that is currently on display at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.

Statesman Staff Writer

You never know what kinds of stories the people you meet from day-to-day have to tell. Many people have had their 15 minutes of fame in one way or another. One retired Arkansas farmer can proudly say that he had more than 15 minutes.

To some today, the name Dick Hughes might not even ring a bell. To a Cardinals fan who remembers the 1960s, however, the name will be remembered immediately.

Now a retired farmer, in his younger years Hughes was a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.

In 1956, Hughes attended a tryout camp held by the Cardinals in Magnolia, Ark. There he played for a scout named Fred Hahn who had pitched for the Cardinals in 1952.

"He wanted to sign me, but I wanted to go to college," he said, noting that he already had an offer from Louisiana Tech. "He said 'Well, I can get you a scholarship to the University of Arkansas,' and that's what happened."

Hughes attended two years of college and played semi-professional baseball in the summer.

Headshot of Dick Hughes at Busch Stadium in 1967, set against the stands of the empty stadium, wearing a Cardinals home uniform and a windbreaker underneath.
"The Cardinals wanted me to come to a tryout camp in St. Louis," he said. "All of the scouts were bringing in their prospects. I had never flown before, so I went on the train to St. Louis from Shreveport, where I was living at the time."

The camp went really well for Hughes, and in July 1958 he became a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

"I think I struck out every guy that I faced up there at that tryout camp, so they wanted to sign me and they did," he said, but was unable to remember how much his bonus was. "It wasn't anything like you could make nowadays."

Dick Hughes in a posed pitching full length image, set on the field at Busch Stadium, empty stands behind him,
Despite being signed, the road to St. Louis was still going to be long and winding.

Hughes worked his way from a short three-week stint playing Class D baseball in Keokuk, Iowa, to Class C in Winnipeg, Canada.

"They were in the playoffs," he said of the Winnipeg Goldeyes. "I went up there, and we won the league."

In 1959, Hughes went to his first Spring Training in Daytona Beach, Fla., at the ripe age of 21. The manager of the Rochester team wanted him to go north. The only thing he did there was pinch run when they needed him.

From Rochester he did a stint in North Carolina with the Winston Salem Red Birds en route to Winnipeg once again.

After a successful year in Winnipeg, he was promoted to Tulsa, Okla., where he played for the Class AA Tulsa Oilers.

In 1961, Vern Benson, who had been Hughes' manager in Tulsa, was promoted to Class AAA in Oregon, where he coached the Portland Beavers.

"He wanted me to go with him, so I did," he said. "Not long after the season started, the Cardinals called [Benson] to be their third base coach in St. Louis. He was kind of a father figure to me, I guess you might say."

When Benson left, Ray Cott took over as manager, and Hughes' season took a turn for the worse.

"I was wild and everything else," he said, referring to how he was pitching. "I kind of came apart at the seams."

In 1962, Hughes began the season in Atlanta.

"I was doing pretty good there," he said. "In fact, the night they gave me my walking papers to go back to Tulsa I even hit a homerun and won the ballgame, but they'd already made up their minds that they wanted me to go back to Tulsa."

In 1963, Hughes had another adventure around the country, beginning in Atlanta, then Tulsa and eventually landing in York, Penn., for the York White Roses.

"That was really my springboard year," he said. "They say it takes a pitcher five years to find his legs, and that year I found mine. I was good to go then, I thought."

Hughes went 11-3 with a so-so club and earned a 2.17 ERA.

Thanks to his success, he began 1964 with the Jacksonville Suns in Florida, another of the organization's AAA affiliates. He continued to pitch well and earned a call up to the big league club, but it wasn't going to happen that year.

"The very same night I was called up, I was hit in the pitching arm with a line drive," he said. "So, I didn't get to go. One of my best friends, a left-handed pitcher named Gordie Richardson, went in my place."

The Cardinals went on in 1964 to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.

It wasn't all bad for Hughes because that was the first year the Cardinals protected him on the 40-man roster and gave him his first major league contract.

In 1965, he attended Spring Training again and thought he was going to get the call up, but stayed behind in Jacksonville. After putting together a so-so season, he was at the low point of his career.

"A lot of people don't realize how much confidence in yourself means in athletics, and I had really lost a lot by not getting to go to the Cardinals in '64," Hughes said.

He wouldn't stay down forever.

In 1966, he was loaned to the New York Yankees, where he played for their minor league affiliate, the Toledo Mudhens. He thought he had actually been sold to the Yankees, but he had not been.

Later in the season, it all paid off. He was called up to St. Louis for the first time and pitched 20 innings, going 2-and-1 with a 1.71 ERA.

His first major league game was in Pittsburgh, where he joined the team. In the sixth inning he was sent to the bullpen to warm-up. The manager, Red Schoendienst, pinch hit for the pitcher, and the Cardinals were down by one.

"I wound up in the ball game, and I threw three shutout innings against Pittsburgh. I was in awe," he said. "We scored two runs, and I got a win in my very first game. I was in high cotton."

In the winter of 1966, he played winter baseball with Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda in Puerto Rico. He threw approximately 80 innings and won the Caribbean World Series.

In 1967, Hughes would have his career year. He threw more than 200 innings for the Cardinals, going 16-and-6 with a 2.67 ERA. In July of that year, Bob Gibson was hit by a line drive off of Roberto Clemente that broke his leg.

That break put a lot of extra weight on Hughes, but he came through.

In October, the Cardinals went to the World Series against the Boston Red Sox and won in seven games, with Gibson winning three games himself.

"I didn't do good in the World Series against Boston," he said. "I gave up a few long balls. Well, some of them weren't that long because they didn't have to be in Boston."

That World Series victory was a huge experience for Hughes and the Cardinals.

"It was just a big thrill to be a part of that and to get a World Series ring," he said.

His excitement would be short-lived though.

Near the end of Spring Training in 1968, he was warming up to pitch when he felt something tear in his shoulder.

"It was like there was a balloon with warm water in it that just burst inside my shoulder," he said. "I told the trainer something was wrong, but I went ahead and pitched five innings. I don't know if I hadn't gone ahead and thrown if things would have worked out different, but that was the beginning of the end for me."

Later, when calcifications were spotted in an x-ray, it was determined that he had torn his rotator cuff. At that time, doctors did not know how to properly repair a rotator cuff.

Hughes spent some time on the disabled list in 1968, but still pitched more than 60 innings.

"All that I did that year I did on pure adrenaline," he said. "I got some saves and had a 2-2 record, but it wasn't fun. I had cortisone shots and all kinds of stuff."

That year, Hughes and the Cardinals returned to the World Series to face the Detroit Tigers, but this time lost in seven games.

The "shares" players receive for competing in the World Series were much different then. Hughes said his winning share from 1967 and his losing share from 1968 were about $15,000 combined.

He would throw a few more innings with a Class A affiliate, but it was the end of his playing days. The next year he joined former Cardinals Ken Boyer as a pitching coach when he managed the Little Rock Travelers. Boyer later went up to the big leagues, and Hughes went a different route.

He traveled to Sarasota, Fla., where he would coach rookie pitchers for two years and then settle into a scout's job.

He took over the

territory of the scout who had signed him, handling Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Shortly after, he decided it was time to leave baseball.

"We had three kids at that point, and scouting is a tough job when you have a family," Hughes said.

At this point, his life went full circle. Already owning a large amount of land, he borrowed some money, bought some chicken houses and cattle and started farming.

In 2000, he fully retired from farming and said he has "just been enjoying life" ever since.

Since retirement, Hughes has served as a deacon at the local First Baptist Church. Since retiring from baseball, he has worked with the local youth group and even directs music at the church.

"He would do anything for anyone," said Debbie Tribble, a friend of the Hughes family. "He is a very genuine person -- the kind you don't see every day."

Tribble's brother, Bo Moses, shared some of his special memories of Hughes like the time they were allowed to watch television at school because he was pitching. Moses characterized Hughes as "an unbelieveable person, very down to earth."

Tirbble explained that in addition to his extensive church and farming life, he works often with a local crisis center.

"About once per month he travels to Little Rock to bring back food for the needy," Tribble said. "We're very blessed to have him around."

Of course, being a very modest man, Hughes doesn't talk about his community work. That, Tribble explained, speaks volumes to his kindness and personality.

Something of which Hughes is especially proud is that he originally signed as a Cardinal and stayed with the organization until he retired as a Cardinal.

"I was in the organization my entire career," he said. "Not a lot of players can say that anymore."

He still follows his old team, but in rural Arkansas there isn't a lot of talk about his old days as a Cardinal.

He still receives mail from people on occasion asking for autographs and says that always takes him back. He takes time to sign the baseball cards and photos for the fans, young and old.

"I always like to sign them and send them back," Hughes said. "That's about my only reflection of my time in baseball anymore. It reminds me that once upon a time, I did play baseball."

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