Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Razorbacks bring back Hughes, World Series champ who played in '50s
Dick Hughes, a member of the St. Louis Cardinals' 1967 World Series championship team, takes part in a ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of the victory before the start of a baseball game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox Wednesday, May 17, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
FAYETTEVILLE — Can you name the first former University of Arkansas baseball player to win a World Series?
That question led to what will be a special moment for Dick Hughes this weekend at Baum-Walker Stadium. The 84-year-old Hughes is the answer to the trivia question.
He will throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Razorbacks’ series finale against LSU on Saturday.
“My grandson saw my picture hanging on the wall with an inscription that I was the first Razorback to play on a World Series-winning team,” Hughes said. “He called me and said, ‘Guess who was the first Razorback to play on a World Series team?’ I said, ‘You wouldn’t be calling me unless it was me.’”
Hughes is being brought back as part of the Razorbacks’ year-long celebration of 100 baseball seasons.
“I think it’s beautiful that they’re honoring him,” said John Kerr, who played and roomed with Hughes at Arkansas during the 1958 season. “It’s just 50 years too late.”
In 1967, Hughes was the best pitcher for the best team in the world. In his first full season in Major League Baseball, Hughes went 16-6 and posted a 2.67 ERA in 222 1/3 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals, who beat the Boston Red Sox in seven games in the World Series.
Hughes’ .727 winning percentage that year was best in the National League. At the age of 29, he was named NL Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News, which polled players. Baseball writers gave their NL rookie award to 22-year-old New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver.
Hughes was one of the hottest names in baseball entering the 1968 season — he was on the cover of The Sporting News’ baseball preview that year — but he injured his rotator cuff in Spring Training and spent the year on and off the disabled list. He was out of baseball by the end of the 1969 season.
“I pitched in 1968, but I took a lot of Cortizone shots,” Hughes said. “Over time we can look back and find out things that could have been done that weren’t done, and I heard there are degrees of tears.
“I tore it in Tampa against Cincinnati in Spring Training of ’68 in my last tune-up game before we came north. I was warming up…and I felt a warm, wet feeling in my shoulder. It didn’t hurt. I went on and pitched my five innings, but after the five innings were over my shoulder was kind of pulsating and I had to have a shot. That was the beginning of the downhill slant for me as far as pitching.”
Hughes spent two years at the UA in the 1950s. After sitting out the 1957 season — freshmen were ineligible to play — Hughes played his only season for the Razorbacks in 1958.
Little is documented about that season. UA baseball records are hard to find before 1960, and a blurb in a 1958 Arkansas Gazette article stated the Razorbacks went 8-10 and had several games rained out.
Hughes doesn’t remember too much about his play that season. He said he isn’t even sure what number was on his jersey.
“There were two freshmen, a junior and a senior on baseball scholarship,” Hughes said while noting the difference in college baseball then and now. “Our baseball coach was Bill Ferrell, the football trainer.”
He remembers the team played most of its games away from home, including in Tulsa and during a road trip through Louisiana and Mississippi. On the way home from Mississippi, a team car driven by Ferrell was involved in an early-morning accident somewhere between Little Rock and Alma.
“I don’t know how fast we were going when we collided, but Coach Ferrell was so strong that he kept that steering wheel off his chest with his hands,” Hughes said. “When we returned on to Fayetteville, a bunch of us rode in the wrecked university vehicle, riding backward and pulled by a wrecker. I think all of us threw up.”
Fred Hawn, a Cardinals regional scout for the states of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, was interested in Hughes after he worked out at a baseball camp in Magnolia following his senior year of high school. Hughes, who planned to play at Louisiana Tech, told Hawn he wanted to attend college instead of sign with the Cardinals.
Hawn, who lived in Fayetteville, helped Hughes get to the UA on a baseball scholarship. Hawn signed him to a contract with the Cardinals two years later in July 1958.
Kerr remembers Hughes as a tall, hard thrower. He spent several years playing minor-league baseball before he was called up by St. Louis for the first time late in the 1966 season.
“He was definitely major-league material,” Kerr said.
This weekend will be Hughes’ first trip back to Fayetteville in more than 52 years. His last time to visit was Dec. 6, 1969, for the football game between No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Arkansas known as “The Big Shootout.”
After his baseball career ended, Hughes retired to a family cattle ranch in the small Southwest Arkansas community of Stephens.
“I was raised in Shreveport, and Stephens is closer to Shreveport than it is Little Rock,” Hughes said. “I have a bunch of family in Shreveport, so there has just never been an occasion to come to Fayetteville, really. I’ve thought about it several times, but there hasn’t been any real draw until this happened.”
Hughes plans to watch the Friday and Saturday baseball games between Arkansas and LSU. He will be joined by 15 family members at the ballpark, including his wife, two sons, daughter and four grandsons.
“We like to have family reunions and this is going to be one of them,” Hughes said.
Hughes keeps up with the Razorbacks by watching their games on SEC Network broadcasts.
“The stadium will put a lot of minor-league stadiums to shame,” Hughes said. “I’m really excited to see the facilities and go through them.”
He met up with the pastor of his church this week to warm up his arm. He said he had not thrown a baseball in six years, since a 60-year reunion of Byrd (La.) High School’s 1956 state championship team.
“I practiced before that and I thought I could throw from the rubber,” Hughes said, “but I still bounced it. The catcher blocked it and I kind of got off the hook.”
Hughes said he won’t throw off the mound in Fayetteville.
“I think I’m going to have to cheat,” Hughes said.
In 2017, Hughes went back to St. Louis for a 50-year celebration of the Cardinals’ World Series team. He said this week has a similar feel.
“I’m looking forward to it so much,” Hughes said.
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