I was looking at old-school baseball cards one day online and as the St. Louis Cardinals are saved in my searches, I came across some cards of a former Cardinal I had never heard about. And being a huge Cardinal and history fan (I used to be a history major), I was a little disappointed in myself that I didn't know who Dick Hughes was and how huge he was for the Cardinals 1967 world series team, which St. Louis won over the Boston Red Sox in seven games. That and the fact Hughes was born in Stephens, Ark.
Hughes, now 75 and retired in Stephens, was also a Razorback for two years before spending nine years in the Cardinals' farm system, being loaned to the Washington Senators and New York Yankees minor league clubs, but ultimately making his major league debut for the Cardinals at the age of 29 when he was late-season call up in 1966.
"I happened to be a winner the very first time I pitched in the big leagues," Hughes said in a phone interview. "It was at Pittsburgh and we were one run behind and I got sent down to warm up. I went out and pitched the seventh, eighth and ninth, we came back and scored two runs and beat the Pirates by one run. I got a W. That's a pretty good start."
Hughes, who said was a Cardinals' fan growing up, started the 1967 season in the bullpen, but would wind up going 16-6 for the St. Louis (101-60) with a 2.67 earned-run average. He threw 222.1 inning in 37 appearances (27 starts), struck out 161 against just 48 walks (3.4 so/bb ratio), and was the anchor of a starting rotation which lost Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson to a broken leg for much of the season. Hughes was a horse for the Cardinals down the stretch. He completed 5 of his last 9 starts of the season and didn't give up an earned run in four of those contests. In those last nine starts, Hughes went 6-2 with a 1.62 ERA striking out 40 vs. 10 walks in just over 72 innings. He averaged eight innings per start during that time.
"I was primarily a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and slider and I had confidence in both of them," Hughes said. "I more or less developed the slider later on. I had a good curve ball, but I couldn't command it all the time. So I went to the slider which is much easier to spot.
When asked how hard he threw, Hughes joked, "Oh about 120. They didn't have guns then to tell you, but I had pretty good movement on my fastball. I probably threw in the mid-90s."
After looking at his 1967 stats again, I'm baffled he didn't get the Rookie of the Year in the National League. Don't get me wrong, it was a tall order to outpitch eventual Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver of the Mets (who won the ROY), but I think Hughes may have done it. Seaver played for a very bad New York Mets team which finished 61-101. Seaver went 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA and pitched 30 more innings than Hughes. Seaver's WAR (wins above replacement) of 6.65 was close to three points higher than Hughes' 3.92, but Hughes' 0.95 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) led the league and was much better than Seaver's 1.20. But there is no doubt who was more important to their team. The Mets were never in the hunt and Hughes carried the Cardinals before Gibson could get back the last month of the season. In an article about Hughes, Bob Netherton claimed there may have been sportswriter bias and said Seaver never would have won the ROY if he had pitched anywhere other than New York.
Hughes was to be leaned on again in the 1968, but a rotator cuff injury during spring training ultimately ended his career way too soon.
"It was the last tune-up game before we would go north," Hughes said. "We were playing Cincinnati in Tampa. I hurt it warming up and I went on to pitch I think five innings, but that was the beginning of the end.
"I was warming up before the start of a ballgame and the last few pitches, we call it letting out the shaft, game-speed, and I felt it on one of those pitches. The perfect way to describe it is if you had a balloon with warm water in it and it broke inside my shoulder. A warm, wet feeling."
Hughes would finish his major league career with a 20-9 record (.690 winning percentage) and a 2.79 ERA. He struck out 230 in 307 innings pitched and had a 0.97 WHIP. He was also grateful for the short time he was able to spend with the Cardinals, which the 1967 team included four Hall-of-Famers: Gibson, Steve Carlton, Lou Brock and Orlando Cepeda.
"It was great," Hughes said. "My full years up there happened to be on two pennant winners and a world championship team.
"That's pretty good. We had a 25-man roster and four of them made the Hall of Fame. That's a pretty good average."