Pat Hughes is entering his 23rd season as the Cubs radio play-by-play announcer. His pleasant voice and kind demeanor on the air has endeared him to a generation of Cubs fans.
That’s why I was surprised to read David Haugh’s latest column in the Tribune, in which it’s revealed publicly for the first time that Hughes has undergone three throat surgeries over the last three years:
Cubs games on the radio sounded the same to the untrained ear of so many fans that 2014 season, with polished play-by-play man Pat Hughes comfortably providing the soundtrack of summer car rides and barbecues like always. But by the time October arrived, the legendary announcer sensed something was different. Something was off.
“Anybody who uses their voice for a living, you know when it’s not right,” Hughes said.
And long before Hughes would undergo three surgeries in a 14-month period because of a precancerous lesion known as dysplasia on one of his vocal cords, he knew. Or at least he knew what he didn’t know, and it scared the bejesus out of him.
The article goes on to describe how Hughes first thought his scratchy voice was due to a bout of bronchitis, but over time he had to undergo the surgeries on one of the most important parts of the body to a man who makes his living by talking on the radio:
The procedure required precision because Hughes’ lesion had formed on the worst possible spot, on the vibratory edge of one of his vocal cords. Only about 20,000 people in the U.S. every year come down with the disease that often afflicts those who make a living with their voice — singer Roger Daltrey of The Who and ESPN analyst Dick Vitale are among past sufferers — and the cause remains unknown. Hughes never smoked, drank casually and worked out often enough that his jump shot is feared at local gyms. Yet he was afflicted with dysplasia.
Fortunately, the surgeries caught this affliction early and Hughes came through it just fine and is back to full strength. Further, as Haugh writes, Hughes never wanted anyone to know about this because he is a “private” man:
Hughes chose to address his medical experience openly now because he believes he is in the clear and owes it to the next person suffering to tell his story — as well as to Friedman for saving his career.
“It was not something I felt I needed to share with anyone,” Hughes said, “but I’m happy to do so now because I want more people to be aware that if you have a problem with your voice, and you need your voice to make a living, don’t just sit still. You don’t have to suffer. Your career can still thrive.”
This sounds exactly like the kind of man Pat Hughes is. (“Friedman,” incidentally, is Dr. Aaron Friedman, a Northbrook laryngologist who is Pat’s doctor.)
I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Pat, a bit, because he graciously offered to write the forewords for my books “Cubs By The Numbers” and “A Season For The Ages,” the latter foreword completed just as Game 7 of the World Series was about to begin, and for that I’m eternally grateful to Pat. He’s not only one of the nicest men in broadcasting, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
I’m glad Pat defeated this, because it could have been truly serious for him, not just for his career but for his life. And Pat, who’s a great storyteller (you surely know this if you heard his wonderful eulogy for Ron Santo), ended Haugh’s article with this story:
After the first surgery, Friedman casually mentioned alcohol might slow the healing process, so Hughes, who enjoyed an occasional beer, quit drinking to hasten his recovery. From that day forward, he linked avoiding alcohol with staying cancer-free.
“So I’m standing there with Bill Murray in the clubhouse after Game 7, and he’s pouring champagne on my head, he’s pouring it on his own head, but I didn’t have any — not even at the World Series!” Hughes said. “And I don’t miss it because I don’t want to do anything to rock the boat.
“I know how good I feel.”
Good for him! I wish him many more healthy years, and many more years behind the radio microphone for the Chicago Cubs. We’re lucky to have him.