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With his tropical shirt and panama hat, Gary Hughes was easy to spot for decades behind home plate.
Hughes’ greatest characteristics, however, were his high degree of loyalty, sense of community, keen eye and honesty that touched many outside the game.
Hughes’ expansive array of communities, from his family to the baseball scouting world, collectively suffered a major loss Saturday when he died at 79 years old at his Bay Area home with his family at his side after a bout of liver cancer.
Hughes served as an evaluator for 54 seasons and was known in local circles as one of Jim Hendry’s most trusted assistants with the Cubs from 2002 to 2011. Hughes was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in 2009 and loved to look out for his brethren.
Hughes was one of the founders of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, which raises funds for scouts who have lost their jobs or whose families were in need of financial assistance.
Outside of the Chicagoland, Hughes, touched industry workers and thousands in the classroom, on baseball fields across the world.
During the second decade of his scouting career, Hughes prepared a large chunk of the advance scouting report that helped the New York Yankees sweep the Oakland Athletics and Billy Martin in the 1981 American League Championship Series.
The following spring, I overheard a National League area scout say aloud at a Stanford baseball game that Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner and Hugheswere on a first-name basis.
"Steinbrenner calls him “Gary,” and Gary calls him “Mr. Steinbrenner,” the scout joked at the time.
But Hughes, unaware of those comments, got the last laugh as he prepared the legwork that led to the drafting of a future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback named John Elway.
After a 2-for-22 start, Elway’s skills translated as he batted .318 with four home runs and 25 RBIs with a .432 on-base percentage in only 42 games at Class-A Oneonta before returning to Stanford for his senior season.
Hughes interviewed for general manager positions with the Dodgers and Rockies in the late 1990s but has remained a scout’s scout.
His rapport with Livan Hernandez helped sway the Cuban defector to the then-Florida Marlins and a 1997 World Series title. Hughes also maintained a healthy friendship with fellow defector Osvaldo Fernandez, who signed a less lucrative contract with the Giants prior to the 1996 season.
“Papa G dice hola,” I told Fernandez in Spanish midway through spring training.
“Tu sabes Papa G?” Fernandez replied.
We both smiled.
Gary’s personal touch was deep rooted. Every spring training he would invite at least a dozen classmates from Serra High School (in San Mateo, Calif), his alma mater, to spring training and often would set up the housing and a traditional dinner at the once-famed Don and Charlie’s restaurant in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The personalized license plates on his car read “SERRA 59” as a tribute to his graduating class, in which his teammates included major leaguers Jim Fregosi and Tim Cullen.
Fregosi, a shortstop, would boast later that he would tell Gary to play against the left field wall and that he would field everything in front of him.
But Gary, like any sharp evaluator, would recognize strengths and weaknesses. After graduating from San Jose State, Gary became a teacher and coach at Marin Catholic High School before joining the San Francisco Giants as a part-time scout under the tutelage of Eddie Montague Sr., who signed Willie Mays.
His locally publicized friendship with Hendry, one of Brian Cashman’s trusted lieutenants with the Yankees, dates to the late 1980s when Hendry was the baseball coach at Creighton and Gary was a top evaluator with the Montreal Expos.
The Toronto Blue Jays made a stunning run to the 1991 College World Series but were out-recruited by Hughes and the Expos for first-round pick Cliff Floyd.
The professional handling of the situation was so high that Hughes hired Hendry as a scout with the expansion Marlins the following fall. Hendry didn’t hesitate to challenge his new boss by signing a Gonzaga catcher named Mike Redmond for $5,000 more than budgeted.
Hughes was furious, but Redmond played 13 major league seasons, and I witnessed the two share a collective laugh at the 2012 winter meetings in Nashville, shortly after Redmond took over for Ozzie Guillen as manager of the Marlins.
Despite his Bay Area roots, Hughes didn’t play favorites. He took a strong liking to Penn outfielder Doug Glanville, who was selected by the Chicago Cubs with the 12th overall pick in the 1991 draft, over several West Coast players who were selected before and after Glanville.
Gary’s immediate favorites were his kids and grandkids, along with the scouts dating back to his early days. I told Gary I would salute longtime scout Al Ronning of the MLB Scouting Bureau if he brought him to a banquet in San Jose in 2011.
He obliged, and Ronning, who passed away in 2013, received a rousing applause in front of more than 500 people — many Giants fans — after I recalled a story in which Ronning and teammate Tommy Lasorda tussled on a train ride on the Eastern Seaboard while playing for Montreal of the International League.
Gary gave me a thumbs up.
Unfortunately, the traditional Friday after Thanksgiving lunch at the Crow’s Nest in Santa Cruz, Calif., won’t be the same. For at least five years, Gary and his wife Kathy would join my wife and me for lunch, and travel and family would dominate the conversation.
We kept a seat open after Kathy passed away in 2016, but the dialogue perked up when USA Today award-winning national baseball writer Bob Nightengale and his wife Caryn joined us a few years ago.
Stadium and restaurant seats won’t be the same, but Gary’s chair will be filled with plenty of memories from those whose lives he affected.
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