Hughes flies under radar
Negro Leaguer's teammates overshadowed second baseman
Biz Mackey and Roy Campanella received most of the publicity on the Elite Giants teams in the Negro Leagues, and no doubt the two men deserved it.
But to forget the contribution that second baseman Sammy T. Hughes made to those great teams would be a slight of the worse sort. For Hughes was an integral part of the Elite Giants during some of their best years.
In a league that showcased great second basemen like Bingo DeMoss, Larry Doby, Newt Allen and Martin Dihigo, Hughes was their equal, if not their superior.
Maybe his relative obscurity is the byproduct of playing with Mackey and Campanella, among others. Maybe it was because, as a second baseman, his play was easy to overlook. But historians who chart the Negro Leagues have not forgotten Hughes, who is among the 39 players and executives from black baseball that are under consideration for induction into Cooperstown. A panel of 12 baseball historians and Negro League experts will decide which of the 39 will reach the Hall of Fame. The panel will announce its decisions Feb. 27 in Tampa, Fla.
"A well-rounded ballplayer, he had no weaknesses," wrote Jame A. Riley in his "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues." "In addition to his picture-perfect work afield, he was also a good base runner and a solid hitter."
Riley called Hughes "a thinking man's player," which is the kind of compliment that might be too low key to reflect the totality of Hughes' play.
In a career that ran from 1931-46, Hughes proved a performer worthy of Hall of Fame induction. He hit .296 in the Negro Leagues and appeared in six All-Star Games, a record for second basemen in the league.
Hughes was the perfect No. 2 hitter. He hardly struck out, was a good bunter and was constantly used in hit-and-run situations.
His career pretty much ended when he served in the military during World War II. He returned to the Negro Leagues for the '46 season, but his skills had eroded, and Jim Gilliam, who went on to have a successful career with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, replaced him.
During his years in the Negro Leagues, according to Riley's encyclopedia, Hughes heard from a reporter for The People's Voice that arrangements had been made for Hughes, Campanella and Elite Giants teammate Dave Barnhill to try out for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1942. Nothing came of those arrangements.
At least for Hughes, he knew that he could handle Major League pitching. He hit .353 in exhibition games against big-league All-Stars. As a player, Hughes was often compared to Major Leaguers Billy Herman and Red Schoendienst.
Born in 1910, Hughes learned to play baseball after dropping out of school in the eighth grade. At 18, he signed as a first baseman with the Louisville White Sox, an independent team, in 1929. By 1931, the team joined the Negro National League, but Hughes didn't stay with the White Sox long. In 1932, he joined the Washington Pilots and switched to second base after player/manager Frank Warfield died.
The Pilots went out of business after the season, and Hughes took his talents to the Elite Giants, a franchise that started in Nashville and then moved to Columbus, Ohio, Washington and Baltimore. For one year, 1941, Hughes played in the Mexican League and batted .324 for Torreon.
After he retired as a player in '46, Hughes did not work for any baseball organization. He went on to work for the Pillsbury Co. and the Hughes Aircraft Co. in Los Angeles.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Bill Ladson contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.