On his 25th birthday, Tom Hughes made his major-league debut as the starting pitcher for the Cardinals. His catcher that day was a 17-year-old, Tim McCarver, who was appearing in his fourth big-league game.
From there, the major-league careers of Hughes and McCarver took dramatically different paths. Hughes would appear in one more game for the Cardinals and never again would play in the big leagues. McCarver went on to play 21 years in the majors over parts of four decades (1959-80).
In 2016, McCarver remains in the game as a Cardinals television broadcaster. Hughes has a connection to the 2016 Cardinals, too.
Ruben Tejada, signed by the Cardinals during 2016 spring training to fill a need at shortstop, will become the third native of Panama to appear in a regular-season game for the Cardinals.
The first was Tom Hughes.
Panamanians in majors
Entering the 2016 season, 55 natives of Panama have played for major-league teams, according to baseball-reference.com. Two of the best were Hall of Famer Rod Carew and relief ace Mariano Rivera. Another Panamanian, Einar Diaz, was a backup catcher for the 2005 Cardinals.
Until Tejada in 2016, Hughes and Diaz were the only Cardinals players born in Panama.
For a time, it appeared Hughes would be one of the best.
Born Sept. 13, 1934, in Ancon, Canal Zone, Panama, Tom Hughes was the son of a Canal Zone police official, according to The Sporting News.
A right-handed pitcher, Hughes signed with the Cardinals in 1954 as an amateur free agent and was sent to the minor leagues.
Hughes had a breakthrough season in 1955, posting a 20-6 record and striking out 273 in 222 innings for Fresno of the Class C California League.
After that season, Hughes signed to play winter ball with the Chesterfield Smokers of the Panama Professional League.
The Cardinals invited Hughes to attend their early training camp for prospects at St. Petersburg, Fla., in February 1956, and assigned him to Houston of the Class AA Texas League.
Hot in Houston
After Hughes pitched a one-hit shutout against San Antonio on June 13, 1956, Houston general manager Art Routzong compared him with Cardinals left-hander Vinegar Bend Mizell.
“Tom right now is as good a major-league prospect as Vinegar Bend when Mizell was here in 1951,” Routzong said. “I don’t think Hughes is as fast as Vinegar, but he has a much better curve.”
Houston manager Harry Walker, the former Cardinals outfielder, also told The Sporting News he considered Hughes a major-league prospect.
In August 1956, with his record at 14-6, Hughes left Houston for St. Louis “to undergo a week’s therapy on his sore right elbow,” The Sporting News reported. The injury “baffled four Texas doctors.”
After being treated for what was diagnosed as an inflamed right elbow, Hughes returned to Houston and won his last four decisions, yielding one run in his final 39 innings.
His season totals for the 1956 Houston team: 18-6 record, 2.70 ERA, 223 innings and 16 complete games.
The Cardinals gave Hughes a look at spring training in 1957 and sent him back to Houston. He was 14-4 with a 2.87 ERA for the 1957 Houston team.
At your service
In October 1957, Hughes, 23, was inducted into the Army. He sat out the entire 1958 baseball season and most of 1959 while performing his military duty.
After his discharge from the Army, Hughes joined the Cardinals on Aug. 25, 1959. He hadn’t pitched in a professional game since September 1957.
The 1959 Cardinals entered September with a 61-72 record. Manager Solly Hemus decided to give the Cardinals’ prospects a look in the final month of the season.
“I saw a little of Hughes … at Houston (in 1957) and what I saw I liked,” Hemus said. “He showed a good assortment of stuff.”
Cuffed by Cubs
On Sept. 13, 1959, his 25th birthday, Hughes got the start for St. Louis against the Cubs at Chicago.
In the first inning, Hughes yielded a two-run single to Ernie Banks.
In the third, Banks hit a two-run home run and Irv Noren hit a solo home run, giving the Cubs a 5-0 lead. Hughes was relieved by Bob Duliba with two outs in the third. The Cubs won, 8-0, and Hughes took the loss.
Hughes’ line: 2.2 innings, 5 hits, 5 runs, 2 walks and 1 strikeout.
McCarver, batting leadoff, got his first big-league hit in that game. Boxscore
A week later, on Sept. 21, Hughes started against the Cubs at St. Louis. This time, veteran Hal Smith was his catcher. The results, though, were about the same.
Hughes retired the Cubs in order in the first and the Cardinals scored a run off Glen Hobbie in the bottom half of the inning.
In the second, Banks led off with a triple and scored on Walt Moryn’s groundout. Bobby Thomson singled and scored on Sammy Taylor’s double, putting the Cubs ahead, 2-1. After Al Dark singled, moving Taylor to third, Hemus replaced Hughes with Ernie Broglio.
Broglio fanned Hobbie for the second out, then yielded a RBI-single to Tony Taylor and a three-run home run to George Altman, giving the Cubs a 6-1 lead. Four of the runs were charged to Hughes.
The Cubs won, 12-3, and Hughes again took the loss. Boxscore
In two games for the Cardinals, Hughes was 0-2 with a 15.75 ERA.
After playing in the minor leagues in 1960 and 1961, Hughes’ pitching career was finished two years after his major-league debut.
Previously: How Tim McCarver became a Cardinal at 17