Boston Red Sox pitcher Tex Hughson and Washington Senator pitcher Early Wynn on dugout steps at Fenway Park sometime between 1943 and 1946. PHOTO COURTESY LESLIE JONES COLLECTION at the BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
This Week in Texas History: A column
by BARTEE HAILE
Proving he was in top-notch pre-war form, the big Red Sox pitcher named “Tex” won his third start in 13 days on Apr. 29, 1946.
Cecil Carlton Hughson was born in 1916 at the tiny community of Buda south of Austin and grew up in nearby Kyle. When it came time to choose a college, he stayed close to home enrolling in the University of Texas, where he turned into an All-Southwest Conference pitcher under the Longhorns’ legendary coach “Uncle Billy” Disch.
The Red Sox signed Hughson in June 1937 and sent the prospect to their wholly owned subsidiary in the Class D Georgia-Florida League. Beginning at the bottom of Boston’s “farm system,” the six-foot-three, two-hundred-pounder started his four-year climb to the major leagues.
By 1941 the 25-year-old hurler was ready for prime time, so ready the Cincinnati Reds tried to buy him for $50,000 cash on the barrelhead. But the Red Sox turned down the offer and brought the Texan to Beantown for the initial series of the new season.
Hughson made his Fenway Park debut on Apr. 16, 1941 in relief during an extra-innings marathon. Manager Joe Cronin decided to send him back down to Louisville in the American Association for a little fine tuning, but he returned to the parent club in time to start his first game on Jul. 6. After giving up base hits to the first three Washington Senators he faced, Tex finished the full nine innings for a 4-3 victory.
Cronin inserted the rookie into the regular rotation, and Hughson responded with four complete games and four more wins in eight assignments. But in August he pulled a muscle in his pitching arm and was out of action for the remainder of the season.
Lingering pain postponed Hughson’s first start of the 1942 campaign until May 16, but he more than made up for lost time with an impressive performance that elevated him to the status of “ace” of the Red Sox staff. He won a career-high 22 games, most in the American League, while losing only six, and led the AL in complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts.
With the Red Sox batting order decimated by the military draft, runs were hard to come by in 1943. Nevertheless, Hughson owned a respectable 10-6 record before a line drive broke the thumb on his right hand. Refusing to let his teammates down, the tough Texan resumed his role as designated workhorse before the fracture healed and wound up losing nine of his last ten decisions.
On Opening Day 1944, Hughson was healthier than he had been in years, and his stats in that draft-shortened season showed it. He had 18 victories against just five defeats and a career-best earned run average of 2.26 before Uncle Sam called time-out in August.
Hughson’s ability to pick right up in 1945 where he had left off the previous summer was no mystery as far as he was concerned. He was in the service a mere five months and did little else other than play in exhibition games for the troops. As he later put it, “I fought World War II with a bat and a glove.”
The 1946 Red Sox were a dream come true for their long-suffering fans, who had no idea they would have to wait 58 more years for another world championship. Boston won 41 of their first 50 games and never looked back as they left the hated Yankees in the dust.
Hughson, a 20-game winner for the second and last time, was the starting pitcher in Game One of the World Series versus the St. Louis Cardinals but did not figure in the decision. He was not up to snuff in Game Four and headed for the showers in the third inning. The crucial seventh game probably would have been his to pitch, but his ailing arm forced him to watch Boston’s heartbreaking loss from the bullpen.
Problems with his pitching arm became more frequent and severe resulting in surgery that abruptly ended his 1947 season. Nineteen forty-eight and 1949 were slow-motion nightmares for the three-time All-Star, who endured the indignity of playing for the Class B minor-league club in Austin in a vain attempt to pitch his bad arm back into shape.
After the new Red Sox skipper, Joe McCarthy, lost confidence in him as a starter, the front office traded Hughson to the New York Giants at the end of the 1949 schedule. Tex wanted no part of Manhattan or the National League and quit for good at the age of 33.
While most professional baseball players had no choice but to keep on playing as long as possible, Hughson had a good life to go home to. For many years, his ranching family had owned and operated a successful meat business, and he did quite well for himself as a real estate developer.
“Tex” Hughson won 96 games for the Boston Red Sox and may have pitched his way into Cooperstown had his arm not given out. However, his most enduring achievement did not come on a baseball diamond, but as a member of the San Marcos school board in the 1950’s, when he took the lead in the peaceful and overdue integration of the local high school.
Syndicated columnist BARTEE HAILE has written about Texas history for the San Marcos Mercury since 2011. Haile welcomes your comments or questions by mail at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, Texas 77549 or by email here.