The only problem with the Baseball Hall of Fame is that Sammy T. Hughes ain’t in it yet. During the 1930’s and 40’s Hughes was the best second baseman in black baseball and perhaps all baseball.
Hughes was a true rarity for the time, a franchise player back when contracts meant nothing and jumping from one club to another was just another part of the game. Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1910, Hughes started out as a first baseman with his hometown semi-pro Louisville White Sox in 1929 and two years later the team turned pro and joined the Negro National League. 1932 saw Hughes join the Washington Pilots where he switched to second base and when that franchise folded later that year he joined the Columbus Elite Giants. Owned by black businessman Tom Wilson, the Elite Giants started out in Nashville but were destined to keep changing home base as they searched for a good city with an appreciative fan base. Hughes was the Elites’ man at second through their moves from Nashville to Columbus to Washington, D.C. and finally in 1938, Baltimore, Maryland.
In Charm City the Elite Giants found a city with black fans hungry for a team. The great black newspaper, The Afro-American, was based in there and provided good coverage of the Elites during their tenure in Baltimore. The team thrived in the environment and the fans were rewarded in 1939 when they won the Negro National League Championship in a 4-team playoff between the Homestead Grays, Philadelphia Stars, Newark Eagles and Elite Giants.
Sammy T. Hughes was described by his contemporaries as the complete ballplayer, he was a superior baserunner, solid hitter, rifle for an arm, artful bunter and he played the game smart. Fans acknowledged his skill and he was voted to the annual east-West All-Star game 5 times in his career, more than any other second baseman. He consistently batted over .300, and usually batting second in the lineup, he was considered a great hit-and-run man.
In 1942 the Communist newspaper “The Peoples Voice” arranged a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Hughes, fellow Elite Giant Roy Campanella and New York Cubans pitcher Dave Barnhill. Hughes and the other players jumped their teams and travelled to Pittsburgh but the tryout was never held when the Pittsburgh owner got cold feet. However, writers both black and white figured Hughes to be a can’t miss candidate to break the color line.
Black Yankees player Dick Seay had this to say of Hughes: “a nice fellow. He wasn’t one of those guys that was drinking and all. He’d stay in the hotel and go get his girl and visit her.”
After serving with the army in the Pacific he returned for one last year with Baltimore and although he hit only .277 he rendered an even greater service by acting as mentor the Elites’ young second baseman Junior Gilliam, later a star for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. Hughes settled down in Los Angeles and worked Hughes Aircraft Company, passing away in 1981. Cooperstown is not complete until Sammy T gets in there.