When we last checked in with the Ralph Rago (“Old-School Rago Headed for ABCA Hall of Fame,” Jan. 24, 2012), we looked back at the Ol’ Professor’s baseball career, which has now touched seven different decades.
At the time, Rago had just been notified he was to be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association diamond shrine.
Well, the 79-year-old Rago — who still coaches at Cordova High with 80-year-old Guy Anderson — got his picture put up in Chicago this month.
“It means a great deal,” the former Blue Devil and UC Davis mentor told the media. “I’m a little bit humble about it, because it takes in all the college coaches and high school coaches. Right now, I think it’s only 15 or 16 high school coaches that are in there.”
To wit, Rago joins this year’s class of otherwise college coaches Bill Aker of Northern Kentucky University, Woody Hunt of Cumberland University, Kent Shelley of Johnson County Community College, Dan Gallagher of Fordham University and Joe Roberts of Armstrong Atlantic State University.
Rago, who grew up in Los Banos, was early on known as Hammerhead because of his all-out style during football season. When he gravitated to a later coaching gig in Merced, his players called him Chilly — as in cool.
Joining the Blue Devils in 1961, Rago, Royal Morrison and A.J. “Bud” Henle were the only boys coaches on staff.
Rago has had a handful of prep players play professional baseball, but his most successful graduate was lefty Ron Bryant, who went on to win 24 games for the San Francisco Giants in 1973.
After DHS, Rago became an Aggie assistant at the invitation of then-UCD skipper Phil Swimley.
“He’s been a solid citizen and loyal friend forever,” Swimley says, adding that Rago was a first-class recruiter who related well to the kids.
Swimley and his wife Marilyn joined Rago at the recent ceremonies in Illinois.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better right-hand man,” says the retired Swimley, himself an ABCA Hall of Fame selection. “He deserves every bit of credit he gets for what he’s done over the years.”
And that is plenty. After his two Davis stints, Rago was the centerpiece of MLB’s European Envoy program, which brought high-caliber baseball instruction and organization to the continent. Assigned by professional baseball to England, Rago brought the Brits their first-ever European crown, in the process being named Coach of the Year.
He also set up baseball team in North Africa.
Later, Rago assisted Swimley with the California Collegiate League Thunderbirds in Vacaville before helping at Solano Community College and now Anderson’s Lancers.
“He was a very good coach,” recalls DHS Hall of Famer Ralph Villanueva, who starred in baseball for Rago in the early ’60s. “Fundamentals were important with Ralph. He wanted you to play hard and everything about him was very detailed.”
Rago is going to have to rearrange his memorabilia/awards room. This ABCA plaque undoubtedly will hold a special place of honor on the wall, and in his heart.
Way to go, coach.
Speaking of baseball …
When former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver died last week, it was a sad moment for me personally.
When I broke into newspapers in Southern California in 1971, my beat was the California Angels. I drew an assignment of featuring Brooks Robinson and I needed some color from Weaver.
I knew his supposedly volatile reputation and went cautiously to the Little General.
I was terrified as I approached, and Weaver sensed my “rookie-ness.”
“Why do you want to talk to me about Brooksie? He’s a big boy. He can speak for himself,” Weaver said.
Almost ready to cry at the rebuff, I watched Weaver’s face light up …
“Just kidding, kid. What’s your name? Who ya workin’ for?”
I explained, which I should have done in introduction.
“Well, welcome. Come into my office,” was the almost-laughing invitation.
Not only did Weaver answer all this beginner’s questions, he went out of his way — good-naturedly between cigarette puffs — to explain clubhouse protocol and tell me if there was anything else I needed, let him know.
He concluded our time together by calling Brooks Robinson in and he left me and the future Hall of Famer alone to chat.
But on the field, Weaver was an opponent’s nightmare.
I am blessed to have experienced the Earl Weaver few knew.
Take care, Earl. AL umpire Ron Luciano is waiting to throw you out of another game.
While I Have You Here: Aggie fanatic and former Davis High student-athlete Brandon Hassid has been chosen Amazon Student College Football’s Biggest Fan.
Hassid, a familiar Blue-and-Gold face with various sayings and letters painted on his torso, topped rabid rooters from across the nation to secure the honor.
Desiree Bell — another Aggie — took second in the female division.
Hassid will receive various merchandise from Amazon.com and says he’ll donate his winnings to Team Davis, the local program for challenged/exceptional athletes.
“Thanks to everybody who helped put me over the top,” Hassid says.
No, thank you, Brandon, for the enthusiasm you and Desiree bring in the form of Aggie Pride.
Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.