Long Journey of
The name Cuno Barragan is nearly synonymous with Sacramento baseball, and almost everyone who knows
the game locally knows Cuno and his story: a local boy who played baseball at Sac High and Sac City
College, performed in the hometown Solons organization throughout the 1950s, and eventually played
with the Chicago Cubs in the early '60s.
as well known is Cuno's Latin heritage. One of six children to Mexican immigrant parents,
Barragan (pronounced "Barrrrrrr-a-GAN") was the first Mexican
American from Sacramento to rise from the local sandlots and make it to the major leagues; in
Cuno's case all the way to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.
his Hispanic major league counterparts—Cepeda, Marichal, Alou, Clemente—knew of his Latin
heritage despite the Irish-sounding surname, Cuno explains, "I always introduced myself as
Facundo Antonio Barrrrrrr-a-GAN," he says, dramatically trilling his "r's". "But everyone always
called me 'Cuno,'" the nickname given to him in Sacramento.
Cuno's final professional game occurred in New York on October 12, 1963 when he was selected as
the National League catcher in the first-ever Latin All-Star Game^. The game featured Latin notables from Venezuela, Cuba, the Dominican
Republic and other Latin countries and commonwealths. More importantly, it featured the emerging
stars of major league baseball, including Roberto Clemente of the Pirates, the Orioles' Luis
Aparicio , and the San Francisco Giants' Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal. Clemente, in fact,
managed the National League All-Star team.
game, Barragan met with his battery mate Juan Marichal to go over the signs. The "Dominican
Dandy" told him 'When I throw my curve ball, I may throw it slow, fast, over the top, or from
the side.' He had so many pitches, you had to have two hands to give signals. But it was a
pleasure." Cuno especially was pleased to be on the receiving end for a change, having faced
Marichal all the way back to Triple-A when the Giants future star pitched for
"He was a
pretty good catcher," Marichal says today by phone. "And a real nice guy."
Among Barragan's prized baseball possesions is a Life Magazine (Spanish
version) that chronicled the historic game. In the photo
spread, Cuno proudly points to a picture of himself lined up with the great
Latin All-Stars of the National League, who triumphed that day 5-2. But the score was
insignificant compared to the showcase it provided for the Latin stars. Ironically, the game was
never staged again.
that event was the final baseball contest ever played at New York's hallowed Polo
Cuno Barragan, it was his final professional baseball game, the culmination of a long personal
parents immigrated from Mexico and met in Sacramento. Claudio Barragan was a
widower and had three children when Cuno's mother began working for the Barragan family as
a housekeeper and sitter. Shortly after, Mr. Barragan married Cuno's mother, Josefa, and
together they had six more children.
Barragan was a Depression-era baby, and in 1934, at the age of 2, his father passed away. Named
Facundo for his maternal grandfather, his mother nicknamed him "Cundito," which eventually was
shortened to "Cuno." The Barragan family relied on "government relief" to survive, Cuno admits.
But he fondly remembers his childhood, growing up at 13th and Q Streets in
Sacramento, and playing baseball in the street with his siblings and neighbors. When the ball
inevitably rolled toward the P Street tracks senses went on high alert to avoid the oncoming
trolley cars. Cuno and friends freely roamed the local parks and streets well into
darkness, never afraid.
learned the game in city recreation leagues, but when he went out for the team at Sacramento
High he was the fourth string catcher. Woody Adams, the Dragons football coach, also served as
the baseball team manager. "We didn't think he knew too much about baseball. He didn't instruct
us on how to play baseball. He just made sure we didn't get in trouble and made out the lineup,"
Cuno says in honest reflection. Eventually, in 1949 during his senior year, Jim McKeegan, the
established backstop, moved to the outfield, clearing the way for Cuno to catch. "Besides, I was
a better hitter," Barragan adds with a wink. Sac High that year took the Sac Joaquin
graduated in January 1950 and immediately went off to Sacramento Junior College. When he went
out for the baseball team once again he found himself fourth on the depth chart at the catching
position. Believing he was better than the two backup catchers, Cuno took an incomplete and left
junior college to begin an on-again, off-again career with Fischer Tile.
of 1951, two friends from Christian Brothers High—Dan Lahey and Ken Orvick—told Cuno they had
resigned their scholarships when St. Mary's College dropped football (along with the other Bay
Area Catholic schools, University of San Francisco and Santa Clara). Lahey and Orvick were
enrolling at Sac JC to play football, and encouraged Cuno to come out for the team. Barragan
told them they were nuts; he was then making $75 a week setting tile in homes or commercial
kitchens. But the friends won out, and Barragan returned to college and excelled at
following spring (1952), Cuno again went out for the baseball team, this time earning the
starting catching position and leading the team in hitting with a .4088 average (he won the
batting title by a whisker), as the Panthers came close to another state
Ron King with helping him develop as a catcher. King, himself a pro catcher since 1947, one day
watched Barragan's throw down the second sail into the outfield. Behind the backstop, King asked
Cuno how he gripped the baseball. "I don't know; I just throw it!" King advised that he begin
practicing looking for the seams to get a perfect grip before throwing the ball and to repeat it
one thousand times in practice. The advice paid off. Coupled with a strong arm, Barragan became
a solid backstop. "That was the biggest instrumental instruction I ever received. Nobody ever
worked with me about catching, throwing, hitting." Not even later, during his big league
catching for Sac City, Cuno also played with two other teams: Rio Vista in the County League on
Sunday and Glenn County Cardinals of the Valley League twice weekly. In total, he played five
games a week. "All of that exposure was good," he remembers. It led to the Seals calling him for
a tryout and offering a contract to play in Yakima, Washington.
declined the Seals' offer, word of the deal filtered back to Sacramento where Charley Graham,
Jr. signed Barragan to a Solons contract starting at $800 per month. As a Naval Reservist, Cuno
knew he would be entering the Korean Conflict after the 1953 season, so he wisely negotiated a
two-year deal with Sacramento. This guaranteed that he would have one year remaining on his
Solons contract after he returning from his two-year Naval duty.
spring of 1953, the Solons optioned Barragan to Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League (Class "C").
Overall, Barragan had a good first year (hitting .269), save for the fractured
cheekbone he sustained while colliding with first baseman Red Jessen. Adding insult to
injury, Jessen berated Barragan "What the hell were you doing near the first base area?"
asked the team's player/manager.
"I was just
hustling!" Cuno laughs in remembrance of the collision which resulted in an overnight
he honored his commitment by entering the Naval Training Center in San Diego. One look at his
pro baseball background and the base commander assigned him to the baseball team, which competed
against other southern California service teams. When the Solons came down to San Diego for a
series against the Padres, Barragan would contact the Solons trainer, who arranged for him to
catch batting practice and maintain contact with the Solons
Cuno was granted a transfer to the Naval Air Station Oakland, and received Temporary
Assignment Duty to the Naval Air Station Alameda baseball club. That team played
against Northern California service squads, such as the Coast Guard, plus local town teams, like
the Susanville Merchants and the Humboldt Crabs (3 games per series). "That was good for those
guys that had never been up to Northern California," Barragan remembers.
Barragan reported for spring training in 1956 he found a crew of catchers in the Solons'
camp and was promptly assigned to Amarillo (Single-A, Western League). "Right back out of the
service, I didn't think I was going to make that ballclub." But Cuno hit a respectable .257 and
Amarillo made the playoffs.
as he did every offseason, Barragan continued his education, eventually earning his bachelor's
degree from Sacramento State College and later a teaching credential.
entered the 1957 spring training optimistic that he could finally make the hometown team. The
Solons brought in Jim Mangan, a journeyman major league catcher. Mangan immediately made an
impression when he walked on to the field with his golf clubs, and began hitting drives over the
outfield wall. Cuno thought him kooky, but Mangan earned Manager Tommy Heath's confidence and
the starting job, with Barragan as his backup.
Cuno Barragan was under contract with the Sacramento Solons
organization from 1953 to 1960.
Twice the Solons sold his contract for $1. Photo reprinted courtesy of Alan O'Connor
A few weeks
later, Mangan eventually was released. Cuno caught 108 games, but only hit .193. In hindsight he
wasn't relaxed playing in front of friends and family. He credits his handling of the Solons
pitching staff, which included a bunch of hard throwers: Roger Osenbaugh, Joe Stanka, Bud
Watkins, Milo Candini, plus knuckleballer, Earl Harrist. "I did a good job of catching, but I
he played winter ball in Mexico and worked on his hitting. On the Pueblo team Cuno played with
future Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, who passed away last year.
Fifty-Eight was a pivotal year, as Fred David and Dave Kelley took over the Solons ownership. In
spring training, they brought in two new catchers (Clay Dalrymple and Bob Roselli), along
with Barragan. Despite a solid spring, Kelley informed Cuno "We're going to send you to Atlanta
(Double "AA", South Atlantic League). You need a little more
I caught 108 games in the Coast League. That's a lot of experience," Cuno objected. "I just
need to work on my hitting." Kelley disagreed and when Barragan rejected the Atlanta assignment,
the Solons suspended him. Cuno shrugged and went back to work at Fischer Tile, where by this
time he had advanced to apprentice tile setter.
month later, Portland Beavers came to town. Managed by Tommy Heath, the previous
year's Solons manager, Heath finished the series with both catchers hurt. He inquired
about Barragan and learned he had been placed on the suspended list. The Solons "sold"
Barragan's contract to Portland for $1. Heath that night phoned Cuno. "Meet me at the airport at
8 tomorrow morning; we're flying out to Salt Lake."
explained that he was retired. "I'm setting tile tomorrow."
repeated his demand, "I need a catcher tomorrow. Meet me at the
and explained his situation to the tile company owner, who chided him, "When are you
gonna wake up and forget about baseball? You've got a great career ahead of you in tile."
morning Barragan met Heath and flew to Salt Lake City. That evening, he resumed his position
behind the plate. Glad to be back in baseball, Barragan admitted he felt "a little nervous." He
threw out one base stealer and also got a hit. He caught five more games and returned to
Portland with the team.
Portland, Bill Brenner, the
team's General Manager, called Cuno into his office. "You've been with us for two weeks;
it's time to sign a contract." Amazingly, Cuno had been playing without a Portland contract, and
the team was "covering its bases." Looking at his Solons deal, Brenner questioned the
language that said the Solons would give Barragan 10 percent of the sales price if he ever was
sold to a major league club. Cuno explained it was inserted by Charley Graham as a
motivational incentive for young players. Brenner laughed and increased the
bonus language to 25 percent. Cuno said "Fine with me; I'm going back to setting tile."
in 1959, Brenner took over as Solons GM and invited Cuno to spring training. "Cuno, you can make
this ballclub," he said. Barragan mustered a .348 spring average, however, when PCL
rival Spokane inquired about a catcher the Solons inexplicably sold his contract once again
for $1. Barragan only managed a .205 average, and at the season's end, Spokane returned him to
the Solons and got their buck back to complete the transaction. The crazy contracts of the
Pacific Coast League.
In 1960, Cuno once more
reported to spring training with the Solons. This time, he made the club, which had sold Clay
Dalrymple to the Phillies. Cuno hit .318 in 89 games and at the end of the season was drafted
by the Cubs which purchased his contract for $25,000. Since his Portland deal
stipulated the 25 percent bonus clause, Cuno garnered a substantial $6,000 bonus. "It could
only happen to Cuno," Barragan remarked about his unusually good fortune.
Barragan's promotion to the Cubs earned high praise from Sacramento's
Mexican American population. A friend told this writer that his father, and others who had
played in Sacramento's Mexican-American League, were bursting with pride that one of their own
"had made it to the majors."
As the old
saying goes, "Timing is everything." When Cuno Barragan reported to spring training in 1961, his
timing couldn't have been worse.
the 1950s, the Chicago Cubs had been National League cellar dwellers, despite Ernie Banks twice
winning the Most Valuable Player award (1958-1959). In 1961 Cubs owner Phil Wrigley announced
that he had hired and fired his last manager and would employ a "college of coaches" to run his
ball teams, one of the most unusual experiments in the history of baseball. In lieu of a
manager, coaches would rotate throughout the organization, in effect "taking turns" running the
Cubs, and its minor league teams over the course of the season. "Unfortunately, they were guys
no one had ever heard of," Barragan says with derision, "all vying for the head responsibility.
On any given day, there were three or four of them in the Cubs
At the end
of spring training, Cuno was having "a helluva spring," and had won the starting job. In late
March, Barragan hit a gapper off of Jim Perry. Trying to stretch it into a triple, Cuno started
to slide when the third base coach signaled to stand up. In the process, he suffered a reverse
dislocation of his ankle. Writhing in pain, with the Giants' third baseman cradling him, Cuno
was thinking, "I'm all done." On the wall of his study is a series of photographs that document
that tortuous moment.
A few days
later, the Cubs broke camp, and Cuno Barragan began a long, arduous rehabilitation. By late
August, he eventually worked himself into shape, first through batting practice and
then catching bullpens. During this period, he watched the coaching carousel up close from the
Wrigley Field stands. The attitude of the ball players "was terrible," he remembers, as Chicago
again occupied the bottom half of the National League.
roster expansion on September 1, Cuno started his first major league game against the San
Francisco Giants. He swung at the first pitch offered by Dick LeMay and drove it in the left
field stands for a home run, earning a place in the record book. "I just went up there
swinging." When he returned to the dugout a few teammates kidded him, 'Nothin' to it, huh
Barragan? Just go up there and stroke it."
displays impeccable timing, adds "No ball
—no stop the game, like today," he says arms outstretched in
comical disbelief. Ironically, it would be the only home run of his short
poring through Barragan's major league stats, the interviewer is asked, "Does it say in there
that I got a hit off of Sandy Koufax?" On Wednesday, September 20, 1961, the Cubs were finishing
a three-game series with the Dodgers, who were playing their final game in the Los Angeles
Memorial Coliseum. The stadium originally opened as a track facility for the 1932 Olympics,
served college and professional football for decades and became home to the Dodgers in 1958. The
Coliseum, Barragan says, was a "terrible" place to play baseball, and encouraged hitters to aim
for the 40-foot net only 250 feet away in left field.
The first two times up
against Koufax, he whiffed. Then in the ninth inning with the game still tied 2-2, Barragan
slashed a Koufax
curve into center field. "Had to be a mistake (pitch)," he admits. The Cubs sent Lou Brock (a
future Hall of Famer) to run for Cuno. The contest eventually went into extra innings and the
Dodgers won, but Barragan came away with hit off the great "Sandy the K" in the losing
opened the 1962 season as the starting Cubs catcher against the expansion Houston Colt .45's. A
highlight for that year was throwing out Maury Wills and halting his 20+ game streak of stolen
bases, during the fleet-footed Dodger's record-breaking mark of 104 steals in a season. "I never
had any problem with him in the minor leagues," Barragan confides. "He wasn't a
notorious base stealer then."
time on the Cubs, Barragan played with wonderful teammates: Ernie Banks, Billie Williams (both
of whom he refers to as "very personable") and Ron Santo (who recently passed away). While
rooming with Santo, Cuno learned that the diabetic third baseman needed to have a bowl of candy
around at all times, and they forged a lifetime friendship.
the Cubs assigned the 31-year-old Barragan to their Triple-A club in Salt Lake City, while
still paying his major league salary of $12,000. He remembers it was a great environment (his
family had moved out with him), which may have helped his batting average rise to .284.
Cuno was excited to learn that he'd been sold to the Dodgers, inspiring thoughts of catching
that great Los Angeles pitching staff. Hope turned to dismay, however, when he read his
new contract: he had been assigned to their Triple-A farm club in Spokane, for $4,000 less
and no chance of trying out for the Dodgers in the spring. In hindsight, Cuno believes he would
have won the second string job from Doug Camilli and rookie Jeff Torborg, if given a chance. "I
could have been Roseboro's caddie for one or two years," he muses
Barragan bumped heads with team management by refusing to report to Spokane. He finally retired
from professional baseball after nine seasons. His final at bat came that fall in the Hispanic
All-Star game in New York.
Barragan hoped to ply his college degree and teaching credential into a teaching and coaching
position. McClatchy and Sacramento, the only high schools in the Sacramento Unified School
District, were staffed with baseball coaches. The only position available was a junior high job.
Consequently, Cuno ventured into selling life insurance, and turned it into a successful second
meantime, a group of college students—Bernie Church, Jim Fox and Larry Marietti (who all played
on the state championship 1962
Bishop Armstrong baseball team) asked Barragan to manage them in the Sacramento
County League. At first he was reluctant to spend weekends away from his fledging insurance
business, but Cuno consented. He secured a sponsorship from Rainbo Bread, which provided
uniforms and equipment. Church, who later coached McClatchy High baseball, remembers Cuno was
highly organized, and during the week sent players postcards with motivational messages. "He was
probably the best coach I ever played for," Church says. That Rainbo Bread team went on to beat
La Fiesta to claim the 1965 County League Championship, and again met their rivals in the big
game the following season.
Manager Cuno Barragan (3rd from left) celebrates with his team just after
Carl Boyer (2nd from right)
hit a home run in the Sacramento County League Championship Game, 1966.
Photo reprinted courtesy of Bernie Church (behind Boyer in photo).
Ironically, Barragan later managed La
Fiesta for Sal Gomez. "Do you know hard it is to find nine Mexican ballplayers?" Cuno quipped
about the experience. One of those players—Burbank's Fernando Arroyo—went on to a fine major
league career as a pitcher.
Barragan's baseball career would earn him several esteemed honors. In 1973, he was elected to
the Mexican-American Hall of Fame for Northern California. The LaSalle Club Hall of Fame
inducted him in 1998. And in 2002, Sacramento City College voted Cuno into its Hall of Fame for
both football and baseball.
back on a baseball career that succeeded in large part to tenacity and fortitude, Cuno Barragan
admits "It was a long journey, and I'm a better man because of that."
by a Sacramento legend.
# # #