Alaska baseball loses legend with passing of Don Rabung

Spread the word and share!

Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Nov 21, 2021


Don Rabung, one of the founding fathers of high school baseball in Alaska, has passed away. He was 85.

A former professional pitcher in the Cleveland Indians farm system in 1950s, Rabung brought his love of the game to Alaska and shared it with hundreds of young men as a coach and then as an official with the American Legion of Alaska.

Rabung was a longtime Legion district director and preached honor and honesty.

“He was a man of little words but when he spoke you listened and he was probably right,” his grandson Wesley wrote on Facebook.

In 1992, Rabung and Earl Davis were key figures in getting high school baseball off the ground in Alaska. It started with the Cook Inlet Conference and grew, with ASAA creating a state tournament in 2000.

“I didn’t think it would grow to the extend it is now,” Rabung told me in 2012. “It’s good for the kids, and that’s what you got to look at.”

Rabung played two seasons of pro ball, lacing 'em up for Class B Yakima of the Northwest League in 1955 and Class A Montgomery and Knoxville in the South Atlantic League in 1956.

He posted a respectable 3.45 ERA in 352 innings during an era when a starting pitcher finished the job, as evidence of his 18 complete games in 43 career starts.

Rabung compiled a pro record of 16-24 with 260 strikeouts in 59 appearances.

“I never did make it to ‘The Bigs,’” he said. “I was just one of those guys not good enough to make it, but at least I had a chance.”

Rabung didn’t give up on baseball, instead putting himself in position to create a path for the next generation.

He led Dimond Post 21 to back-to-back Legion state championships in 1986 and 1987.

Ken Wooster was a member of Rabung’s coaching staff and credited the man for inspiring him to become a coach himself.

“I loved that old man,” Wooster said. “We lost one of the great ones. Old school in the best sense of the phrase.

“I am heartbroken for his family and friends regarding this loss but know he has been reunited with the person he missed the most, his wife Dianne.”

They were married for more than 50 years.

“He was a great man,” said longtime Alaska coach Tony Wylie. “He was old school, respected the game like we’re supposed to and a great pitcher in his day.”

In 2012, Cook Inlet Conference baseball directors Steve Nerland and Don Winchester renamed the league’s MVP award in his honor – the Don Rabung CIC MVP Award.

“I told coaches, ‘Your program is only as good as your integrity,’” he said in 2012. “If it’s all about winning you kind of lose sight what you should be teaching those young kids; how to handle adversity because in baseball there’s a lot of adversity.

“Once you learn how to handle that then it becomes a life skill and it helps you in your everyday life.”