Cal Bailey wasn’t from Jackson County, but we loved claiming him as though he was one of our own.
And Bailey seemed to like it.
He actually grew up in nearby Roane County and attended Spencer High School, where he was a star athlete.
He was a guy who made friends at a rapid pace throughout his life and he certainly made his share in the short time he worked in Jackson County as a traveling physical education teacher and coach.
It was all of one year, but any time that period of his life was mentioned to Bailey his eyes would always light up like a Christmas tree as he related stories.
Bailey left Ripley to work at West Virginia State College (now University), where he ultimately became the head baseball coach and built a powerhouse program for the school.
Bailey lost his brief battle with cancer on Sunday at the age of 77.
The state sports scene will miss one of its very best.
Jackson County is saddened with his passing.
“Everybody’s heartbroken,” said Ravenswood head baseball coach Wes Swain, who was a standout pitcher at State for Bailey in the seasons of 1993-96. “We had hopes he was going to get better (Bailey had been diagnosed with cancer in November). It’s almost like you lost a father. Outside of family, he was the biggest inspiration for many of us.
“The way I act, coach, and do things are due to him. His practices were extremely hard. He created a lot of chaos and stressful situations in practices. It made the games seem easy.”
From the season of 1978 through 2014, Bailey was the leader of the Yellow Jackets. His teams won 1,063 games, which puts him 11th all-time among NCAA Division II coaches. He won 67 percent of his games, which is 30th best.
While he piled up the wins, what Bailey most wanted was for each of his players to be better year after year. He wanted them to excel on the field and off.
As State’s head coach, Bailey guided the program to 10 West Virginia Conference championships and a Mountain East Conference title.
Two of his teams won the North Atlantic Regional title which placed them in the 1999 and 2005 NCAA Division II World Series.
While at State, he coached 36 All-Americans. One of those was Josh Miller, a former Ravenswood High two-time First Team All-Stater and his hometown’s current mayor. Miller was a two-time All-American.
Bailey attended State after a stint in the service and played football and baseball for the Institute-based school.
In 1966 he was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates organization after being taken in the 23rd round of the Major League Baseball Draft.
Bailey spent six years in minor league ball before making his way to Jackson County.
Bailey’s late brother, Jim, also made an impact while teaching and coaching in Jackson County. He was the defensive coordinator for the 1977 Ravenswood football team that claimed the Class AA state championship.
Jim Bailey later returned to Roane County and finished his career as the Director of Transportation for the school system there.
Cal Bailey joined the baseball coaching staff at West Virginia State in 1974 and worked in various roles for the school before becoming the main man guiding the program on the diamond.
Bailey, who is the state’s winningest college coach in any sport, was inducted into the West Virginia State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1985, not too long after his outstanding coaching career had taken off.
He was honored as a West Virginia Sports Writers Association Hall of Famer in 2018.
He was named the West Virginia Conference Coach of the Year eight times and North Atlantic Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2005.
Bailey earned the West Virginia’s College Coach of the Year (now the Furfari Award) honor in 1980. It marked the first time a baseball coach had ever been recognized for the prestigious award.
He took the accolades in stride, but one did mean plenty to Bailey.
In 1998, the school dedicated the facility in which State baseball called home in his honor by naming it Calvin L. Bailey Field.
As hard as he worked at coaching, Bailey, a proud farmer, spent countless hours grooming the diamond where the Yellow Jackets owned their opponents.
“Cal was larger than life,” said Ripley native Bryce Casto, who had the pleasure of knowing Bailey as a student-athlete while at State from 1977-1981 and years later while serving as the school’s athletic director.
Casto, who was a three-time First Team All-West Virginia Conference football player at State and a member of the school’s Hall of Fame, added, “Cal could have coached anywhere but chose State and we’re better for it. He was a Russian linguist for the Navy. He was very educated on a variety of topics. He had a profound effect on my career.”
The 1977 Ripley High graduate, who won a Class AAA state football championship in 1994 as part of a successful eight-season run as South Charleston High School’s head coach, noted Bailey had a soft spot for players from Jackson County.
Besides Swain and Miller, his roster of Jackson Countians featured the likes of current Kansas City Royals bench coach Larry Carter, a former Ravenswood Class AA First Team All-Stater and Paul Fletcher, a two-time Class AA First Team All-Stater. Both Carter and Fletcher pitched in the big show of Major League Baseball.
In addition, Bailey had current Ripley assistant Frankie Cummings, Justin Frashier, a head football coach in North Carolina, Kevin Casto, Roger Shamblin and the late Roscoe Taylor in his program.
While he moved into coaching on a full-time basis, Bailey continued on as an educator – teaching classes as well as lessons on the field.
“Cal’s graduation rate for his players was around 85 percent for 36 years,” Casto said. “That’s pretty impressive. His coaching tree will last forever and ever. He was a life coach as much as anything.”
Bailey’s own life featured a short stop in Jackson County.
It’s a time he cherished.
As did those who knew him.