When writing a story for Tuesday’s edition of Jackson Newspapers about the passing of Cal Bailey, I simply didn’t have time to connect with some others here in Jackson County who had the pleasure of playing baseball for the coaching legend at West Virginia State University.
Bailey, who died on Sunday after a battle with lung cancer, got his start in the teaching and coaching profession in the Jackson County following a six-year stint as a pitcher in professional baseball.
His late brother, Jim, also coached in the county. He was the defensive coordinator for some outstanding Ravenswood football teams, including the Class AA state champs of 1976.
Cal Bailey established himself as one of the winningest college baseball coaches of our time by winning over 1,000 games while at State.
He knew talent. And he made a habit of coming to the area to find it.
Two of those who had the good fortune of playing for Bailey were a pair of two-time First Team All-Staters in Frankie Cummings of Ripley and Ravenswood’s Josh Miller.
“We were pretty close,” said Cummings, a standout pitcher for Bailey. “He was a good to me.”
Cummings had a view of Bailey which made him larger than life. He worshiped him and treasured their years together in Institute.
“It’s kind of a shock,” Cummings said about the passing of Bailey, who was 77.
After his All-State career at Ripley, where he graduated in 1995, Cummings cast his lot at the next level with the likeable but always demanding Bailey and his WV State program.
Cummings redshirted in the season of 1996 and then was a stalwart on the mound for four straight seasons as a Yellowjacket. He helped State reach the NCAA Division II World Series in 1999.
In his final season of 2000, Cummings earned First Team honors in the All-West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference balloting. He would later sign a free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves.
“I could tell you a million stories about Cal,” Cummings said. “I did everything he told me to do.
“He changed my life, that’s for sure.”
Miller, Ravenswood’s current Mayor, came to West Virginia State’s program in the spring of 2004 and earned playing time.
By the time his career ended in 2007, he had was named to the First Team of not one, but two All-America squads.
In addition, he was the WVIAC Player of the Year, Hitter of the Year and an All-Conference selection. Like Cummings, he helped State back to the NCAA Division II World Series in 2004.
“When you hear former players talking about entering Cal’s program as a boy and leaving as a man, there is so much truth to that,” Miller said. “He had so many life lessons to teach his players and his staff and he could constantly pull a story from his past and relate to a present day problem with such ease. It was really quite remarkable.
“He respected the game and his baseball mind was second to none. But more importantly, he prepared his players for life after basketball. For that I will be forever grateful.”
As the Mayor of his hometown, Miller’s lessons about life and toughness from Bailey are no doubt coming in handy at this moment as he and others deal with the impact of COVID-19.
. . . . .
On a personal note, I was blessed to have a great relationship with Bailey dating back to the 1972-73 school year as a sixth grader at Ripley Elementary.
That is when I first got to know Cal Bailey.
He made a lasting impression.
As the years moved along, we ran into each other at various sporting events and then I had the pleasure of covering his teams on a regular basis as a broadcaster and writer.
From there, our friendship grew stronger.
Like his players, I learned plenty from Cal Bailey. The guy was not only a great coach and educator, but was smart as a whip and as funny as they come.
He was tough and humble.
Cal Bailey was one of kind and will be missed by all of us who knew him.