Ask anyone connected with West Virginia State’s athletic program and they’d agree – Cal Bailey was WVSU baseball.
In 37 seasons as the Yellow Jackets’ head coach, he led the team to 19 conference titles, two Division II World Series appearances and two finishes in the national top five. He stayed close to the school and the team following his retirement in 2014.
Now West Virginia State mourns his passing.
Bailey died Sunday morning at age 77, WVSU athletic director Nate Burton said. Burton added that Bailey left an indelible mark on the State athletic program. His name adorns the Yellow Jackets’ baseball field.
“You’re talking about one of the greatest coaches, not only in West Virginia State University history, but in the state of West Virginia,” Burton said.
When Bailey retired in 2014, his 1,063 wins were the most for any coach in any sport in state history. He was the 10th Division II coach to record 1,000 victories. He finished with a final record of 1,063-521-4. In 36 seasons, his teams finished with 36 winning records.
Inducted into the West Virginia Sports Hall of fame in 2018, Bailey won 18 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships and one Mountain East Conference championship. The Yellow Jackets finished No. 3 nationally in 1999 and No. 5 nationally in 2005.
Current WVSU baseball coach Sean Loyd, who played under Bailey from 1991-93, marveled at the depth of Bailey’s baseball knowledge.
“He just knew everything,” Loyd said. “There wasn’t anything he didn’t know. He was a great in-game coach. He could predict. He knew what the other teams were going to do and he could understand his own players and get the most out of them.
“It was an old-school approach, but he didn’t scoff at the new stuff,” Loyd added. “He was always looking to learn and advance and try to figure out new techniques and new strategies.”
Loyd’s relationship with Bailey is unique in West Virginia State baseball history. After playing for Bailey, Loyd immediately joined his coaching staff, serving as Bailey’s assistant until his retirement and ultimately taking the reins of the program.
Loyd wasn’t just impressed by Bailey’s coaching acumen. He felt the same about the way Bailey developed relationships throughout the community.
“He could connect with people from a multitude of backgrounds and cultures,” Loyd said, “and he could connect with those people and not change him. He was still the same guy. I’m just crushed.”
Loyd admitted that working for Bailey as an assistant wasn’t easy at the start. It took years for Loyd to gain Bailey’s full trust. When he did, his administrative responsibilities grew to a point where he was able to take over the program and keep it rolling.
When Loyd heard Bailey say to him, “I trust you,” he knew the significance of those words.
Born April 8, 1943, Bailey graduated from Spencer High School in 1960 and became an All-WVIAC pitcher for the Yellow Jackets. He then became a 1966 23rd-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates and spent six years in the minor leagues, retiring in 1971 after a stint with the Charleston Charlies. He became a WVSU assistant in 1974 and took over the top spot in 1978.
Individually, Bailey was named WVIAC Baseball Coach of the Year eight times and NCAA Atlantic Region Coach of the Year twice. He also was picked to coach the USA Eastern Division Olympic Trials team in 1985.
Bailey also became the first baseball coach to be named the West Virginia College Coach of the Year in 1980. No other state baseball coach captured the award until West Virginia University coach Randy Mazey was announced Sunday as the 2020 winner.
Burton said that, even with that multitude of accolades, he always was a good person.
“He was probably one of the most humble and one of the greatest people you would ever meet,” Burton said. “Just being around him and seeing his love for West Virginia State was just infectious.
“One of the things I loved about Cal was, when he came to games [after retiring], he sat in his lawn chair and he just watched the game. He wasn’t still trying to coach. He wasn’t saying this was how he’d be doing things. He was enjoying his retirement.”
Even though Bailey stayed quiet during those games, he was always there for an honest assessment when Loyd called him after games, especially the games where he saw Bailey watching. And he knew how influential Bailey’s voice was elsewhere. Loyd remembered countless phone calls he made on behalf of West Virginia State players – and players from opposing teams – to help them earn a shot at a professional baseball career.
“There’s a lot of people whose lives would be totally different if they weren’t associated and connected to Cal,” Loyd said.
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced. Burton said West Virginia State will hold a remembrance for Bailey at a later date.