Should there ever be a Logan County Hall of Fame for softball, there are dozens of names I, personally, would submit for admission. At the top of that list would be Jack Baisden, a guy I've known nearly all of my life. He actually is going to receive a mighty high honor July 6 when he will join the ranks of people like former NBA great Jerry West and Logan's Willie Akers as an inductee into the Artie Museum in Raleigh County.
What is the Artie Museum, you ask?
Opened in 2014 by former Kanawha County high school coach and Charleston University head basketball coach Tex Williams, the museum recognizes and honors athletes of all kinds who have participated in some type of sports activity in West Virginia.
Located in the tiny former coal camp community of Artie, where Williams grew up, more than 1,200 people came to the museum's grand opening, which featured West as the guest speaker. Williams, who is a longtime friend of West and Akers, and did the ribbon cutting at the grand opening, is very proud what West told the crowd at the museum dedication.
"People of national celebrity status receive daily accolades and recognition," West stated, "but what I am most impressed with and most proud of about little Artie, West Virginia, is how Tex Williams kept it in his heart the idea of recognizing many other West Virginia people, never forgetting their dedication, successes and hard work."
The museum is located near Clearfork in what used to be a post office that Williams' mother worked in for 43 years. It has over 40,000 photos inside, including 1,000 enlarged photographs that are meaningful to Williams, who previously noted that the post office was closed in 1997 and that his farther, who was a coal miner, helped build it.
This year's special event will be conducted at the Raleigh County Armory at 200 Armory Drive, Beckley, where many Logan High School basketball games have been played. Described as the "West Virginia Legends All-Sports Day," at least 600 people are expected to be in attendance when Rod Thorn, former WVU great and NBA star, will be the main speaker at 12:30 p.m. It was Thorn, a longtime NBA executive, who first drafted maybe the greatest NBA player ever, Michael Jordan. Sign-in is from 10:30 until 11 a.m., with socializing and food on tap from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
Baisden, now 80 years old, has been a fixture in Logan County sports since he started playing fast-pitch softball in 1955. What some may find hard to believe is that Baisden has continued to play league softball ever since he first played five years of league ball at Whitman for Island Creek Coal Company.
Altogether, Baisden, an employee of Bray and Oakley Insurance Co., has played slow-pitch softball for 20 years and fast-pitch for 39 years, and he's still playing in a senior league in Charleston.
Baisden was a member of many teams, including Gordon's Foods that he joined in 1960, won state championships in 1962, '64, '75, '77, '87 and '92. In addition, the Verdunville resident has participated in four fast-pitch world tournaments.
All totaled, Jack has participated as a player in softball games in 18 states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, California, Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Utah and Wisconsin.
When men's fast-pitch softball started fading away on the local level in about 1994, Baisden became a member of the West Virginia Senior Olympics team that played in Texas. Two years later, the team qualified again for the Tuscan, Arizona, Olympics and again two years later for Orlando, Florida, where Baisden hit a lead-off home run. Other senior olympics events the team qualified for included contests in Louisiana, Virginia Beach, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Baisden, a centerfielder, was voted MVP in tourneys in Manassas, Virginia, and Burlington, North Carolina. In the championship game in Virginia, he struck a lead-off homer and his team wound up winning the contest, 1-0.
But softball wasn't the only sport that Baisden excelled in. He was a member of the Logan High School basketball squad during the late 1950s when Jim Lilly was the head coach just prior to Akers taking over the helm of the Wildcats squad.
In a game against Princeton at Logan, coach Lilly told the 5' 8", 140-pound senior speedster that if he could "slow down" Princeton's star player (Rod Thorn) Logan had a chance to win.
"When I first saw Rod, he was about 6-4 and maybe 175 pounds," Baisden recalled. "I knew that I was in trouble trying to take him on man-for-man. I don't remember how many points Rod scored, but I know he was averaging about 40 points per game.
"I guess I slowed him down some because we won, 87-83 and that was the highlight of my career. Rod goes to WVU and made All-American and then was drafted into the pros and now is in the NBA Hall of Fame."
Following graduation, Baisden and some players that also played softball for Gordon Foods formed a team in the Independent Men's Basketball League at Logan. Coached by their third baseman Masil Maynard, who was then a coach at Holden Junior High School, that team won league championships six years in a row from 1959 through 1964 - a year to be remembered as the first Logan High School basketball state title won by Logan High School, a squad coached by Akers.
Some of the players Baisden fondly remembers as being on his Independent League team include Maynard, his brother, Darrell Maynard, Wimpy Meade, Don Hall, Woody Adams, Clovis Adams, Baldy Dingess, Rod Asbury and Reginald Bailey.
One interesting story Baisden tells is about when coach Akers first came to Logan. "Willie had just completed playing for the Cleveland Pipers, a professional basketball team owned by George Steinbrenner, who became owner of the New York Yankees," Baisden explained. "Willie started playing in our league and naturally we were trying to recruit Willie to play for our team.
"We already had the best team in the league, but if Willie played against us, we knew we might be in trouble. Willie said, 'No, I am going to play with the coaches and professors.' I said, 'OK.'"
"Well, we knew we had our hands full because Willie was the tallest man in the league and had just retired from professional basketball. But when the game was over, we beat Willie's team by over 40 points. Willie said, 'Jack where did your players go to college at?'
"Willie, we don't have a college player on our team," Jack explained, adding that Willie then said, "Jack, your team would beat some of these small college teams."
Jack and his wife, Sue Ann, are the parents of three children, Jack Jr., Mick and Kara Price.
"I thank God for blessing me with good health and for making so many friends that I will cherish forever," said Baisden.
There are many highlights to Baisden's athletic career, however, perhaps one of them that stands out the most came in a World Softball Tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah, when his son Jack Jr. pitched and his other son, Mick, played left field. The team was called Baisden's Recycling, a family business at the time.
While that tournament was a "family" affair, when the widely known and likable senior citizen travels to Beckley on Saturday, he will become a member of another outstanding family - a family of sports legends from the hills of West Virginia.
Dwight Williamson is a former writer for the Logan Banner. He is now a magistrate for Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.