Lefty Hall was a lot more than just a coach

BARNESVILLE — Caring, passionate and iconic.

Those were three adjectives that have been used over and over again to describe Richard “Lefty” Hall by former players, students and friends in the days since his death on Friday evening at the age of 77.

It didn’t matter if it was his St. Clairsville High School baseball players, golfers, his students in his history classes or his buddies in his Barnesville “baseball bunch,” Lefty was revered. And rightfully so.

“When people hear or read the name Lefty Hall, a lot of people immediately think of him as a great baseball and golf coach, but he was a great man,” long-time friend Brad Wilson said. “If you look up the word icon in the dictionary, the definition truly represents what Lefty was and is.”

And it doesn’t matter who you ask, you’ll hear the same kind of words. Lefty Hall impacted lives, which is what many of us wake up each day trying to do in one way or another.

The impact Hall made was always a positive one.

“Lefty and I had a special relationship,” said former St. C. baseball great Joe Slavik, who graduated in 1982 and went on a standout career at Eastern Michigan and a brief professional career. “Besides my parents, I don’t think I respected anyone else more than Coach Hall. Everyone knows he was a great coach, but he was more than that. He was a great teacher of life. He’s a better person than he is everything else. Just simply one of the all-time greats.”

Lefty cared about his students and athletes. Not just while they were sitting in his World History class or playing on the field or course either. When they went off to college, Lefty followed their careers and made it a point to stay in touch.

“Coach Hall was amazing at life,” Ted Rose, a Class of 1992 St. Clairsville graduate who went on to play baseball at Kent State before a professional career, said during a phone interview. “Up until last year, quite frequently, I would receive little notes or postcards from Coach Hall. I came to find out there probably hundreds of us getting those. It’s just the type of guy he was.”

By many, coaching success is measured strictly by wins and losses. However, the true success of a coach is measured by the number of lives he or she impacts.

Regardless of the measuring stick a person uses, Lefty was successful in both. Actually, Lefty was successful with everything he touched.

He was truly a hall of famer in every sense of the word. Hall, who coached baseball at St. C. for 33 years and golf for 27, finished won 21 OVAC championships and more than 1,100 victories in the two sports.

“To me, Coach Hall will be remembered as a great teacher, coach and most of all a great person,” James Carson, who starred in golf at St. C. before going on to a career at the University of Michigan, said. “He was well-respected by his students, players, parents and opposing coaches.”

Lefty, who is a member of the OVAC and Ohio Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, wasn’t only a teacher or coach to many of his student-athletes at St. Clairsville. He was their friend and mentor, too. However, he commanded so much respect that those attributes never helped determine playing time or anything in the classroom.

“Lefty had a way of getting people to do things,” Rose recalled. “I don’t ever remember him yelling or raising his voice.”

When Rose, who now lives in Bradenton, Fla. and runs a baseball academy, was in high school, he recalled he and a few of his buddies would go across the street, at lunch, to get Pizza Shack and immediately return to the school and went to Lefty’s classroom to eat.

“He was such a huge, huge fan of baseball and loved history that we would just sit there and listen to the stories,” Rose recalled. “His passions for those things really stoked the flame for so many kids at St. Clairsville.”

Slavik enjoyed Hall so much as a teacher, he took a World War II elective from Hall and called it “the most engaging and rewarding class” he ever took at any level of academics.

“It was because of Lefty and how he challenged you and presented the information,” Slavik said. “He obviously left a strong impression on me in terms of baseball, but also about teaching and life. He was a great storyteller with an ability to suck you into the joy and love of the game and the subject (he was teaching).”

Slavik and Hall remained extremely close well beyond his prep days.

“It sounds like hyperbole, but it’s really not when I say that for the last 38 years or whatever since I graduated, Lefty never missed my birthday,” Slavik said. “He sent me a card every year. And sometimes I’d get home from work or something and there’d be a bag hanging on my door with a book about sports or life from Lefty. It’s just the kind of guy he was, and I am not alone in that.”

Slavik, his brother, John, Jon Mercurio and Judge Al Davies visited with Lefty at his home just a few weeks ago.

“We figured we’d go out, spend 30 or so minutes just to see coach and how he was doing,” Joe Slavik said. “We spent three-and-a-half hours there and it was a wonderful, wonderful time. We’re all really happy that he’s at peace and his suffering is over, but he’s definitely going to be missed.”

No matter the level of coaching or the sport, when you do it as long as Lefty did there were bound to be some moments of disappointment, too. It simply comes with the territory.

One of Hall’s most difficult losses ended up being extremely bittersweet.

In the spring of 1997, the Red Devils advanced to the OHSAA State Baseball Tournament for the first time. It remains the only time they reached the ‘Final Four’ on the diamond.

However, a quick glance into the St. C. Gymnasium rafters and you won’t see an OVAC pennant from that season. The Red Devils were stunned, 23-20, in the conference final by Barnesville, which was coached by Wilson, one of Lefty’s best friends.

“Lefty and I didn’t talk about that game much,” Wilson said. “Some other coaches or buddies of ours might have brought it up from time to time, but I didn’t.”

The Red Devils led the Shamrocks that day, 19-1 and appeared well on their way to a mercy-rule victory. However, the Shamrocks chipped away and chipped away and miraculously took the lead and eventually won the game.

With a district final date with River View just a few days later, Lefty didn’t utilize ace pitcher Shane Valigora that day.

“Lefty could have gone to Valigora at any point, but he wasn’t going to sacrifice the district championship game for the OVAC. And they went on to win that district game and then two more games in the regional.”

Lefty stuck to the plan and utilized Valigora consistently along the tournament trail before falling to Canton Central Catholic in the state semifinal.

“Playing in the state tournament was an amazing experience, one that I will never forget,” Valigora said. “That was a special team. I remember when we were practicing for the semifinal, Coach Hall was comparing our story to David vs. Goliath. We all believed because our coach believed in us.”

Valigora, who owns his own outpatient physical therapy practice in Georgia, called Lefty, “a huge mentor” in his life.

“The valuable life skills he taught me both on and off the baseball field have defined my perspectives in my personal life today,” Valigora said. “He challenged me both on and off the field to strive for excellence. He was a father figure in many ways, who emphasized the importance of my relationship with God and my family. I am extremely saddened by his passing, but I know, without a doubt, that he is in heaven and no longer suffering.”

Lefty was a true fan of the game of baseball. A St. Louis Cardinals fan through and through, Hall joined the Barnesville baseball group in 1991 and began traveling each summer to different ballparks — both MLB and minor league — throughout the country.

“Lefty is a legend in Barnesville,” Wilson said. “Other than my long-time assistant, Andy Marovich, there’s no one I was closer with in the coaching circles than Lefty.”

Wilson coached Lefty’s son, Rusty, during his prep days with the Shamrocks.

“Rusty was one of those ‘crafty’ left handers as his dad would say,” Wilson said. “He pitched more with his head than his arm.”

The number of lives Lefty Hall impacted are far too plentiful to list, but his family should take great solace in the fact that the impact he made stretched far beyond athletics and academics.

Lefty Hall was one of the true good guys and giants of the coaching and teaching profession, who will be missed by everyone who ever crossed paths with him.

Staskey can be reached via email at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com or at twitter.com/TLSportsSeth