CLEMSON — Jack Leggett had no idea the Clemson baseball team was lining up for him.
During his 22 years as Clemson’s head baseball coach, Leggett’s players always waited for him to get done speaking with the umpires before every game. He would then take off towards the group and either slide head-first under them, as if sliding to touch home plate, or jump in the middle of the group, as if he was jumping on home plate after a home run.
It was a tradition while he was the Tigers’ head man. It was only fitting, on a day when Clemson was paying homage to his legendary career, that the 2023 Tigers showed their appreciation to the Hall of Fame head coach the only way they could.
“I looked back, and I go, ‘Here we go. Here it is.’ I had to give it a shot. I could not disappoint them,” Leggett said.
Leggett has never disappointed his players, which is why his No. 7 at Clemson was officially retired Saturday at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. Like he did countless times through his coaching career, he charged the crowd of players waiting by the Clemson dugout and slid under the group before being mobbed.
Jokingly, Leggett rated his slide a six out of 10.
“It could have been better. I could have had a little bit more acceleration at the end,” he laughed.
Leggett had no idea the team was going to do it. It was completely spontaneous, there was no planning, at least on his end.
“It was nice to feel it again,” he said. “It was just a really great day in a lot of ways. The most important part was the ‘W’ at the end. To see the team play well. To have Austin (Gordon) pitch well and to have a good feeling when going home. You can have a day like this, and if you don’t win, it can take the luster off of it.
“So, it was a five-star day.”
It was a five-star day for Leggett. Prior to the Tigers’ 5-1 win over Notre Dame, Clemson held a special ceremony honoring the College Baseball Hall of Fame Coach, which ended with the unveiling of Leggett’s No. 7 on the left-center field fence.
Leggett’s family, his friends, current and former Clemson Athletic Administrators and some of his former players took part in the celebration of a career that saw Leggett win 955 games at Clemson, earn 21 NCAA Tournament bids, advance to nine Super Regionals and six College World Series Appearances.
He also won three ACC Tournament titles and he was named ACC Coach-of-the-Year three times. He coached 11 first-round draft picks, 21 players who went on to play in the major leagues, 31 First-Team All-ACC players, 34 All-Americans and 121 players who signed professional contracts.
Leggett was inducted into the ABCA Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame in 2020.
“I would not be a coach without Coach Leggett,” Clemson head coach Erik Bakich said. “There are a lot of guys over the course of the last forty-something years from Vermont to Western Carolina to Clemson that all have Coach Leggett stories and all feel like their lives have been positively changed because of Coach Leggett, and I am one of them.”
Bakich was hired by Leggett following his playing career as a graduate assistant coach on Clemson’s 2002 team. That started a coaching career that took him to Vanderbilt as an assistant and then to Maryland, Michigan and now Clemson as a head coach.
“Just look at the trajectory, the ripple effect to him saying yes to a 24-year-old rookie to come be a coach at Clemson in the fall of 2001. He his just one of those guys that helps shape you as a man and as a person,” Bakich said. “He is so much more than just a guy you get to play for, for three of four years. He (coached) values that are imbedded into yourself as a husband, father, leader and running a team.
“It is obviously well deserved, and we are excited that we will always have something on the fence. We will get to see his name and see his number and know that one of the best coaches in the history of college baseball made such an impact at Clemson.”
After he was hired as Clemson’s head coach last summer, one of the first things Bakich did was make sure Jack Leggett was a part of his program. With the help of athletic director Graham Neff, they brought Leggett back to Clemson.
“I love his energy. Everybody feeds off of it,” Bakich said. “He is 69 years old, but he acts like he is 19 years old. He is just one of those guys that is always on the go. There is no off switch. He is one of my best friends. I love being around him. His fingerprints are all over this place.”
And they will continue to be, along with the No. 7 on the outfield fence.
“It was really nice. I have been coming by the field for the last seven years and have looked at the field and always felt a lot of it was for our players and the era that we had of twenty-two years of baseball,” Leggett said. “I wanted them to be on the wall. To me, and it is my name on the wall, but it is really them. It’s really about what they accomplished because if we did not have good times, good years, good opportunities to play in Omaha and those types of things, there would not be any reason to put a number up there.
“So, I look at it as something that shows what they accomplished as well. I am happy for them.”
–photos by Kevin Vandervort / All Clemson Tigers
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