By John Manuel
January 6, 2006
College baseball’s greatest leader and amateur baseball’s greatest
ambassador, former Southern California coach Rod Dedeaux, died Thursday
in Glendale, Calif., of complications from a stroke he suffered Dec.
2. Dedeaux was 91. Funeral plans had yet to be announced.
Dedeaux was the Trojans coach for 45 seasons from 1942-86, winning 11 College World Series crowns and 28 conference titles. (Curiously, the NCAA only recognizes Dedeaux with 10 titles, crediting co-coach Sam Barry with USC’s first title even though Dedeaux actually ran the team.) He posted an overall record of 1,332-571-11 for a .699 winning percentage, and retired with more wins than any other college baseball coach (his total is still good for seventh-best all-time in Division I).
“Rod not only was college baseball’s greatest coach, he was the sport’s and USC’s greatest ambassador,” said Trojans coach Mike Gillespie, who played for Dedeaux and was a member of the 1961 championship team.
“His passing is felt by all Trojans. All of us in the USC baseball program mourn his loss and send our heartfelt feelings and prayers to the Dedeaux family.”
His teams won national championships in 1958, ’61, ’63 and ’68 before Dedeaux unleashed college baseball’s greatest dynasty. The Trojans won five straight titles from 1970-74 (Cal State Fullerton and coach Augie Garrido ended the run by beating USC in a 1975 regional) with teams featuring future big leaguers such as Fred Lynn, Steve Kemp, Rich Dauer and Roy Smalley, among others. His final championship came in 1978, and in all he coached 59 big leaguers. The list includes Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, as well as future Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Mark McGwire, Dave Kingman and Bill “Spaceman” Lee. Dedeaux also coached current Phillies general manager Pat Gillick.
“The things I remember best about playing at USC are that we worked hard, learned a lot and had a really great time doing it,” Seaver once said. “I learned more in one year at USC under coach Dedeaux than I would have in two or three seasons in the low minors. I learned concentration and to stay in the game mentally.”
In recent years, Dedeaux had been a fixture in Omaha during the College World Series. Whether making his way to his regular seat just to the first-base side of home plate with the help of his cane (fashioned from a baseball bat and plastered with autographs of big league players), or schmoozing at the American Baseball Coaches Association convention, Dedeaux greeted nearly everyone with his familiar greeting, “Tiger.” He also usually made at least one stop on USA Baseball’s national team and was with the gold-medal winning 2000 Olympic team in Sydney, managed by his close friend, Tom Lasorda.
He also usually made Team USA’s collegiate summer trip to the Far East, as he was a pioneer in relations between American and Japanese amateur baseball, and his inability to go with Team USA to Japan for the 34th annual USA-Japan series, which he founded in 1972, was a telling sign of his advanced age and declining health. After helping make baseball a demonstration sport on its way to full Olympic status, Dedeaux coached the silver medal-winning U.S. team in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, a team that included McGwire, Barry Larkin and Will Clark, to name a few. He also coached the U.S. amateur team that played in Tokyo in conjunction with the 1964 Olympics and was honored in May 1996 by the Japanese government with the Fourth Order of Merit Cordon of the Rising Sun award.
“A giant has passed away,” said USC athletic director Mike Garrett, who was an outfielder for Dedeaux in 1965. “This is a tremendous loss to USC and the entire baseball community. It leaves a huge void in all of baseball. From coach Dedeaux, I learned how to win and how important it was to win in any sport. For him, winning was a way of life.”
In 1999, Baseball America named Dedeaux its college Coach of the Century. As part of the 50th anniversary of the College World Series in 1996, Dedeaux was named the head coach of the all-time CWS team by a panel of former World Series coaches, media and college baseball officials. In 1999, he was presented with keys to the city of Omaha.
Dedeaux reportedly took a $1 salary from USC, in part because of his lucrative business, the million-dollar trucking firm Dart Transportation, Inc., which he founded in the 1930s. He played at USC from 1933-35 as an all-conference shortstop and played briefly for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1935.
USC’s baseball field was named Dedeaux Field in his honor when it opened in 1974. Dedeaux was born on Feb. 17, 1914, in New Orleans, then moved to California as a youngster, attending Hollywood High. He is survived by his wife Helen, four children and nine grandchildren, including Adam Dedeaux, a freshman first baseman/outfielder on the current Trojans team.
“He’s the most dynamic person I’ve ever known,” Gillespie said. “What stands out in my mind is how much fun I had. He’s a guy who’s so clever, so witty, so sharp that he makes it fun just to be around him. And he’s the same guy whether we won or lost. He’s the toast of the town in every town he’s in.”