USC Baseball Team Looking to Recover From Disaster of ’85

Times Staff Writer

Whenever a team is unable to play its best athletes for an entire season, it doesn’t figure to be very successful.

That was the situation USC’s baseball team faced last season, when injuries were the culprit. The Trojans did a 180-degree turn and reversed their 1984 record, finishing 22-44 and setting school and Pacific 10 records for defeats.

USC, which had finished second in the Pac-10 Southern Division in 1984 with an 18-12 record, was last in ’85 at 5-25, the worst record of any team since the conference expanded in 1979.


At one time or another during the season, every starting position player, with the exception of third baseman Dan Henley, was sidelined. At times, as many as three starters were unable to play, and some missed most of the season.

“Not one time, not once, were we able to put our top club on the field,” USC Coach Rod Dedeaux said. “That was unprecedented.”

It would seem, then, that USC has nowhere to go but up, and that’s exactly where Dedeaux, in his 45th year at USC and the winningest coach in college baseball history with 1,306 victories, thinks the Trojans are headed in 1986.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “I really believe that we can have a good year. . . . But right off the bat we’re hurt with the loss of Randy Tanner and Rodney Peete. It’s going to affect our depth.”

Tanner, a sophomore who probably would have been the starting center fielder, played in 14 games last season, starting nine. He batted .405 with one home run and five RBIs. The starting flanker on the Trojan football team, he suffered a torn tendon in his left knee while returning the opening kickoff against Notre Dame last October and still is recuperating. He may be ready to play by April.

Peete, a baseball sophomore, would have started at second base. Last season he played both second base and shortstop. He appeared in 36 games, starting 27, and batted .225. Peete, the Trojans’ starting quarterback, tore his left Achilles tendon in the Aloha Bowl loss to Alabama and will miss the baseball season.


“It’s a severe blow to us,” Dedeaux said. “With those two guys, we’d still be pretty thin, but we’d also be pretty set.”

Even so, Dedeaux points to improved pitching and catching, plus what he thinks will be good hitting, as reasons for the Trojans’ probable re-emergence as a factor in the conference race.

“Our top three pitchers, Brad Brink, Steve Bast and Brian Brooks, are a year older and better. And the catching situation will make them even better. Last year that hurt our pitching, having inexperienced catchers.”

Jack Del Rio, who had batted .342 with 7 homers and 36 RBIs in 1984, was being counted on as the No. 1 catcher, but the All-American linebacker chose to concentrate on football while waiting for the NFL draft. Then about halfway through the season, senior Damon Oppenheimer and his backup, Brian Nichols, went out with injuries.

Oppenheimer missed 20 games with a ligament injury in his right knee, and Nichols, his backup and a highly regarded freshman, was lost with a badly infected right thumb. In their absence, Dedeaux had to use freshman Kalani Perry and sophomore Kaha Wong, neither of whom had caught a varsity game.

Whether because of inexperienced catching or not, USC’s pitching was, at best, inconsistent. The staff earned-run average was 5.88, up from 4.29 the year before. In 582 innings, the Trojans yielded 683 hits and a conference-record 401 walks.


It certainly won’t take much to better last season’s offensive production, either. USC had a team batting average of .275, hit 37 homers and scored 334 runs, ranking last in the league in all three departments.

“You know me,” Dedeaux said. “I’m an optimist. I think we’re gonna be tough. Stanford and Arizona (last season’s conference champion and runner-up, respectively) should be considered the favorites. But they’ll have to beat us.”

An evaluation, with comments from Dedeaux:

PITCHERS: The ace of the staff is junior right-hander Brad Brink. As a freshman in 1984, he was 5-4 with a respectable 4.31 ERA. Last season he was only 4-10 with a 6.38 ERA. He cut down on walks, 60 in 108 innings from 81 in 102 innings, but allowed 145 hits. Last summer he was a member of the U.S. national team that toured Japan and South Korea and played in the Intercontinental Cup tournament in Canada. He was 4-1 with a 4.15 ERA. “There’s no doubt he’ll bounce back and be an outstanding pitcher for us.”

The No. 2 starter will be Brian Brooks, a junior left-hander who appeared in 15 games, starting five. He was 3-3 with an 8.20 ERA. He struck out 34 in 37 innings but walked 45. “He’s gained a lot of maturity. He throws hard and has an outstanding curve and slider.”

Dedeaux hopes that one of two junior college transfers, John Reilley from Oxnard or Phil Smith from Harbor, will be the third starter. If so, he’ll be able to use Steve Bast as the relief stopper. Bast, a hard-throwing junior left-hander, was 3-11, had a 7.17 ERA, and in 90 innings struck out 83 but walked 65. He also had six saves. The long reliever is senior right-hander Mike Seiber (1-2, 5.64 ERA).

CATCHERS: Brian Nichols is back after missing the last 34 games of the season. He played in 25 games, starting 18, and batted .219. But he committed only one error in 134 chances. “I’m confident he’ll be good. He’s an excellent receiver who handles pitchers well, and he has a major league arm. But you have to remember, he’s young and he only caught about a third of our games.”


His backup will be Kaha Wong, a junior who batted .204 in 27 games. During USC’s fall schedule, however, he hit .364 with a team-leading 5 homers and 30 RBIs. Behind him are two freshmen, Jim Campanis from Valencia High in Placentia, and Anthony Follico from Santa Ana Mater Dei. Campanis is the grandson of Al Campanis, Dodger vice president.

INFIELD: The left side is set, sort of. Dan Henley was the third baseman last season and Al Villasenor played shortstop. Dedeaux will experiment a bit in the early going by switching positions to see which is the best combination. Henley, a senior, started at short his freshman year. In 63 games last season he batted .290 with five homers and led the club with 39 RBIs. “Dan Henley does everything--he can hit, run and play defense. He’s a heady ballplayer.” Villasenor, a junior, batted .335. “He’s a good line-drive hitter with outstanding defensive quickness.”

The first baseman is Scott Sommers, a senior who batted .268. He played first for the first time last season and committed only three errors in 392 chances.” I think he’s a real key for us. He’s done a remarkable job. He learned to play first as the year went on and developed into a fine fielder. He’s also a good line-drive hitter.”

Junior Paul Fuller (.259) can play first and catch, but will be the left-handed designated hitter. With Rodney Peete out, Ken Housley will play second base. A junior, he alternated with Peete last season and batted .216. Junior Manny Anguiano (.233 in 23 games) will press Housley for the starting job at second and serve as the utility infielder. Also in the picture at second is Don Buford Jr., a transfer from Stanford and the son of the former major leaguer who is an assistant coach at USC.

OUTFIELD: Kevin Janik is back in center field after missing half of last season with a broken bone in his right thumb. A compact 5-8 and 165, Janik, a junior, batted .262 in 31 games. “An aggressive, competitive ballplayer. That hurt us, his injury.”

The new right fielder is Terry Brown, a junior who batted .361 in 28 games. Brown replaces Jeff Wetherby, the team’s leading hitter (.364, 7 homers, 38 RBIs), who signed with Atlanta. Sophomore Pops Mitchell played in 41 games, being used in right field, first base and as the DH, and batted .276. He’s been moved to left, but is being challenged by sophomore Kalani Perry, a converted catcher.