Rod Dedeaux, whose 45 years as USC’s baseball coach produced 11 national and 28 conference championship teams, died Thursday at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. He was 91.
Dedeaux, whose teams included scores of players who later attained major league greatness, including Tom Seaver, Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson and Dave Kingman, suffered a serious stroke on Dec. 2. He died of complications from the stroke.
His teams won a record 1,331 games before his retirement in 1986. From 1970 to 1974, his Trojans won five consecutive NCAA championships. No other school has won more than two in succession. He was named coach of the year six times by the American Baseball Coaches Assn. and was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame in 1970.
As part of the 50th anniversary of the College World Series in 1996, Dedeaux was named the head coach of the all-time College World Series team. In 1999, he was named Coach of the Century by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.
USC President Steven B. Sample said: “Rod Dedeaux has been a part of USC for more than 70 years, as an alumnus, as a Trojan parent and as a legendary baseball coach who mentored and inspired generations of young men, both on and off the field. He was beloved by fans, colleagues and other coaches, and he will be greatly missed.”
“You’ll never, ever, in our lifetime see another Rod Dedeaux,” said former Dodger manager Tom Lasorda. “John Wooden was the greatest at what he did for UCLA, and you have to put Rod Dedeaux on the same level. He did for the baseball program at USC what Wooden did for basketball at UCLA. He made it a dynasty.”
Sparky Anderson, who won World Series championships as manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, grew up near USC and as a youngster was a batboy for the Trojans, learning his early baseball from Dedeaux.
“I got angry only when somebody introduced Rod as ‘the greatest college baseball coach in the last 100 years,’ ” Anderson said Thursday. “Don’t say he’s the best college coach. He’s one of the greatest baseball coaches in the history of our game.”
Everyone was “Tiger” to Dedeaux (pronounced Day-dough), and everyone was his friend. His trademark, in recent years, was a wooden cane, shaped like a baseball bat, that he used because of an old back injury.
That injury, in fact, cut short his professional career in the Dodger farm system in 1935. He was called up from Dayton of the Mid-Atlantic League late in 1935 and played two games for Brooklyn, getting a hit and a run batted in in four at-bats before the injury he had suffered at Dayton took him out of action.
While at USC, Dedeaux coached more than 50 players who became major leaguers. Other leading names in that group include Ron Fairly, Fred Lynn, Bill Lee, Roy Smalley, Don Buford, Rich Dauer, Steve Busby, Jim Barr and Steve Kemp.
“I didn’t learn to throw a slider from him, but he taught me more important things,” Hall of Fame pitcher Seaver said at his former coach’s 90th birthday party in February 2004. “I learned about passion for the game, about concentration, about being part of a team. He taught us all how to conduct ourselves in a uniform.”
McGwire and Kingman, two of baseball’s most prodigious power hitters, were recruited to USC as pitchers, but Dedeaux converted them to everyday players.
“Coach Dedeaux liked my fastball,” McGwire once recalled. “Of course, he liked my three-run homers better.” With USC, McGwire hit 32 home runs in 67 games.
Dedeaux’s passion was the College World Series, held annually in Omaha. He took USC teams there 17 times and in 1999 was presented with the key to the city of Omaha.
“Nothing compares with winning in the College World Series,” he often said.
He and the Trojans got their most memorable title in the 1973 series. Against Minnesota in the semifinal, the Trojans trailed the Gophers, 7-0, going into the bottom of the ninth. Dave Winfield, the tournament MVP and soon to be a major league star, had given up only an infield single and had struck out 15 batters in eight innings. The Trojans rallied, however, scoring eight runs on eight singles, a passed ball, a sacrifice fly and a stolen base.
“We never thought we were out of a game,” said Justin Dedeaux, Rod’s son and a former assistant coach under his father. “There was almost a feeling that it would take a miracle to beat us. [Dad] was so optimistic that he wouldn’t allow those teams to lose.”
The next day, the Trojans rallied again in the ninth inning, scored two runs and defeated Arizona State, 4-3, for a fourth straight NCAA title.
Dedeaux was also tireless. Coaching the Trojans was his side job. He earned his living as president of Dart Transportation Inc., a million-dollar trucking firm that specialized in worldwide distribution. He started the business in the late 1930s, spending the last $500 of his Dodger money to buy a pickup truck to haul freight to Albuquerque.
Dedeaux was a great kidder, a fun-loving coach with a pixyish sense of humor that, he said, he got from his early association with Casey Stengel, a fellow Glendale resident.
“That guy lived 10 lives in his lifetime,” said Mike Gillespie, who played left field for Dedeaux’s 1961 NCAA championship team and will begin his 20th season as USC coach. “He tried to make everything fun. He loved people. He had energy beyond description. For him, life was really worth living. He did not get cheated on life.”
Dedeaux’s method for keeping his players loose was making them wear outrageous red wigs in public and leading them in clubhouse renditions of “McNamara’s Band.” “First, you have to play smart,” he said in explaining his coaching success. “Second, stay loose. When we work, we work hard, but we have fun too. A little clowning always helps.”
After leaving the coaching ranks at USC, Dedeaux helped promote amateur baseball nationally and internationally and was instrumental in getting baseball accepted as an Olympic sport.
In 1984, when it was a demonstration sport, he coached the silver-medal winning team. Despite a roster that included future major leaguers McGwire, Will Clark, Shane Mack, Barry Larkin, B.J. Surhoff, Cory Snyder, Bobby Witt and Bill Swift, the U.S. lost the gold-medal game to Japan.
Baseball has since been eliminated as an Olympic sport.
Dedeaux also founded the USA-Japan Collegiate World Series in 1972 and served as its chairman until 1984. In 1996, the Japanese government accorded him the Fourth Order of Merit-Cordon of the Rising Sun award.
Raoul M. Dedeaux was born Feb. 17, 1914, in New Orleans. After the family moved to Los Angeles, he attended Hollywood High, where he was named All-City shortstop in 1930 and 1931. At USC, he was a three-year starter and earned All-Coast honors in 1934 and 1935 before signing with the Dodgers.
Dedeaux became the baseball coach at USC in 1942, replacing Justin Sam Barry. Dedeaux’s first son, Justin, was named for Barry.
Dedeaux is survived by his wife, Helen; sons Justin and Terry; and daughters Michele and Denise. He is also survived by nine grandchildren, including USC freshman first baseman-outfielder Adam Dedeaux.
Funeral arrangements are pending. A memorial service will be held in the spring at Dedeaux Field, the USC baseball diamond named for him in 1974.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, which promotes amateur athletics, at 1430 S. Eastman Ave., Los Angeles 90023.
Times staff writers Bob Cuomo, Gary Klein, Tim Brown and Steve Henson contributed to this report.