illustration by Daniel Adel
He put USC baseball — indeed, one might argue college baseball — on the map in the modern era and spearheaded the growth of the amateur game nationally and internationally.
In his 45-year tenure at USC, he led the Trojans to an unprecedented 11 national titles, 28 conference championships and an overall record of 1,332-571-11, for a superb .699 winning percentage. He was named Coach of the Year six times by the College Baseball Coaches Associa-tion and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1970.
For his lifetime accomplishments, Rod Dedeaux was recently honored by Collegiate Baseball magazine as NCAA Division I Coach of the Century. That’s right, the century. The publication called him “the game’s true Master Coach” and noted that he was chosen by a wide margin.
The master, now 81, retired as head coach in 1986, moving up to the “front office” as director of baseball at USC, where he advises athletic director Mike Garrett and head coach Mike Gillespie in the development of Trojan baseball. He also helps raise endowment funds for the program and promotes the sport at USC and throughout the collegiate and international levels.
Legendary former major league managers Tommy Lasorda and Sparky Anderson have both gone on record as stating that Rod Dedeaux ranks as one of the all-time finest coaches, regardless of level, ever to grace a baseball field.
Dedeaux produced many major league prospects during his coaching career, some of whom went on to become household names as big league stars — Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson and home-run king Mark McGwire, to name a few.
His mentoring ability was exemplified during the Major League All-Star Game in 1979. Four former Trojans coached by Dedeaux at USC — Fred Lynn, Dave Kingman, Roy Smalley and Steve Kemp — played in the classic.
“This parade of all-time quality players is unrivaled by any other coach,” said Collegiate Baseball.
“I don’t believe any other school ever had that many all-stars in one game,” Dedeaux says. “I know it was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
What ingredients, we asked, went into the highly successful Dedeaux formula?
“First, you have to play smart baseball,” he explains. “If you learn to do things right all the time, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing.
“Secondly, stay loose. When we work, we work hard; but we have fun, too. A little clowning always helps.”
Winning NCAA championships and coaching future pro stars were far from Dedeaux’s only endeavors on behalf of what he promotes as the international pastime. In 1974, President Richard Nixon selected Dedeaux to supervise a baseball clinic in Panama. Dedeaux was head coach of the USA team that competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, where baseball was a demonstration sport. He founded and served as general manager of the USA-Japan Collegiate World Series for many years and was honored in 1996 by the Japanese government with the Fourth Order Of Merit-Cordon of the Rising Sun.
Dedeaux’s selection as collegiate Coach of the Century prompted the USC Athletic Department to honor him with a banquet last November at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. More than 300 people attended, including many of Dedeaux’s former players.
“The players were asked to recall their fondest or most memorable moment of playing baseball at USC,” says Gillespie, who played under Dedeaux in the early ’60s. “Everybody responded with something favorable about Rod, and many also mentioned being on a national championship team.
People who played baseball at USC for Rod Dedeaux have enjoyed his sensational impact on their lives.”
Adds USC President Steven B. Sample, who attended the banquet: “Everyone who loves baseball can only thank Rod for his many contributions to the game. We can never thank him enough for what he has done for USC.”