"…But the greatest farm club in the history of the Major Leagues…and the most consistent supplier of Major League talent the past 10 years is a franchise maintained at no cost to baseball. It finds and signs its own prospects, suits them up, develops them, refines them, weeds them out--and then turns them over to the big leagues fully polished and ready for the World Series.
"The University of Southern California baseball team is to the Majors what the Mesabi range is to steel or the forest is to Weyerhauser--a seemingly limitless supply of basic ore or timber.
"…Rod Dedeaux went to bat only four times in the big leagues. Nevertheless he probably should go to the Hall of Fame as a man who has done as much for the great game in his own way as Babe Ruth."
--Jim Murray, legendary syndicated columnist
Los Angeles Times, 1976
The Hall of Fame!
Jim Murray said it 24 years ago, but now, 14 years after retiring as USC's coach, Rod Dedeaux should be nominated for his rightful place in Cooperstown.
He is to amateur baseball what John Wooden is to basketball, or Bill Gates to computers.
An institution. An icon. Larger than life!
To those who have never met him, he is a towering figure worthy of the greatest respect that can be accorded a baseball man.
To those lucky enough to have known him, especially to have played for him, Rod Dedeaux evokes just as much respect, but it comes along with laughter. He smiles. He jokes. He is a gregarious prankster who still likes to have a good time.
He is still, as current USC baseball coach Mike Gillespie says, "The sharpest tack in the box."
Big-time college baseball has changed over the years, and now it is a high-stakes endeavor, filled with alumni pressure to win-it-all-now. Top players use their collegiate experiences as introductions to agents like Scott Boras, who get the best of the best of them multi-million dollar bonuses…at the expense of their innocence.
Rod Dedeaux coached some of the greatest baseball stars of the Twentieth Century, yet his program always felt more like a family than a baseball factory.
Towards the end, critics said that, like his contemporary, Ronald Reagan, age was working against him, he no longer had the edge to swim in shark infested waters.
Today, like Reagan, time has smoothed the rough edges of criticism, and he remains a highly beloved figure, an elder statesmen of the college game.
Age notwithstanding, he still remains the sharpest tack in the box.
"He has to be one of the smartest guys I know," says former Trojan lefty Bill "Spaceman" Lee. "He never looked like a ballplayer, but he seemed to have eyes in the back of his head. As the game wore on, he knew everything about every player out there. He anticipated situations better than any manager I ever played for. On top of that, this is a guy who, in his spare time, built a trucking empire and became one of the most successful businessmen in this country. How can you not admire somebody like that?"
In his spare time. It is true. Dedeaux built Dart Transportation, with his college classmate and friend Justin Dart, into the top transportation company in the United States. He did it all working part-time, giving of himself to his alma maters' baseball program in the afternoons.
Hard-worker, to be sure. He must have enjoyed having two incomes, right?
Not so fast. Dedeaux became a multi-millionaire in the trucking industry, but his salary coaching at USC?
$1 a year.
Talk about "for the love of the game." For 45 years, he devoted himself to Trojan baseball for free. Anybody who has ever been involved in college sports can testify what sort of a commitment this is: Recruiting, planning, organization, practicing, strategizing, the late nights, early mornings, long days, the travel, often with frustration and disappointment dogging at your heels.
While Dedeaux is the man most responsible for turning Southern Cal into the top college powerhouse in the nation, his legacy extends far beyond the ivy-covered University Park campus in South-Central Los Angeles.
Dedeaux is virtually the "father of international baseball." After World War II, he promoted goodwill trips to Japan, where the game had been popular in the 1930s, and exported America's National Pastime all over the Orient and into Latin America.
He is the man behind the Olympic baseball movement, a natural progression of his foreign adventures. He pushed and pushed until baseball was accepted in conjunction with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; coached a team led by Mark McGwire and Will Clark that competed as a "demonstration sport" at the 1984 Los Angeles Games; and kept it up until it became the full-fledged event that it is today.
He contributed to the popularity of baseball in such places as Italy, Sweden and The Netherlands.
Dedeaux was a driving force in the collegiate summer leagues'. First, he worked with Fairbanks, Alaska Mayor Red Boucher to create the Alaska Goldpanners and the formation of the prestigious Alaskan Collegiate Summer League, then the Jayhawk, Cape Cod, and many other leagues in the United States and Canada.
He helped build enthusiasm for the game in Hawaii when he brought his vaunted Trojans to play in the islands.
It is said that Southern California, and Los Angeles in particular, is the Baseball Capitol of the World. This is in no small way the work of coach Rod Dedeaux.
It is not mere coincidence that great dynasties in college sports happen in some places and not others. The difference is in the coaches.
Knute Rockne turned a tiny Midwestern Catholic school into the Vatican of college football.
With all due respect to Adolph Rupp and Kentucky, the Roman Empire of college basketball was built upon the work of Wooden at UCLA.
Like his cross-town hoops colleague, Dedeaux was the right man in the right place, building upon the post-war suburban growth of sunny California which has produced so many talented players. However, other schools have enjoyed similar advantages.
It was USC under Dedeaux, not UCLA (which in theory had the same built-in attributes of weather and population) that emerged as the dominant power.
Schools in Texas and Florida had weather and plenty of good athletes to choose from, but languished in Dedeaux' vapor trail.
The Coach of the Century is not unlike the region of the country his school represents. He was born of French Cajun ancestry in New Orleans, but moved with his family (like so much of America) to California. He was an All-City infielder at fabled Hollywood High when Betty Gable went there, a few years before Marilyn Monroe. Dedeaux started three years at shortstop for USC, and was captain of the team his senior year, before his short-lived career playing for Casey Stengel and the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Still, Casey became his mentor and friend, advising Rod and forging a relationship that led to regular spring exhibition games between the Mickey Mantle Yankees that Stengel managed in the 1950s, and Dedeaux' USC teams. Stengel, a resident of the LA suburb of Glendale, was also Rod's neighbor and frequent visitor to Trojan games after his retirement.
Rod returned to Los Angeles when his professional career failed to materialize much beyond his four-game stint with the Daffy Dodgers, but the game was in his blood.
Sam Barry coached baseball and basketball at USC. He was a legendary disciplinarian, and an innovator in basketball who is credited by none other than 1948 USC graduate Tex Winter with teaching him the Triangle Offense (which Winter installed as the cornerstone of multiple Bull and Laker World Championships). Dedeaux came on board to assist his old coach, and in 1942 took over after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, when Barry entered the Navy.
Dedeaux coached the Trojans' for five years, his best team going 27-7-3 in 1943, but when the war ended Barry returned. From 1946 to 1950, Barry and Dedeaux formed a unique relationship: Co-head coaches.
In this capacity, they elevated the Trojans' above the post-war pack in college baseball at a time when the game was taking some important steps.
"The men who returned from war to college campuses were very special," says Dedeaux. "You hardly needed to coach or motivate them. They were tough and had guts, and are the best generation this country has ever produced."
The first College World Series was held in Kalamazoo, Michigan and the University of California, under coach Clint Evans, won it with an 8-7 win over a Yale team that featured a war hero-turned-first baseman named George Herbert Walker Bush.
In 1948, USC went to Kalamazoo, and squared off against Yale and the future President, whose Skull and Bones affiliation served him no better than it had against Cal in '47. The Trojans' 9-2 victory gave them the first of their 12 National Championships.
Barry passed away in the fall of 1950, leaving the program in Rod's capable hands. A number of top college programs also emerged in the '50s. Bib Falk led Texas to two National Championships, Dick Siebert's Minnesota Golden Gophers would capture the CWS four times between 1956 and '64, and another title was won in Berkeley when George Wolfman and Cal captured it in 1957.
Dedeaux won his first National Championship on his own in 1958 in Omaha, which by this time had become the CWS' permanent home. His 1959 squad, which went 59-6, was considered the best team not to win a National Championship. Recruiting scandals dogged Pacific Coast Conference schools during this era, and NCAA sanctions against the football program came down, unfairly, on other sports. Despite being banned from post-season play, the Trojans' still finished number one according to Collegiate Baseball magazine.
It was during this period that a tragic figure emerged. Bruce Gardner was a star left-handed pitcher at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, and upon graduation professional teams came calling with big bonus money.
Gardner was Jewish, and his single mother was a stickler for education. She could not see where baseball would take her son. She wanted him to pursue the law or medicine.
Dedeax recruited Gardner hard, but the young man was not socially sure of himself, fearing that in this age of the "Gentleman's Agreement," a rich fraternity school like SC would not be friendly to a Jew.
His mother was convinced that Dedeaux would watch out for her son, that the campus, only a few miles from their home, would be the stepping stone to a better life.
Gardner wanted to sign and play baseball, but he was a "mama's boy," like the Laurence Harvey character in "The Manchurian Candidate". In the end he had no chance, and Deeaux had himself a southpaw starter.
Gardner was everything he had been billed as, earning All-American honors, being named College Player of the Year, and winning 40 games, a record that has stood at SC until now (although Rik Currier is in range of it in 2001).
Four years of steady college work took its toll by his senior year, however. Gardner's velocity began to tail off, and when the scouts came around in the spring of 1960, the big bonus offers were not forthcoming. Gardner signed for a modest bonus with the Chicago White Sox and was shuffled off to the minor leagues', no longer a hot prospect.
Pitching in bush league towns that were not friendly to a Jewish kid, he became lonely and homesick. His arm, which had started to pain him at SC, began to throb, and he pitched ineffectively.
On top of that, this was the middle of the Cold War and the draft was in place. No longer protected by a college exemption, Gardner found himself in the Army. One day at Ft. Ord, near Monterey, California, he sustained further arm injury when he was thrown from a truck during a minor traffic accident. His diminished skills receded further, and soon he was released, his baseball career over.
For some years, Gardner tried unsuccessfully to make use of his hometown hero status, selling insurance and failing in other business ventures. Eventually, he started to drink.
In 1974, he got drunk, drove out to the brand new Dedeaux Field on the SC campus, made his way to the pitcher's mound and surrounded it with his All-American plaques, trophies, awards, and college degree. He produced a gun and shot himself in the head.
A groundskeeper discovered him, thinking him a student sleeping off a hangover, until he saw the blood and a suicide note, addressed to his mother and Rod Dedeaux.
It read, "This is what I think of your college degree."
In the years following that incident, Bruce Gardner became a taboo subject around Dedeaux.
One of Gardner's teammates fared better, however. Ron Fairly came to USC from Long Beach, California and, after making All-America, went on to an All-Star career with the Los Angeles Dodgers, among other teams in a long, distinguished career.
In 1963, Dedeaux' Trojans' won their third National Championship. A journeyman outfielder on that team was a young man who had gone to Hawthorne High School with the Beach Boys. Mike Gillespie has been Troys' coach since 1987, and led the team to victory in Omaha in 1998.
The mid-1960s were years in which some interesting players came under Dedeaux' tutelage, but success was elusive. Siebert led Minnesota to the National Championship in 1964, followed by Bobby Winkles at Arizona State (1965, 1967) and Ohio State (1966).
The '65 Arizona State Sun Devils are regarded as one of the best teams in college history. They featured outfielders Rick Monday and Reggie Jackson, third baseman Sal Bando and pitcher Gary Gentry.
Monday had somehow eluded Dedeaux' grasp coming out of Santa Monica High School.
"`Tiger, tiger,'" says Mo, imitating Dedeaux' favorite expression. Dedeaux came to be known for calling virtually everybody "Tiger", like Babe Ruth referring to all in his path as "Kid."
"He could turn on the charm," continues Monday, now a popular part of the Dodgers' broadcasting team, along with Vin Scully and Ross Porter. "But my mother was really taken with Winkles. She was a single mom, and she saw Winkles as a father figure to me."
Monday became the first player ever selected in the first Major League draft, when the then-Kansas City A's chose him number one in '65.
The Devils were almost a farm club of what would later be the Oakland A's dynasty of the early 1970s. Monday, Jackson and Bando would play together at Modesto of the Class A California League, move up through the minor leagues', and then star in Oakland.
Jackson was a proud, talented, sensitive black athlete who played football for Frank Kush, as well as baseball, in Tempe. In 1966, the New York Mets' made Steve Chilcott the first pick in the draft, so Oakland selected Jackson, who would star for the A's AA farm club in Birmingham, Alabama. It was at Birmingham where Jackson met legendary Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant.
Bryant was friends with Oakland owner and Birmingham native Charles O. Finley, who introduced Jackson to him in the Barons' clubhouse. Bryant sized up the ex-football star and said, "Now here's just the kinda nigger we could use in our football program."
Reggie took it as a compliment, which in a roundabout way it was meant to be. It was also a harbinger of future events, which would be pushed along by the currents of history. In 1970, two years after Martin Luther King's assassination, USC strolled into Birmingham led by a black fullback from Santa Barbara, California named Sam "Bam" Cunningham. Cunningham ran for four touchdowns against the all-white Crimson Tide, and after the game Bryant asked coach John McKay if he could "borrow" Cunningham.
Cunningham was brought into the silent Alabama locker room, but this time Bryant did not drop any "N-bombs." Instead, he announced to his team that "This here's a football player."
Shortly thereafter, Southern football became an integrated affair.
Dedeaux had grown up alongside blacks in multi-cultural Los Angeles, and a number have played for him over the years. One of the first was Don Buford, who like Jackson was a football/baseball star for the Trojans' in the 1950s. Later, Buford would be on Dedeaux' coaching staff, and his son, Damon, would play at SC before embarking on a big league career.
In the mid-1960s, Dedeaux' teams included the likes of Tom Seaver, Mike Garrett, Tom Selleck and Bill "Spaceman" Lee.
Seaver, who Dedeaux referred to as my "Phee-nom from San Joaquin," was an unrecruited pitcher at Fresno High School who grew into his body in the Marine Corp. After a stint at Fresno City College and the Alaska Goldpanners, Seaver had matured into a prospect, so Dedeaux gave him a scholarship. He was 10-2 with a 2.51 ERA in 1965, but inexplicably the Trojans' were last in the conference!
"Seaver was happy-go-lucky back then," recalls Bill Lee, "not the corporate asshole he is now. He seemed hittable at first, but then got on the weights and developed that fastball with a hop on it. Eventually, he had the best fastball in baseball. That's the difference between us, him smoking a big cigar in a limo and me in the back of beer truck."
Seaver was drafted that June by the team he had grown up rooting for, the Dodgers. His family had season tickets to Dodger Stadium, and whenever Sandy Koufax pitched he was there. Dodger scout Tom Lasorda drove out to Seaver's house in Fresno to sign the young Trojan, and offered the future Hall of Famer all of $2,000.
"I didn't negotiate with him," Lasorda says now, but the record shows differently. Seaver was begging to be a Dodger, but he knew he was worth more than two grand. Lasorda thought the kid should be kissing his ring instead of holding out for some money, so the talks ended and Seaver returned to school.
Six months later, in January of 1966, the Milwaukee Braves chose him in the Winter phase of the draft, signing him for $50,000. SC had played a game against the Camp Pendleton Marines, however, officially starting their season, so the signing violated baseball's rules. The NCAA viewed Seaver as a pro, so the Commissioner created a lottery, and the Mets' name appeared. The rest is history.
Seaver's roommate at SC was still another black football/baseball star. Mike Garrett of LA's Roosevelt High School would win the 1965 Heisman Trophy, play in two Super Bowl's for the Kansas City Chiefs (along with a brief minor league baseball stint), and now he is trying to restore Troy to greatness as its athletic director.
"Tom was just so strong," recalls Garrett of Seaver, "and he worked hard on the weights, improving all the time."
Another athlete who played a little baseball, a little basketball and a little volleyball at the University of Southern California during this time was a handsome, 6-5 frat boy from Grant High School in Van Nuys, named Tom Selleck.
"He was a Greek geek," was Lee's assessment of Selleck, who would go on to become a noted Republican in left-leaning Hollywood. "I was a Communist liberal in a conservative university," one Lee's grandfather, Norman Rockwell Hunt, had helped found, by the way. Lee had wry commentary for USC's Hollywood connections, which are many.
"Selleck was making `Myra Breckenridge'," Lee went on. "I hated all the elitism at the school. Alan Ladd, Jr. snaked my girlfriend away from me, because he drove a Ferrari."
Lee, who had grown up in the San Fernando Valley before attending Terra Linda High School, in the San Francisco suburb of Marin County, originally came to SC on an athletic scholarship, but after his freshman year his "ERA of 1.93 was higher than my grade point average."
He righted the academic ship, however, but always found time for a little fun. He also was rudely introduced to the less-than-plush neighborhood surrounding the SC campus.
"My friend, Orrin Freeman, had a Corvette convertible," remembers Lee. "He parked it near campus, but when we got back all the seats were stolen. That night, we cruised Sunset Strip sitting on orange crates."
Lee once emerged before his teammates from an airport baggage chute. In Hawaii, he did push-ups during a rain delay wearing only socks and a jock strap. In Santa Barbara, he forgot his sanitary socks, so he disappeared looking for a sporting goods store, not realizing the equipment manager had a ready supply of reserves. He re-appeared minutes before the game, and with virtually no warm-up went out and beat the Gauchos' anyway.
His senior year, 1968, Lee decided to "hold out," telling Rod he would only pitch weekend conference games if he could pitch and play first base in the mid-week non-conference games. Dedeaux placated him by letting him take batting practice, and in that All-American season Lee was 12-3 with a 1.82 earned run average. The Trojans' won the College World Series, and in later years Lee would tell Curry Kirkpatrick of Sports Illustrated that "the best baseball team I've ever seen was either the 1975 Reds, the 1968 USC Trojans, or any Taiwan little league team."
They do not call him Spaceman for nothing.
From 1970-74, Troy had the greatest run in college baseball history, winning five consecutive National Championships. In 1970,Dave Kingman was the Mark McGwire of his era--a former pitcher who realized his offensive skills in leading the Trojans' to victory in Omaha.
Fred Lynn was an All-American on the 1973 team. He came to SC on a football scholarship "but after trying to tackle Sam `Bam' Cunningham a few times," John McKay mercifully turned his scholarship over to Dedeaux. A mere two years after leading USC to a National Championship, Lynn was the American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player for the 1975 AL Champion Boston Red Sox.
Steve Kemp hit .435 for the '74 National Champs, but in 1975 Augie Garrido and the upstart Cal State Fullerton Titans upset USC in the NCAA West Regional.
USC returned to Omaha in 1978, and their 54-9 team, led by Bill Bordley, is considered by many to be the greatest team in college history.
Aftet that, the NCAA imposed scholarship limits which Dedeaux has steadfastly blamed for the decline in his programs, but others observed that age began to take its toll on Rod in the early 1980s.
Still, he landed some recruiting prizes. Randy Johnson was a 6-10 left-hander who threw gas, but was wild as a March hare. He pitched with limited success at USC from 1983-85, and after a Sandy Koufax-like journey through the minors and his early years in The Show, has emerged as baseball's dominant southpaw.
Mark McGwire came to SC as a pitcher, but after leading the Alaskan Summer League with a .403 batting average in 1982, Dedeaux turned him into a full-time first baseman. He was a two-time All-American and set the NCAA single-season home run record, and was the College Player of the Year and a 1984 Olympian before Oakland signed him, and he is now the top home run hitter of all-time.
Dedeaux coached the 1984 U.S. Olympic baseball team, which included McGwire, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, and a host of other stars who would go on to Major League success.
Dedeaux retired at the end of the 1986 season, and his successor, Mike Gillespie, has experienced tough sledding replacing the legend. Finally, by winning the 1998 CWS, Gillespie established himself as his own man at Troy.
Dedeaux laid the foundation for college baseball's popularity. Today, many teams play in state-of-the-art facilities, drawing large crowds and turning healthy profits. ESPN televises the popular College World Series, with the championship game played on network TV. College games are a weekend staple on many cable stations.
Dedeaux could have enjoyed the fame and notoriety of managing in the Major Leagues, but instead has labored--for free--strictly for the love of his game and his school. He deserves to honored in Cooperstown, and perhaps a book detailing his accomplishments will open some people's eyes towards elevating him to that level of prominence.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism