Legendary USC baseball coach dies at 91

Updated: January 7, 2006, 10:33 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Rod Dedeaux was a colorful character and a remarkable baseball coach.

Dedeaux, who guided Southern California to a record 11 NCAA baseball championships and helped mold such major league greats as Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson and Tom Seaver, died Thursday. He was 91.

Dedeaux headed a thriving trucking business and he once said of his reported $1 annual salary at USC: "I always say everyone gets paid what they're worth. I could cash my check on the bus."

A twinkle in his eye, Dedeaux was quick with a quip.

• On friend Casey Stengel's often indecipherable speech: "People talked about Stengelese, but I understood every word. Of course, I'd occasionally wonder if there was something wrong with me because I was the only person in our group who did understand."

• On longtime pal Tommy Lasorda: "I love the guy. But when people say we look alike and think we're brothers, it's really insulting because he's so ugly."

• On his two-game major league career: "I had a cup of coffee with no sugar in it."

Dedeaux, who coached the Trojans for 45 years before retiring in 1986, died in suburban Glendale of complications from a Dec. 2 stroke, the school said.

Nearly 60 USC players under Dedeaux went on to big league careers, including Dave Kingman, Fred Lynn and Roy Smalley.

"Rod Dedeaux was one of a kind. I consider myself fortunate enough to have been his friend," Seaver said through New York Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz. "He never forgot you. Even though I was only there for one year, it seemed like I played for him for 10 or 20 years. There's no one who has ever been like him."

Dedeaux had a record of 1,332-571-11, the most wins in Division I history until Cliff Gustafson of Texas surpassed him in 1994. Dedeaux's record currently ranks seventh among Division I coaches.

He had winning seasons in 41 of his 45 years with the Trojans, and during one stretch, USC went 37 years without a losing season.

"A giant has passed away," said USC athletic director Mike Garrett, an outfielder for Dedeaux in 1965. "It leaves a huge void in all of baseball."

The Trojans' national championships included five in a row from 1970-74 -- no other school has won more than two straight -- and they won 28 conference titles under him. A number of baseball publications named Dedeaux "Coach of the Century."

"Rod not only was college baseball's greatest coach, he was the sport's and USC's greatest ambassador," said current USC baseball coach Mike Gillespie, an outfielder on Dedeaux's 1961 national championship team.

Hall of Fame manager Lasorda said he and Dedeaux were "real good buddies" for 43 years.

"I'll cherish the days that I spent with him and traveled with him," he told The AP Thursday night. "He was my mentor, he was my idol, and he was my friend."

Lasorda said Dedeaux's family put a television in his room Wednesday night showing the national championship football game between USC and Texas. The Trojans lost 41-38.

"He loved USC very, very much," Lasorda said.

Dedeaux played three seasons for Southern California, and appeared in two games at shortstop for the 1935 Brooklyn Dodgers, going 1-for-4 with an RBI. A back injury ended his career several years later.

In recent years, Dedeaux walked with the aid of a cane shaped like a baseball bat that had the signatures of several Hall of Famers.

He was a frequent visitor to Trojans' games at the field named in his honor in recent years, attended every College World Series since retiring, and was a regular at Dodger Stadium. With a mischievous grin, he called almost everyone "Tiger."

Dedeaux helped in the development of amateur baseball in the United States and overseas. In 1964, he coached the U.S. Olympic team when baseball was a demonstration sport, and guided the American team, which included McGwire, to a silver medal in Los Angeles 20 years later when the sport achieved medal status.

"Rod was a very meaningful person in my life, instrumental in my becoming the player that I was and the person that I am. I loved him a lot," McGwire said through his spokesman, Marc Altieri.

Dedeaux lent his expertise to Hollywood, serving as technical director and consultant for the baseball movies "Field of Dreams" and "A League of Their Own."

He founded Dart Transportation Inc. in the 1930s and it grew into a million-dollar trucking business. He continued to show up for work daily until recently.

He is survived by his wife, Helen; sons Justin and Terry; daughters Michele and Denise; and nine grandchildren, including current USC baseball player Adam Dedeaux.

Funeral services will be held Jan. 16 in Los Angeles. A memorial service will be held next spring at Dedeaux Field.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press