Rod Dedeaux would have been 100 years old on Monday. Unfortunately, the famous USC baseball coach died in January 2006 after complications from a stroke.
Otherwise, the architect of the college baseball’s most dominant program would still be calling everyone “Tiger” and still be everyone’s friend.
On Sunday, the University of Southern California honored Rod Dedeaux with a statue of the former Trojans’ skipper holding his arm up above his head with his hat held to the sky, forever tipping his cap to those that enter the gates at Dedeaux Field.
“I think it’s fitting that the first thing fans will see when they walk in is Rod Dedeaux,” current USC head coach Dan Hubbs said.
The greatest college baseball coach may not have been around to see it, but he was apparently smiling down on the cardinal and gold throughout the weekend. USC took all three games against visiting Northwestern to earn its first sweep since 2012. It took 26 innings for the Trojans to take the first two victories, needing 11 innings on Opening Day and a 15-inning walk-off on Saturday.
Though the Trojans would later get a 13-6 win over the Wildcats to ensure the sweep, Sunday once again belonged to Rod Dedeaux. In a nearly hour-long ceremony held before the USC/Northwestern, Dedeaux was honored by USC baseball and the Trojan family.
Hubbs said a few brief words before heading back to the dugout to prepare for the game. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden and USC president Max Nikias spoke before turning the event over to Rod’s son, Justin Dedeaux, who both played and coached for his father at USC.
Justin introduced former Major League great and future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who played for Rod Dedeaux and really blossomed from a wildly inconsistent, hard-throwing high school southpaw into the player that would become one of the game’s greatest left-handed pitchers of all time.
Johnson, who contributed funds for the statue, spoke briefly about the Trojan family and the pride he currently has as his eldest daughter is currently enrolled at USC.
He also got hearty laughter when telling the story of his first appearance for USC baseball at Stanford and how he mistaked the Cardinal first base coach for a base runner when he entered the game in relief out of the bullpen.
The final speaker was Dodger great Tommy Lasorda, who Dedeaux would have listed as one of his dearest friends. Lasorda struggled with his words at times as he said Dedeaux “was like a father to me.”
Rod Dedeaux enrolled at USC as a freshman in 1932 when the Olympics were being held in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He became the Trojans starting shortstop in 1933 and was a team captain for the 1935 squad that won USC baseball‘s first conference championship.
After making his way to the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Dedeaux’s career was cut short by a back injury. But he made his way back to USC where he became the baseball coach in 1942.
He kept that title for 45 years, leading the Trojans to 28 conference championships and 11 national championships, including an unfathomable five in a row. Rod Dedeaux coached more than 50 future Major Leaguers, including stars like Tom Seaver, Fred Lynn, Dave Kingman, Mark McGwire and Johnson. One of his bat boy’s, Sparky Anderson, even became quite a baseball coaching legend himself.
Through it all, legend has it, Dedeaux coached for the annual salary of $1. He was doing fine financially after he had founded Dart Transportation in the 1930s. But his impact on the sport of baseball was not felt at just USC.
One of Dedeaux’s dreams dated back to his freshman year when he saw the Olympics in Los Angeles. Dedeaux was one of baseball’s biggest ambassadors and helped to get the sport in the Olympics where he was able to watch in 2000 as the Lasorda-led Team USA won the gold medal.
Rod Dedeaux won more than 1,500 games in a USC baseball uniform and was named by Baseball America as the Coach of the 20th Century.
Before the Dedeaux family pulled the black cloth off of the bronze statue and the USC fight song was played, Lasorda summed it up best.
“He will forever be the greatest in my mind.”