Raoul (Rod) Dedeaux, a 55-year-old gentleman from Los Angeles whose little paunch and oversized, black horn-rimmed glasses make him look like the businessman he is, was caught in a dilemma when Oriole leadoff man Don Buford stepped up against Met Pitcher Tom Seaver in the first inning of last year's World Series. Dedeaux wanted Buford to hit a home run—which he promptly did on the second pitch—and he also wanted Seaver to throw a perfect game. His quandary was not caused by any indecision on his part. Wishy-washy men do not build $5-million-a-year businesses, as Dedeaux has done. His problem simply was that Seaver and Buford were his boys. He was not about to pick a favorite.
Dedeaux has been confronted by similar dilemmas for years, although never before in a World Series. His boys happen to be alumni of the University of Southern California baseball team. Each February, no matter how things are going in his trucking business, Dedeaux (pronounced DAY-dough) cools it with the shipping contracts and the headaches over the new Teamsters demands and immerses himself in the pleasant vagaries of college baseball. Using laughter and discipline in about equal measure, he has won more games (932) and more national titles (5) than any other college coach. Dozens of his players have made it to the big leagues, at least for a while, and annually his teams are ranked among the 10 best in the country.
The current Southern Cal team is no exception. The Trojans finished the regular season with a 41-12 record. They took the title in a tough Pacific Eight, beat Santa Clara in the district playoffs and are favored to win the College World Series in Omaha next week.
This will be Dedeaux's 12th appearance at the College Series. As a player, he never did make a big-league Series. After starring at shortstop for USC, he was signed for the Dodgers in 1935 by his current Glendale neighbor, Casey Stengel, and batted .300 as a minor leaguer before a broken back—he played with it that way for most of a season—brought an end to his career. Dedeaux returned to California, spent the last $500 of his baseball money on a 1½-ton Chevrolet truck and went into the hauling business as his own driver. He took over the USC baseball team in 1942, when Coach Sam Barry joined the service. USC won the league championship that year and, although his hair has been silvered by 29 years of sophomores, not much else has changed except Dedeaux's circumstances. He's richer.
June 14, 1970
Len Gabrielson, the Dodger outfielder who is one of Dedeaux's eight active major leaguers, says, "Coaching young men in college gives him a refreshing vitality which I am sure is a welcome change from his usual work. It certainly helps his players."
Effervescence is Dedeaux's most pervasive trait. He is a vigorous, gregarious man who booms around Los Angeles, smiling, patting backs and greeting everyone from the district attorney to his own drivers with equal gusto: "Hey, tiger Great to see ya, ol' buddy."
"The things I remember best about playing at SC," says Seaver, "are that we worked hard, learned a lot and had a really great time doing it."
Dedeaux, with a lingering love of fraternity-house slapstick, institutionalized most of the good times long ago. Every road trip on USC's schedule begins with the coach yelling, "Whack it to 'em bussie, you're driving the champs," and one of the sophs wearing a zany red wig. There are no somber, pre-game meditation sessions for the Southern Cal team. When Dedeaux delivers his scouting report, which is based on his own highly refined grading system, he invariably begins by telling his pitcher, "There's nobody in this lineup who'll make you tingle." Opposition players are identified as "big brown dogs" if Dedeaux feels they lack sufficient enthusiasm for the game or play as though their rear ends are leaded. After every win the Trojans sing MacNamara's Band, giving more attention to volume than harmony. Once a season, on Saturday midnight after road games against Stanford and California, Dedeaux leads his team in a song fest while standing on a safety island in the middle of the street in San Francisco's North Beach section, the area that first bared topless go-go girls.
"I think first of all baseball should be enjoyable," Dedeaux says. "Winning is the best way of making it that way. By keeping my kids loose and laughing, I can help them win. Of course, the laughing doesn't extend to the field."
Dedeaux's teams play a polished, well-disciplined game that reflects the professional aspirations of most of his players and his own stress on avoiding mental errors "Physical mistakes are part of the game, but mental ones don't have to be," says Dedeaux. "At the level of competition we play, the teams are pretty even as far as talent goes, but we manage to win more often by minimizing the mental errors and executing the fundamental plays correctly."
To help cut down mental lapses, Dedeaux uses a system of fines that relies more on digging at a player's pride than draining his wallet—two bits from the second baseman for backing up a throw too slowly, two bits more from the right-fielder for tossing to the wrong base, a third fine to the hitter who swings too hard at a two-strike pitch instead of shortening his stroke to protect the plate.
USC players take the fines seriously. On a recent road trip to Oregon, the game was delayed by rain between the second and third innings. As Catcher Craig Perkins, who had drawn the game's first penalty, headed for shelter, he earnestly asked a teammate, "If the game's rained out do I still have to pay?"
"I learned more in one year at USC under Coach Dedeaux than I would have in two or three seasons in the low minors," Seaver says. "'I learned concentration and to stay in the game mentally." It is not coincidental that Seaver is an excellent fielder and, for a pitcher, a good bunter and hitter. Dedeaux's pitchers all receive special, lengthy batting and fielding instruction.
It is Dedeaux's reputation as a masterful teacher, not any plush facilities, that draws Southern California high-school players, the best in the country, to USC. The Trojans' clubhouse is in the basement of a 40-year old building, and a towering eucalyptus tree insinuates itself into fair territory along the right-field line of Bovard Field, which, not too long ago, the track and baseball teams shared. One day an outfielder was shagging fly balls when a runaway javelin speared his pants leg, leaving him miraculously unscathed though firmly pinned to the ground.
Despite these disadvantages, Dedeaux usually competes with big-league teams, not other colleges, for players. Two years ago when the Dodgers tried to locate their No. 1 draft choice, a shortstop from Stamford, Conn., they found him with Dedeaux in a restaurant. If USC had all the boys who had signed letters-of-intent but broke them to turn pro the past two springs, Dedeaux's lineup would include major league or Triple A players at every position.
Among the leftovers are a brace of big-league prospects. Pitchers Jim Barr and Brent Strom have a combined 25-2 record and neither allowed a run in the 20 innings they pitched in exhibition games against the Dodgers this spring. Third Baseman Dan Stoligrosz has shown major league power with 14 home runs and Shortstop Cal Meier has averaged .311. But the best Southern Cal player may be junior Dave Kingman, an 11-4 pitcher last year who batted too well, Dedeaux thought, to play only once a week. Kingman stands 6'6" and is the only non-Californian among USC's regulars. Before he broke an arm in the team's 13th game, he was batting .533. Among his hits was his longest home run which he cracked off Dodger Pitcher Joe Moeller. "Dave has wanted to be a pitcher all his life and he was hesitant about moving to the outfield," says Dedeaux. "But I told him he has a chance to be a great one—I mean somebody like Musial or Mays or Aaron—and he changed. He may have more potential than any hitter I've coached."
Rod Dedeaux's word alone should push Kingman's asking price way up. But a .500 hitter who can throw and think? In this year of runaway races—14 of the 24 major league clubs have lost more games than they have won—the mind boggles at the coming struggle for the latest, and maybe best, of Rod's boys.