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 1�-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.
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."