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05/05/2005 9:10 PM ET
Dedeaux honored by Louisville Slugger
Legendary USC coach visits bat factory, Museum
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Rod Dedeaux won 11 national titles while coaching Southern California. (Doug Miller/MLB.com)
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Baseball has a way of bringing people of all ages together, and never was it more evident than Thursday afternoon at the Louisville Slugger Museum and factory.

As a mass of elementary schoolchildren huddled by the handle of the 120-foot bat at the entrance to the beautiful museum commemorating Hillerich & Bradsby's 121 years of Major League bat craftsmanship, an elder statesman of the game was being honored inside.

Rod Dedeaux, the legendary former University of Southern California baseball coach who happens to be 91 years old, was presented one of the Museum's first lifetime achievement awards.

Dedeaux, in town on a corporate invitation to this weekend's Kentucky Derby, was presented with a silver bat similar to the Silver Slugger bats H&B awards at the end of every big league season.

"It's such an honor to have him here that we decided it was the least we could do," said Rick Redman, H&B's vice president of corporate communications.

"Rod has done just about everything you can do in this game. His list of achievements is mind-blowing and we're just thrilled that he could stop by."

Redman's not kidding about those achievements.

In 45 years as the Trojans' main man in the dugout, Dedeaux won 11 national titles, 1,332 career games, six Coach of the Year awards and Collegiate Baseball magazine's Coach of the Century honor.

"I mean, gosh," Redman said. "How do you top that guy?"

You don't. You just sit back and listen to his incredible stories.

Dedeaux has coached so many big leaguers that he has trouble naming them all, although he gives it a good shot. Suffice it to say that he's coached one Hall of Famer, pitcher Tom Seaver, and says he thinks he's got two more on the way in Mark McGwire and Randy Johnson.

Through all of his years on the diamond, as a Brooklyn Dodger for four at-bats in 1935 and as a pioneer of the college game, Dedeaux has always been a big Louisville Slugger fan.

In fact, Dedeaux, an advocate of outlawing aluminum bats at all levels of baseball, was walking around with the help of a special Louisville Slugger cane.

"Louisville Slugger has done so much for the game of baseball," Dedeaux said. "There's so much history in the bats and so many good memories. I've always loved the bats and loved the way they treated me and my players."

When asked for his most resonant baseball memories, Dedeaux offered two, and both had a decidedly presidential ring to them.

"In the 1948 college championship, it was a best-of-three series and it was us against Yale in Kalamazoo, Mich.," Dedeaux said, with no hesitation or difficulty of recall.

"There was a guy on the Yale team, and he was a pretty good ballplayer. He was captain and he played first base. His name was George Bush Sr.

"In the first game, we were leading, 3-1, in the bottom of the ninth. They loaded the bases with nobody out and brought up a pinch-hitter, who hit into a triple play to end the game. Can you believe that?"

Turns out the player waiting on deck was Bush Sr.

"When he became Vice President in 1980, he sent me an autographed photo with a note saying, "Thirty-two years later, I'm still smarting from that triple play."

Dedeaux said Senior wasn't the only George Bush who was well-aware of the events of that game.

"George W. Bush threw out the first pitch [at the College World Series] in Omaha a few years ago and someone asked him about the triple play, you know, just wondering if he had heard about it," Dedeaux recalled.

"He said, 'Are you kidding? My dad told me about 200 times. And every time he tells it, he gets madder.'"

Nobody was mad to see Dedeaux in Louisville on Thursday, especially when he was surrounded by bats and photos of all the greats of the game. It was a poetic scene not lost on the old coach.

"This is really wonderful," Dedeaux said. "It's very special to be here today."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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