USC: Rod Dedeaux
March, 26, 2011
By Pedro Moura | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Courtesy Morris Eckhouse
A map of the USC campus in 1959 shows Bovard Field in the left-center and the football practice field just north of it, where a Mantle homer landed during a March 26, 1951 football practice, legend has it.
Noted baseball historian Morris Eckhouse stands in front of a nondescript rock on the USC campus, looks around and aims his arm toward where two o’clock would be.
“Somewhere there, somewhere between the buildings and in front of the church,” he says, “is where it landed.”
“We don’t know where it landed, but it landed.”
And what is it?
Just the legendary home run Mickey Mantle hit at USC 60 years ago today – March 26, 1951 -- in an exhibition game against the Trojans baseball team, commonly believed to be the second-longest homer of Mantle’s Hall of Fame career and one of the more intriguing as well.
It was a very unusual event, a perfect combination of wholly unusual factors coming together to create baseball history. First of all, to Eckhouse and other baseball lifers’ knowledge, it’s the only time a major league team has ever played a college team on a college campus. It also happened during spring training in 1951, which to this day is the only year in their history the Yankees didn’t spend the spring in Florida. They spent a month in Arizona, switching coasts with the New York Giants for the year, and toured the West Coast for two weeks barnstorming.
Mantle was a 19-year-old rookie, two years removed from his high school graduation in Oklahoma and yet to play in a big-league regular-season game. The Yankees and manager Casey Stengel had him in camp to groom him to replace their aging center fielder, one Joe DiMaggio. He wasn’t supposed to make the team, but he had been putting together a run of solid play on the West Coast tour that had Yankees management tempted to put him on the roster for opening day, just three weeks away.
And then the Yankees, back-to-back World Series champions at the time and on their way to three more consecutive titles, came to USC to face Rod Dedeaux and the Trojans. Legend has it one of the primary reasons the game was scheduled – New York could have played another pro team and went against better competition – was that the Yanks were interested in Dedeaux, then 37, as a potential coaching candidate.
Mantle, a switch-hitter, had four hits in the game, including two homers – one from each side of the plate. His first came from the right side of the plate, a lengthy blast in its own right that landed on the street behind the left-field fence of Bovard Field, where the Trojans played at the time. (Dedeaux Field, their current stadium, was built in 1974.)
But the second was the real story.
A few things to pass along on this Friday:
- First of all: junior fullback D.J. Shoemate is gone as of last night, heading to UConn with plans to play running back -- something he never had a chance to do at USC. Highly recruited out of Servite High School, the 6-foot, 220-pound Shoemate started his Trojan career at receiver but was moved mid-season to fullback. Injuries also limited his progression with the Trojans, as he missed a 2008 game due to a shoulder injury and missed the majority of 2010 spring practice. Now, the Trojans will be forced to use either walk-on Hunter Simmons or incoming freshman Soma Vainuku as the backup to likely All-Pac-10 fullback Stanley Havili.
- A baseball update: junior-to-be first baseman Ricky Oropesa participated in the inaugural college home run derby this week that took place in famed Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb. Oropesa, who hit 20 homers last season as the Trojans' lone marquee hitter, was one of seven competitors in the derby but couldn't advance past the first round after hitting only two out of the park. Featuring guest coaching from MLB Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Andre Dawson, the TD Ameritrade College Home Run Derby will air Sunday on CBS at 10 a.m. PST
- More baseball: ex-Trojans lefthander Adam Dedeaux signed with the Dodgers last week and reported to the Arizona League Dodgers soon after. He has yet to appear in a game. Interestingly, Dedeaux's grandfather — and long-time USC baseball coach — Rod Dedeaux and Dodgers special advisor Tommy Lasorda were widely reported to be great friends before the elder Dedeaux passed in 2006. Grandson Adam pitched 26 career innings for the Trojans with an ERA higher than 6.
- In basketball, fellow former Trojans Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson are matching up for the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns in the second game of NBA Summer League play in Las Vegas. At the time of this writing, it's halftime and the Rockets lead the Suns 43-42. Lewis has logged significant minutes on the perimeter for Houston and has seven points and an assist; Johnson hasn't gotten into the game.
A few USC-related items of note that came across the wires today:
- The big takeaway from the Pac-10 coaches meetings in Phoenix? Expansion — but not of the adding-more-teams variety. Instead, travel squads for conference squads may expand from 64 to 70 beginning in 2010. Former USC coach Pete Carroll had expressed his displeasure with the Pac-10's smaller travel roster — most other BCS conferences allow closer to 70 than 60 — so it's a thought process that has been some time coming.
- Trojans baseball news: Friday, USC will begin a key series with Utah at Dedeaux Field. The Trojans (20-24) have won three of their last four games and could approach .500 with a series sweep. They'll need to gather all the momentum they can muster over the next week because a three-game series at Pac-10 power UCLA awaits them a week from Friday in Westwood.
- Speaking of baseball, here's an interesting piece on the superstar-esque power of USC first baseman Ricky Oropesa. Oropesa, still just a sophomore, has hit 25 home runs in his college career, displaying power to all fields. After struggling for some of last season in the shadow of former Trojan — and 2009 first-round selection — shortstop Grant Green — Oropesa has developed into USC's primary offensive threat, often batting second or third in the lineup. On the topic of Green, here's an update on the now-Oakland Athletics' minor leaguer.
- A bit more baseball: former USC coach Rod Dedeaux and outfielder Fred Lynn were among 28 players and coaches named to the official College World Series Legends Team on Thursday. The late Dedeaux was one of only three coaches on the roster.
- Lastly, in what became a national story today, the Wear twins of Orange County — David and Travis — announced they will transfer from North Carolina. 6-foot-10 forwards both, the pair are expected to return home this week and begin the process to choose a new school. Interestingly, the twins initially chose UNC back in January 2008 over UCLA and Arizona. The coach for Arizona at that time? That's right: current Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill.