East County Sports

Long-time SDSU coach Dietz, 83, passes

Jim Dietz as head coach of San Diego State.

2022 LOCAL COVERAGE

 

From staff and wire reports

FLORENCE, Ore. — Jim Dietz, a member of three halls of fame for his devotion to collegiate baseball and influenced dozens of future Major League Baseball players, has passed away.

He died at 83 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, according to his wife, Carol.

Locally, Dietz skippered San Diego State baseball for 27 seasons after becoming the third head coach in Aztecs’ history. He averaged more than 40 victories per season and advanced his ball club to eight NCAA Division I regional playoffs.

James Clyde Dietz, a long-time resident of Spring Valley — his son, Steve, was a standout second baseman for Monte Vista High — posted 25 winning campaigns during his 27 seasons before retiring following the 2012 season.

In fall 2001, Tony Gwynn was hired to replace Dietz at San Diego State following the 2002 season. Dietz was a two-time WAC coach of the year.

His two most noteworthy hall inductions include the American Baseball Coaches of America and the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame, both in 2002.

Never appreciated on the local level as much as his national stature, it took almost two decades before he entered the San Diego State Hall of Fame in 2019.

Dietz was also a national champion coach at the National Baseball Congress level, both at the semipro and summer collegiate levels.

He guided four different NBC ballclubs — Anchorage Glacier Pilots, Kenai Peninsula Oilers, and Alaska (Fairbanks) Goldpanners in the Alaska League, plus a club from Boulder (Colo.).

While with the Glacier Pilots, future MLB Hall of Famer Mark McGwire credited Dietz for transitioning him from a pitcher into a hitter. A few years later, McGwire set the MLB rookie record with 49 home runs with the Oakland A’s.

At SDSU, he started coaching the Aztecs in 1972, when the school was going through its transition from San Diego State College into university status. He posted a record of 1,231-750-18 (.620) with the Aztecs.

He led his team to the inaugural championship of the first-year Mountain West Conference. In 1994, the Aztecs collected the Western Athletic Conference Western Division co-championship and Dietz was named the divisional Coach of the Year for his efforts. More than two dozen of his ballplayers went on to play professionally.

Dietz also coached East County coaching greats Steve Vickery and Mark Smelko at San Diego State.

Career Notes

In 1979, the Aztecs made their first-ever NCAA Div. I regional playoff appearance, advancing to the finals before losing to Pepperdine. Between 1979 and 1986, Dietz led the Aztecs to six postseason regional playoffs and a winning percentage of almost 70 percent. His SDSU squad returned to the NCAA playoffs in 1990, finishing second to Stanford at the West I Regional.

One of his finest moments came in 1984 when the Aztecs won 66 games (most in the nation that year) and set a total of 10 school records.

Dietz took the Aztecs to Western Athletic Conference titles on three occasions. In 1986, he led San Diego State to its first WAC championship as the Aztecs won both the league’s Southern Division title and post-season tournament. In 1988, his team won the conference’s first regular-season title as the WAC abandoned divisional play and went to an eight-team round-robin format.

Dietz’s 1990 team became the first squad to win both the WAC regular-season title and postseason tournament championship in the same season. After guiding his squad to a 49-22 mark, he was named Region VII Coach of the Year.

In 1991, he took his Aztecs to a second consecutive WAC Tournament title and berth in the NCAA regional. In 1996, he became the 17th collegiate coach to reach the 1000-win milestone.

Dietz received numerous honors and awards during his illustrious career. He was named the Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year after leading the Aztecs to the league title in 1986 and was again honored with that award in 1994.

In January of 1983, Dietz was the recipient of the Super Star Award, presented annually by Collegiate Baseball News for outstanding effort and achievement in the field of amateur baseball.

In 1994, he was named one of five Citizens of the Year by the City Club of San Diego for his contributions to the city and the community.

Most notable among his other awards are the 1967 Rollie Truitt Award, which is presented annually to the man who has done the most for amateur baseball in Oregon, the NBC (National Baseball Congress) Coach of the Decade for his work with the Fairbanks (Alaska) Goldpanners summer baseball club and the 1978 Breitbard Foundation award for his contributions through baseball to the San Diego community.

Dietz began his coaching career at Lowell High School (Lowell, Ore.) in 1963 where he remained for two seasons. From there he moved to Pleasant Hill (Oregon) High School where he coached varsity baseball from 1965 until 1968. At Pleasant Hill, his teams won three straight league titles and also captured the state championship in 1968.

Later in 1968, he became the freshman and junior varsity coach at the University of Oregon, where he also coached the freshman men’s basketball squad before being appointed head coach at San Diego State prior to the start of the 1972 season.

During the 1970s, Dietz became one of the most successful summer league coaches in history, spending seven seasons with the Fairbanks Goldpanners of the Alaska League. He compiled a 348-151 record there, took all seven of his teams to the NBC National Finals, and won four national summer championships. Among the players he coached at Fairbanks were future major league stars McGwire, Dave Winfield, Steve Swisher, and others.

He retired from the Goldpanners in 1978 and two years later took the Boulder (Colo.) Baseline Collegians to a 64-12 season, finishing third at the national tournament. That squad included former major leaguers Mark Langston, Joe Carter, and Spike Owen. In 1982 and 1983 he returned to Alaska as head coach of the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, finishing first in the state and second at the national tourney (1982).

After a six-year hiatus, Dietz returned as manager of the Fairbanks Goldpanners in 1990 and led them to a 142-82 (.634) record through the summer of 1993 with tournament championships at the U.S. Open (1990) and the Texas Shootout (1991).

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