Jim Dietz, longtime San Diego State baseball coach, dies at 83

Former San Diego State baseball coach Jim Dietz, the winningest coach in Aztecs history, died Sunday in Florence, Ore., from complications from Alzheimer’s and dementia, his wife Carol said.

He was 83.

Dietz coached the Aztecs for 31 years from 1972-2002, compiling 1,230 wins, ranking in the top 40 all time. He averaged 40 wins over 31 seasons with a winning percentage of .620.

Dietz retired after the 2002 season and was inducted into the America Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame the following year.

In 2003, Tony Gwynn — who played for Dietz and succeeded him as coach of the Aztecs — honored his predecessor, retiring his No. 4 before a game with TCU.

By the time San Diego State inducted him into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019, 17 years after he retired, he was too frail to attend the ceremony.

An NAIA All-American infielder at Southern Oregon, Dietz played one year in the minor leagues in the Detroit Tigers system. He coached Pleasant Hill High to the 1968 Oregon state title.

He coached freshman basketball and JV baseball at Oregon and had accepted the job as Lewis-Clark State College before being named baseball coach at San Diego State, succeeding Lyle Olsen.

His Aztecs teams won a school-record 66 games in 1984, the most wins in the nation that season. His teams won eight conference championships and made eight NCAA Tournament appearances, including the school’s first NCAA appearance in 1979. In 1990, the Aztecs lost to Stanford in the 1990 West I Regional championship game, missing out on the College World Series.

He was a two-time Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and was named Region VII Coach of the Year after leading the Aztecs to a 49-22 season in 1990.

When Fred Miller, then San Diego State athletic director, tried to cut the baseball program in the early ‘90s, saying it was too expensive, Dietz held a rally at Smith Field, raising more than $50,000 in one afternoon.

Before John Moores and Ron Fowler stepped up to build Tony Gwynn Stadium, Dietz and his players built a new Smith Field with seating, a clubhouse, restrooms and a concession stand.

Dietz sent 26 players to the major leagues, including Gwynn, Bud Black, Travis Lee and Dave Smith.

“There is no Buddy Black, no major league career, no managing in the big leagues without Jim Dietz,” said Black, who played 15 seasons in the majors and has managed more than 2,000 games for the Padres and now the Rockies. He came to San Diego State from Lower Columbia Junior College in Longview, Wash., in 1978.

“I came to San Diego on my own, went to San Diego State, knocked on Jim’s door and he was gone. I left a note, told him what hotel I was staying at, and not long after he called and offered me a scholarship. I never met the man, but he made some calls.

“I loved playing for him. Jim was different, but a good different. His style wasn’t for everyone, but it worked for me. He turned out a lot of great players, a lot of great teams.”

Dozens of his former players are coaching or have coached high school and college baseball, including Bob Parry (Poway), Jeff Dufek (San Marcos), Rielly Embrey (Del Norte), Mark Smelko (Monte Vista), Jeff Doyle (Army-Navy), Ken Putnam (Mission Hills), Darold Nogle (Torrey Pines) and Steve Vickery (El Capitan).

“Jim was one of a kind,” said Doyle, an outfielder who played with Black at SDSU. “I came from Bakersfield College, and he gave me a chance to play.”

Doyle played a couple seasons in the minor leagues in the Cubs organization, then got into business in San Diego and coached three seasons at Army-Navy in Carlsbad.

“Jim’s drills, his practices were things you remembered, things you carried with you,” Doyle said. “His signs were so complicated we missed a lot of them, so I learned not to use them when I coached.

“He was one of a kind, a guy who never forgot the guys who played for him.”

Dietz was also one of the top summer-league coaches, managing such players as Dave Winfield, Mark McGwire, Mark Langston, Mickey Tettleton, Spike Owen and Joe Carter in the Alaska Baseball League and with the Boulder Collegians.

“I loved the guy,” said Tony Camara, who played four years for Dietz from 1976-79 after playing at Bonita Vista High. “He was a great coach, but a better man. He took the Aztecs program to another level through hard work and dedication.

“His style wasn’t for everyone, but those who stayed and played learned how to play the game. Look at all the guys who played pro ball. Look at all the guys who went into coaching. That tells you a lot.”

Camara and Rick Schloss, a local public relations specialist, represented the Dietz family at Dietz’s Aztecs Hall of Fame induction.

“I was honored to represent the family, honored to give the speech,” Camara said.

Dietz is survived by his wife Carol, son Steve, daughter Jenny and a number of grandchildren. Son Scott passed away at age 5 from childhood cancer.