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Speaking of Dierker: Rob Neyer Article

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by deepellumrocket, Jul 8, 2003.

  1. deepellumrocket

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    I knew at the time he got fired that it was time for him to go, but I still miss him in the broadcast booth. Here's a very nice feature on one of my favorite people of all time.

    http://msn.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/neyer_rob/1577994.html

    Dierker much more than your average manager

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    By Rob Neyer
    ESPN.com


    I like books written by baseball managers, and for a few years it's been a goal of mine to collaborate with a baseball manager on a book. For a number of reasons, Larry Dierker was pretty high on my wish list.

    As it turns out, though, Larry Dierker didn't need me or anybody else (save a good editor, I suppose). Simon & Schuster has just published Dierker's book, This Ain't Brain Surgery: How to Win the Pennant Without Losing Your Mind, and Dierker actually wrote the book himself. I mean, he really wrote it.

    When I reached Dierker last week at his home in Houston, I asked him if actually writing a book -- as opposed to answering questions from an interviewer, who then shapes the answers into a book -- was intimidating.

    "Not that much," Dierker responded. "I'd written a journal the first year that I managed, and my agent showed it to somebody who wanted to publish it then. But I thought it might not be the best thing at that time, just in terms of my relationship with the guys on the team, so we didn't do anything with it.

    "In college I majored in English, and I wrote a column for 10 years while I was broadcasting. Plus, I figured if Simon & Schuster wanted to pay me an advance for this book, they must think that I could write well enough."

    And so he can. There's a richness to the language in This Ain't Brain Surgery that isn't typically found in a book with an ex-player's (or ex-manager's) name on the cover. On page 76, Dierker writes, "If the pitcher were a wood sculptor, his velocity would be the saw: This is where he would start to make an impression, and as he whittled down the work with chisels and knives, the form would take on a life of its own ..." On page 108, Dierker writes, "My predecessor, Terry Collins, was a stormy petrel." And on page 184 (this one's my favorite), Dierker writes about reading the Official Baseball Rules: "I tried three times and got nine short naps for my effort ... The minutiae are connected page after page through the enormousness of the document like a giant spiderweb, making passage a sticky proposition."

    So the writing wasn't what I expected, nor was the rest of the book. From the title, you might reasonably guess that Dierker's book is about his experiences managing the Astros from 1997 through 2001. Or perhaps you'd expect an autobiography, detailing Dierker's rise from youngster in southern California to 18-year-old major leaguer to 20-game winner (and All-Star) to broadcaster to manager. But this book is neither of those things.

    Rather, it's a series of somewhat randomly connected chapters with titles like "Spring Training," "Pitching," "Umpires," and "Farm System." It's all interesting and Dierker has some genuine insights, but the most compelling material is the personal stuff. Early in the book, for example, Dierker writes at length about interviewing for the job as Astros manager in 1996, after working for 17 seasons as one of the club's broadcasters. There had been talk that manager Terry Collins -- very soon to be ex-manager Terry Collins -- couldn't get along with Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, and Dierker was asked how he'd handle the franchise's two superstars.


    "Look, I'm tired of this Bagwell and Biggio s---," I said. "Bagwell and Biggio will not be a problem, believe me."

    I now believe that this statement is the one that got me the job. It also proved to be false.


    Dierker never does elaborate on that in the book, though, so I asked him about it.

    "Yeah, I sort of left that hanging," he says. "In 2000, when things got kind of poisonous in our clubhouse, I think those guys -- not Bagwell so much, but maybe Biggio more so -- started wondering if we were playing the right people, if the manager was making the right moves, that sort of stuff. I don't think Biggio was more of a problem than anybody else, in terms of what he said. But because it was Biggio, maybe people paid a little more attention. But he wasn't that big a problem. When you're not winning, anybody can be a problem. The players can be a problem, and the manager can be a problem."

    Because of the way Dierker preferred to manage, he might have been subject to more criticism from his players than if he'd been more conventional. In his book, Dierker writes about the usefulness of OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), and he even includes a matrix listing the various run-scoring probabilities, depending on the number of baserunners and outs.

    Where did Dierker come by this information?

    "When I was broadcasting," Dierker remembers, "there was a guy named Steve Mann who came down here to work in our baseball operations department, and he was deeply involved in what the club was doing. I made friends with Steve, and we spent many a night having a beer and talking about the game -- about which strategies were antiquated, and which ones were still applicable. I also read a lot of the Bill James stuff, and so I learned what people who didn't have a personal investment in the game had to say about it."

    This is, for most baseball players, revolutionary stuff. And Dierker knew it.

    "When I became the manager, I kind of knew what were the smart things to do. But I also knew that if I did all of them, it would be at the expense of my credibility with the players. With that in mind, I just had to use my instincts to both win the game and keep the whole team in the spirit of pulling together. I didn't want to come off as an egghead guy who was just looking at numbers and ignoring people, and sometimes those considerations ran into each other.

    "For example, Brad Ausmus felt like we should walk the eighth hitter most of the time, with the pitcher coming up next. As an ex-pitcher, I'd rather have the pitcher leading off the next inning. So Brad and I had different opinions a lot of the time. The eighth hitter would come up, he'd look into the dugout for the sign, I wouldn't do anything, and I could see that he wasn't real happy about it. I remember once, we retired the eighth hitter 10 or 15 times in a row. And then Kelly Stinnett reached out and slapped an outside pitch for an RBI single, and Ausmus was really mad."

    That sort of thing has to wear on a manager -- especially on a team that's run by veterans like Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio -- and so it did. Fans often think that a manager shouldn't care what the players think, but managing's just not that simple.

    "Whenever I was in a flip-a-coin sort of situation," Dierker says, "I'd usually make the move that I thought the players wanted me to make, because it really doesn't make that much difference, one way or the other. And you have to consider what the players are going to think."

    Whatever Dierker did, it worked: in five seasons, the Astros won four division titles. It worked, that is, until the postseason, when the Astros couldn't escape, even once, the first round. And that, far more than anything else, is what led to Dierker's dismissal/resignation as manager. What happened to the Astros in the postseason?

    "It's not like we just quit, or we choked, or anything like that. I regret that it happened, but I don't beat myself up over it. Your hitters get 30 or 40 at-bats, and they're facing the best pitchers. Four postseason series is like two weeks in the regular season, and anybody can go through a rough couple of weeks."

    In other words, Dierker thinks the Astros were unlucky. And I happen to agree with him.

    But the Astros did lose. And that might be why Larry Dierker is now a household handyman, golfer, and (fortunately for us) a published author. Because a year-and-a-half after Dierker managed his last game for the Astros, he's still waiting for the phone to ring. Somehow, this longtime pitcher, longtime broadcaster, and longtime manager can't find a job broadcasting or managing (or pitching, but at least that makes sense).

    And don't think that Dierker is enjoying his "retirement." Still only 56 years old, he says, "I was surprised that nobody called me about managing. Now I play golf and I work out, and I read, but there's still time left over. I'm not finished working. Either as a freelance writer or a reporter, or whatever, I want to keep working at least until I'm 62, because that's when my pension maxes out. It's more fulfilling, anyway, to be doing something."

    If I were running a baseball team, I'd talk to Larry Dierker about managing it, and if I were running a TV network, I'd talk to Larry Dierker about broadcasting for it. But I don't do either of those things, so instead I'll have to wait for Larry Dierker to write another book.

    Fortunately, he's doing just that.

    "I've got another book under way," Dierker says, "with all the quotes I've been collecting over the years. I'll run a quote about a player, and then I'll write two or three pages about him, or two or three pages where I start off writing about Willie Mays, and then it turns into something about Barry Bonds. I've found it to be pretty enjoyable, because it's not intensely personal like Brain Surgery was, where I had to agonize over all those decisions I had to make when I was managing. But I think the next book will be just as informative, and have just as many insights into the game as the new book does.

    "I think there's something there."

    Considering what Dierker's accomplished already, I think he's probably right.
     
  2. JBIIRockets

    JBIIRockets Contributing Member

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    I realize this talks about the 2000 season but Bidge was the one complaining?? C'mon.

    Biggio wondering? Oh, the guy who could never get on base in the playoffs. The guy who struck out or grounded out in every clutch situation against good pitching in the playoffs. This is our lead-off hitter, the guy who should set the table.

    Biggio is right. Larry didn't play the right people. He should have sat Biggio's ass on the bench!

    Dierker wasn't a good decision making manager and he may have "let down Biggio" in 2000, but Biggio let Dierker down by not getting the job done in the 1998, 1999, and 2001 postseasons. (I'll let 1997 slide since it was his first playoff series)

    The Astros will be better off when Biggio is gone.
     
    #2 JBIIRockets, Jul 8, 2003
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2003
  3. Zac D

    Zac D Contributing Member

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    Bull****.
     
  4. The Fever

    The Fever Member

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    Baseball is one sport where one player CANNOT make or break a season. To say tha Biggio is the reason they didn't get out of the first round is r****ded. No body could hit on those teams in the playoffs, not Bidge, not Bagwell, not Alou, not Derek Bell, not Ausmus, not Caminiti.

    Placing the balme all on Biggio is crap.
     
  5. DaDakota

    DaDakota If you want to know, just ask!

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    I think he is saying that Biggio was a cancer in the clubhouse, and was always questioning Dierker etc.

    Biggio can play hard, but he is a bit of a clubhouse lawyer.

    DD
     
  6. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    biggio is one of the greatest players of his generation. he had a 3 year stretch or so where he put together some of the best years any leadoff hitter has EVER had. he transitioned from catcher to be a gold glove secondbaseman. and he won the freaking Roberto Clemente award for his contributions to the community.

    Craig Biggio is a great reason to be an Astro fan. I will be sad to see him go. Maybe after he's gone, we'll realize how fortunate we were to have had what we did.
     
  7. Mr. Clutch

    Mr. Clutch Contributing Member

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    I like Dierker, I wish he would be back on the booth, but...he's a bit sensitive. My impression is that he can't really handle criticism and controversy too well.

    Come on Larry, when you are managing a mlb team, you will feel the heat! Don't you think every Astros manager before and after you has gone through it?
     
  8. Puedlfor

    Puedlfor Contributing Member

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    Why, oh why did you call for Jackson instead of Dotel?
     
  9. bobrek

    bobrek Politics belong in the D & D

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    Don't say that Caminiti didn't hit in the playoffs for the Astros. In 1999 he hit .471 with 3 homers and 8 rbis.
     
  10. Oski2005

    Oski2005 Contributing Member

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    Maybe Dirk is the the kind of manager Billy Beane needs. Of course, after reading Moneyball and reading about other GM's having read the book and learnig that they are angry and don't trust Billy, the Oakland A's might be in trouble in the near future.
     
  11. JBIIRockets

    JBIIRockets Contributing Member

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    I never said all the BLAME should go to one player. But a big part of the blame does fall on Biggio whether you agree with that or not.

    He rarely got on base, and even worse, when he batted with runners in scoring position, he failed every time, but yet he question's Dierker.

    Da, Biggio is an also a cancer when the playoffs come around. Maybe this year, he will get another chance to shut me up, but I doubt he'll do it.

    And Bagwell played pretty well in the 2001 playoffs.

    As for Ausmus, he has 1 more homerun than Bagwell in the playoffs, and one more clutch hit than Biggio. Even Ausmus has done more than Biggio.

    Madmax, how can you call Biggio one of the greatest players of his generation??

    I mean seriously. In order to be truly great, one most perform in the biggest games, meaning the playoffs. It boggles my mind why so many, even here, ignore that Biggio has been a choker in the playoffs.

    Biggio is overrated in my opinion.

    I felt the same way about Bonds until last postseason when Bonds finally figured out how to hit in the playoffs.
     
  12. bobrek

    bobrek Politics belong in the D & D

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    So had the Giants not made the playoffs last year then you would not have considered Bonds a great player?

    Ted Williams lifetime World Series average is .200, is he not truly great?

    Ernie Banks never even played in the postseason.

    Willie Mays hit .239 in the world series and .247 in overall playoff games.

    Bob Feller's world series ERA is 5.02.

    Rogers Hornsby hit under .250 in his world series play.

    The list goes on and on.
     
  13. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    1. Playoff performance is overrated. There are great players who never make the playoffs. There are Hall of Famers who SUCKED during the playoffs. I'm not going to discount Biggio's AB's during an 162 game seaon for 12 bad ones in a playoff year.

    2. I've already made my case for why he's one of the greatest. I'm not alone...a book came out last year (I think) where the author said the greatest active players' careers in order were 1. Bonds and 2. Biggio. The 50 doubles/50 steals season was remarkable. He gets on. He scores runs. That was his career. That's the job of a leadoff hitter, and he did it as well as anyone has ever done it...particularly in an era where the stolen base was minimized and the long ball became the norm.

    3. You're NUTS if you think Bonds' career accomplishments should be minimized due to a handful of ABs in the playoffs. The guy has simply put together career numbers that throw him in with names like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. You simply can't discount that over a handful of ABs.
     
  14. eric.81

    eric.81 Contributing Member

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    WORD!! Don't underappreciate the guy people. He's an institution here, more of a Murph than a Hakeem (if you want a bball comparison) but an invaluable part of the Astros rise from a mediocre team to an above average one. I know our goal isn't to be JUST above average... but thanks to guys like Bidge, it's better then mediocre.
     
  15. JBIIRockets

    JBIIRockets Contributing Member

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    Okay, so excelling in the playoffs and the world series is overrated? Derek Jeter's, Bernie Williams's countless clutch hits in the playoffs are overrated.

    If you think playoff performance is overrated, then you must not care if the Astros ever win a championship.

    Okay, so Biggio is a great regular season player then. Players who excel in the regular season and not the playoffs cannot be considered "one of the greatest players" ever.


    Fan who care about winning can. That is why Biggio is overrated, he puts good solid numbers up in the regular season, and then when the time to go for the championship, he chokes, bottom line.

    But, I need to remind myself that winning the ultimate prize in baseball doesn't matter to you, you know, since the playoff peformance in the biggest games of any ballclub's season is overrated and all. :rolleyes:
     
  16. bobrek

    bobrek Politics belong in the D & D

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    So answer this. Is Ted Williams (and his .200 post-season average) one of the greatest players ever?

    How about Bob Feller with his 5.02 ERA?

    Willie Mays and Rogers Hornsby both under .250?

    Ernie Banks - 0 postseason appearances?
     
  17. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    JBII -- baseball is very different from basketball and hockey. very different. there is much more importance placed on the regular season as so few teams even make the playoffs.

    your ideas about not being a great player unless you've done it in the playoffs fly in the face of a number of the members of the Hall of Fame who are MOST CERTAINLY counted among the very greatest to have ever played the game.
     
  18. JBIIRockets

    JBIIRockets Contributing Member

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    Thats true. I just wish none of these players were on the Astros. I have an appreciation for players that show up come money time.
     
  19. MadMax

    MadMax Contributing Member

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    tell you what...you keep Jim Leyritz over the course of his career...I'll stick with guys like Willie Mays,
    Barry Bonds, Craig Biggio, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby and Ernie Banks. 3 OUTSTANDING 2B among that group.
     
  20. bobrek

    bobrek Politics belong in the D & D

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    You never addressed the Ted Williams question. Is he a truly great player (with his .200 world series average). It's simple, yes or no.
     

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