Dierker, Larry 1946-
DIERKER, Larry 1946-
Born September 22, 1946, in Hollywood, CA; married; wife's name Judy; children: Ashley, Julia, Ryan. Education: University of Houston, B.A.
Office—MLB Advanced Media, L.P., 75 Ninth Avenue, Fifth Floor, New York, NY 10011.
Sports commentator and former professional baseball player and manager. Houston Astros, (originally Houston Colt .45s until 1964), pitcher, 1964-76, director of group and season sales office, 1977-79, radio and television color analyst, 1979-97, manager, 1997-2001; St. Louis Cardinals, pitcher, 1977; MLB.com, guest columnist, 2004—. Owner of Larry's Big Bamboo (restaurant), Minute Maid Stadium, Houston.
Named to National League All-Star Team, 1969, 1971.
This Ain't Brain Surgery: How to Win the Pennant without Losing Your Mind, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
Also contributed numerous sports columns to the Houston Chronicle.
A star pitcher, respected commentator, and well-liked manager, Larry Dierker has a career in Major League Baseball going back to 1964, when the Houston Astros were still known as the Houston Colt .45s. Although he led a remarkable life on the field, including pitching a no-hitter in his last playing year with the Astros, the most dramatic moment in his life occurred later, when he was managing the team. On June 13, 1999, in the eighth inning of a game against San Diego, Dierker suffered a grand mal seizure. Amazingly, Dierker made a full recovery after brain surgery, and he continues as a beloved fount of baseball wisdom, drawing on the unusual life experience of being a player, analyst, and manager, a career he recounts in This Ain't Brain Surgery: How to Win the Pennant without Losing Your Mind.
Dierker joined the Colt .45s right out of high school in 1964, rapidly showing his promise as a pitcher. On his eighteenth birthday, he struck out a young man named Willie Mays, who was making his Major League debut. Dierker's professional life has always been lived on or around the baseball diamond, and he is a walking encyclopedia of baseball lore. At the same time, "Dierker is in baseball, but he is not of baseball," as Esquire contributor Charles P. Pierce put it. For one thing, he's a passionate reader, and he earned a degree in English from the University of Houston. While acknowledging that his interests outside the game might set him apart, "At the same time," he told Pierce, "I'm perfectly comfortable within the baseball culture."
Dierker has seen many sides of the game. After a long stint as the Astros' star pitcher, Dierker moved to the St. Louis Cardinals briefly in 1977 before returning to Houston as a marketer and then a TV and radio commentator for the team. In 1997, when hot-tempered Terry Collins had finally exhausted the patience of his players and the ownership, the Astros decided to move the good-natured Dierker out of the broadcast booth and into the manager spot.
Though not entirely unprecedented, the appointment of a man with no managerial experience who'd been off the field for eighteen years seemed like an act of desperation to baseball observers. The culture shock of replacing the iron rule of Collins with the laid-back, good-humored style of Dierker, whose professional attire tended toward garish Hawaiian shirts, caused even more jaws to drop, and most assumed it was a makeshift measure before a real manager was hired. Instead, Dierker and his Astros began to surprise the skeptics and started to win. In May of 1997, Bob Nightengale reported in the Sporting News, "a funny thing has happened in Houston. The jokes have stopped. The criticism has waned. Slowly, there is acceptance." The Astros went on to win the division title, and acceptance turned to respect, from both fans and players.
Then, on a Sunday afternoon in June of 1999, Dierker almost lost everything. On their way to a seeming victory over the San Diego Padres, Astros players were stunned to see their manager collapse into convulsions so powerful that one player trying to help was thrown clear of the dugout. Dierker was rushed to the hospital, where surgeons removed a fist-sized tangle of blood vessels from his brain. For two days, Dierker lay unconscious, but he finally woke on the third day. Tentatively, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and then walked to the nurse's station to request a cup of coffee, each step a minor victory. As he told Pierce, "There was a newspaper lying there, and I picked it up and I walked back to my room and I sat in a chair and had a cup of coffee and my newspaper.…I don't think I'll ever do anything that I enjoy more than I enjoyed that five minutes. Sitting there and being able to taste a cup of coffee and read a newspaper—well, that just felt like heaven to me."
In This Ain't Brain Surgery, Dierker recounts his remarkable life in baseball, its very title suggesting his humorous approach to even the darkest times. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found that the "prose is witty and easy" but felt that "the book could use sharper focus." Booklist reviewer Wes Lukowsky commended Dierker's balanced approach, noting that "unlike many baseball lifers, he has a healthy perspective about the game." Library Journal reviewer Morey Berger found it a "rollicking tale" that "should appeal to most popular sports fans."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Shatzkin, Mike, editor, The Ballplayers: Baseball's Ultimate Biographical Reference, Arbor House (New York, NY), 1990.
Booklist, June 1, 2003, Wes Lukowsky, review of This Ain't Brain Surgery: How to Win the Pennant without Losing Your Mind, p. 1727.
Esquire, May, 2000, Charles P. Pierce, "An Egghead in Don Zimmer's Clothing," p. 58.
Houston Business Journal, October 26, 2001, "Astros Manager Steps Down," p. 3.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2003, review of This Ain't Brain Surgery, p. 727.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 15, 1999, "A Tough Call in Any Sport: When to Cancel," section K, p. 5661; June 15, 1999, "Astros Manager Larry Dierker Is the Eternal Optimist," section K, p. 5688; May 26, 2000, Ken Daley, "Houston's Collapse Reaches Astronomical Proportions," section K, p. 3450.
Library Journal, July, 2003, Morey Berger, review of This Ain't Brain Surgery, p. 93.
Nation's Restaurant News, March 17, 2003, "Two New Restaurants Pitch Menus to Fans at Minute Maid Park," p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, May 19, 2003, review of This Ain't Brain Surgery, p. 63.
Sporting News, June 20, 1988, Stan Isle, "Dierker's Idea for Balk Rule: Keep It Simple," p. 5; December 30, 1996, Bob Nightengale, "How Will the New Guy Do in Houston? He'll Manage," p. 24; May 5, 1997, Bob Nightengale, "Astros Respond to Laid-Back Larry," p. 20; May 18, 1998, Peter Schmuck, "Broadcast News: Houston's Dierker Really Can Manage," p. 27.
Sports Illustrated, March 31, 1997, Dave Fleming, "Houston Astros (Manager Larry Dierker)," p. 78; May 12, 1997, Tim Crothers, "Working Overtime," p. 92; October 6, 1997, Steve Rushin, "The Retro Astro," pp. 42-46.
Houston Astros Web Site,http://www.houston.astros.mlb.com/ (June 15, 2004), "Larry Dierker."*