04/10/2002 00:55 am ET
Talking baseball with Larry Dierker
Former Astros manager writing a book on the game
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Day @ The Bases caught up with our friend Larry Dierker, who is spending these days writing a book in the way only he can analyze the game of baseball. The Wrangler resigned last October after managing Houston to four National League Central division titles in five years. He took a break from writing to talk with MLB.com's Mark Newman about life beyond the dugout and what this season looks like so far from his perspective.
How's the book?
"Three chapters are done, and I'm a little nervous about the deadline date but it's coming together. I'm taking several topics and making some subheadings. I prepared an outline of things I would write about: Spring Training, Opening Day, pitching . . . those I've finished. One will be on the qualities of the manager -- what is the relevant importance of game strategies as opposed to team psychology, keeping the attitude good and keeping everyone satisfied with their roles. One will be on trades, one is the farm system, the business side, broadcasting. What will be hard is making sure we write about all the stuff that's good and editing out the rest."
You tried to pitch to Barry Bonds last year and watched him break the single-season home run record. How do you pitch to him now?
"When I was broadcasting, I said more than once that he was the best hitter I'd ever seen. I've seen a lot of good ones, and pitched to a lot of Hall of Fame hitters. With almost everyone, I knew there was one spot that if I made my pitch, I could get them. That changed a little when I got older and couldn't throw as hard. I've seen him hit pitches in on the fist, low and away, sinking fastballs, riding fastballs, everything. I would pitch to him based on the situation. If it demands I try to get him out, then I'd try to get him out. If it was a situation that didn't, I would try not to throw him strikes. The only way you can approach a real good hitter is to mix up your pattern. You can't just say, 'I'm pitching him in' and stay in all day, or think slow stuff and go off-speed all day. You have to show him a little bit of everything and move it around. Even then, if you're going to throw it in the strike zone, you're playing with fire. Last year, I didn't look at every pitch we threw him, but it's just difficult. He not only can hit the ball hard to all parts of the field, but he also hits for average. If you don't throw him strikes, he'll take a walk. I didn't see Ted Williams, but I imagine he was same way."
You managed Mike Hampton in Houston. He hasn't been the same since leaving the Mets for Colorado, and is 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA this season. What's up with him?
"When he went to Colorado I predicted he would win a lot of games but have a higher ERA. He would have to learn to challenge hitters a little more than in the past. When he had his great year for us and his great year for the Mets, he did that by pitching around the edge of strike zone, and the bottom of strike zone. He didn't seem to be bothered by people much -- he walked people, was easy to run on, had a knack for getting hitters to hit into the double play. His mode was to not let them get more than a single or walk, and he'd get double plays. Now he's in Colorado, and he can't afford to walk those guys. You can't always get the double play. Just an average ground ball will race through that infield. It goes screaming through the infield when it's hit on the ground. A lot of outs before are singles now. If they're going to be singles, then you can't afford walks on top of it. That was going to be his challenge, in my mind, to be a winner in Colorado. I don't think he ever reached the level of the very top guys like Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson. He was somewhere below that class of pitcher. Because of a couple good years he had, the Rockies got a little greedy -- not greedy in the sense of money because they paid big, but they went out looking to win a championship with pitching. The best fit they ever got was Bill Swift, who had a great sinker. He was the ultimate groundball pitcher. Mike was just about perfect, but for that one item, which is control."
Now that you've gotten to step back a bit, what do you think of this Yankee team? They are making it look easy since the Opening Day loss.
"This tteam has a chance to be the best team that has played during my lifetime. I'm speaking more to the time that I've been in the big leagues, 37 years. With the kind of hitting they figure to have and the pitching they will have if they stay healthy, this could be the best team in that whole period of time. And they could still not go to the World Series. Someone still could sneak in with a lesser team, playing in a seven-game series. That said, this has a chance to be the best team I've ever seen."
What did you think of Phil Garner's firing a week into the season?
"That's a tough situation. Scrap Iron's a good manager, but I don't think he's ever had a good team so he's never been able to prove it."
With Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling practically a back-to-back victory in the bank, is there any reason to think the Diamondbacks won't get back to the World Series, especially with the short series?
"Their team last year, outside of those two guys, was an average to slightly average ballclub. They're not nearly as deep and talented as the Yankees in terms of the rest of the pitching staff or day-to-day lineup."
John Smoltz had a big save Monday on his third straight day of pitching. Do you think John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox have finally found their closer?
"He's got a chance to do the Eckersley thing."
What is it like to be out of the dugout after all those years?
"It's been good for me. Spring Training was my least favorite part of the year. I like competition, I liked trying to win. I really didn't like just practicing, being away from home that long. Then the team got home for the first series last week, and I sort of felt the longing to go out to the park, and I did go to a couple games, but I didn't feel like it changed my feelings about stepping away from it for a while. My daughter told me I looked tired on TV last year during the playoffs, and I was kind of irritable and hard to be around. It was probably a good time to step away.
"I'm glad I'm not on the road now. I look at how people age, guys like Art Howe, Phil Garner, the way I did. If you look at George Bush right now, he doesn't even look like the same guy he was a year ago after taking office -- you just age. If you have to make all the decisions, it really is a load. And I don't know if I would ever think about doing that again or not."
Did you escape the Enron mess there in Houston?
"I didn't have any stock, but my daughter's boyfriend's mother had worked there all her life, and had her whole retirement in Enron stock. I don't think there's anyone in this city that wasn't affected in some way."
CUSTOMIZED JERSEY OF THE DAY
No. 44, St. Louis. Once there was Dizzy. Now there's Izzy. Jason Isringhausen grew up near St. Louis with a dream of playing for the Redbirds, and Tuesday was a big personal highlight. The Cardinals' new closer, acquired from Oakland and presumed to be one of the year's best pickups, converted his first save opportunity and did it in style. In front of the St. Louis crowd, Izzy struck out the Milwaukee side.
Congrats to Frank Thomas for No. 350, hit off rookie Troy Pearson in Chicago's 8-2 victory over Detroit. The Big Hurt moved into a tie with Chili Davis for 60th place on the all-time list. . . . Boston's 13 homers are the most in club history through five games, and we figured Manny Ramirez would show up on the list sooner than later. Ramirez had a monster April last year, driving in 31 runs and hitting safely in 22 of his first 25 games. He had no RBIs until Tuesday, when he blasted a three-run shot and helped Boston to an 8-4 victory over Kansas City. . . . Teammate Nomar Garciaparra rung up his third, and over in Texas we see A-Rod making some noise with his second. Alas, Derek Jeter failed to hold up his longball end for the shortstop triplets, but was a contributor nevertheless in yet another Yankee victory. . . . Matt Lawton did it again to his former Twins teammates, homering at the top of the Cleveland order for the second day in a row. . . . Hey, we dig the longball more than anyone, but maybe it's a little early for all these live Bonds at-bat cutaways on ESPN. Tying Harmon Killebrew at 573 will be a milestone, but let's get Bonds past Mark McGwire or at least wait until the season heats up.
D@TB SPECIAL TRIBUTE
If the Yankees' Nick Johnson goes on to win the American League Rookie of the Year award, we just hope he'll be able to lift his arms to pick up the hardware. Johnson has been hit by a pitch a Major League-high five times already. With all eye on the starting pitchers, we at D@TB just thought this guy needed some love.
"It's just tough to beat their pitching. They bring out a No. 1 guy five days in row."
-- Toronto starter Roy Halladay, after pitching well but losing to Mike Mussina and the Yankees Tuesday.
Mark Newman is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.