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World Series 2001
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10/19/2001 06:22 PM ET
Dierker resigns as Astros manager
By Alyson Footer
MLB.com
Dierker announces his resignation at a press conference in Houston.
HOUSTON -- Under Larry Dierker's guidance, the Houston Astros won four division titles in five years from 1997-2001. On Thursday, Dierker announced that he has resigned his position as manager of the Astros.

Dressed in his signature Hawaiian shirt, Dierker addressed the media with his usual honesty and frankness, although from time to time, his voice wavered with emotion as he tried to put his thoughts into words.

"This has been tough, tougher than I anticipated," he said. "I knew it would be hard, but I am very proud of what we achieved and yet I understand looking at this from a players' standpoint. Sometimes things get get stale. I think I've reached that point with this team. It's a good team, a young team, and probably going to be getting younger and probably getting better. I don't think that I could have done any more than what I've done."

As is often typical in the business of baseball, 14 playoff games ultimately muted 810 regular-season contests. Although the Astros captured NL Central division titles from 1997-99 and again in 2001, Houston failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs all four years and have a dismal 2-12 combined record in postseason play. The Astros were swept most recently by the Atlanta Braves in the 2001 Division Series, marking the second sweep by the Braves in three postseason meetings since 1997.

"The best five-year run, and what he's done, is up there with the elite," said General Manager Gerry Hunsicker. "And yet the elite change jobs. It's part of the business. It's part of what you have to do to keep an organization fresh, keep the manager from losing his mind and his sanity.

"The irony of this business, and it's just a fact of life, is that change is part of the game. Success on the field does not always equate with the longevity or tenure of the manager. There are so many expectations that we're all looking to meet and that's to get to the World Series."

Hunsicker also became somewhat emotional when publicly saying goodbye to Dierker.

"The best thing I can say is I appreciate your friendship."

Dierker, 55, ends his tenure as the 12th manager in franchise history with a 448-362 record for a .553 winning percentage. His 448 managerial wins are the second-most for a Houston manager, behind only Bill Virdon, who amassed a 544-522 record during his managerial run from 1975-82.

Despite the regular-season success, consistent playoff failures and rumors of dissention in the clubhouse sparked recent speculation that Dierker would likely resign or be fired.

The Astros will honor the final year of Dierker's contract and owner Drayton McLane has asked him to assist Astros President Pam Gardner with "some of our significant community relations programs that we have, working with some of our corporate sponsors, and other events that occur that he can play a role."

Dierker has not yet decided if he will accept McLane's offer. For now, he will take some time to ponder the events of the last few weeks of his tenure as manager of the Astros.

While he has few regrets, he was also not blind to what has been described as occassional resentment from players, especially from veterans whose philosophies differed from Dierker's.

"The players have a lot of power, and I think to that extent I didn't have the perfect personality to manage," he said. "I had some good ideas, I thought I was a pretty good evaluator. But I was not able to get players to do some of the things that I wanted them to do. Mostly because they said, 'I don't think that's the right thing to do and I'm not going to do it.' Not to my face, but that's the way they acted.

"You can't make them do it. Most of the time the guys that you've got going out there are your best players and they're not always going to do what you want them to do."

Dierker was well aware of the fact that his players did not always appreciate his candor, especially with reporters.

"I was probably too outspoken," he said. "And I don't mean in such a way that I would loudly verbally protest or be aggressive, but just in the sense that when you guys (media) would ask me a question I would give the whole answer. I wouldn't try to hide anything. I tried to be open and honest with the media and sometimes you got me when I was a little mad. I don't regret it. We all have feelings. It's hard to keep it all inside."

"The fact of the matter is, players have the biggest control over what happens on the field," Hunsicker said. "If Larry is guilty, he is guilty of caring too much about people, and respecting them to the point where he expects them to be as responsible and caring as he is. Unfortunately, many of the people that you try to direct as manager don't share those same attributes."

Dierker's name has been associated with Major League Baseball in Houston almost since the inception of the club. A Los Angeles native, Dierker signed with the Houston Colt .45s in June of 1964 and made his big league debut that year on his 18th birthday, Sept. 22.

His 14-year pitching career saw him become Houston's first 20-game winner in 1969, the same year he pitched a club record 20 complete games. Dierker tossed the fifth no-hitter in franchise history on July 9, 1976, in the Astrodome against Montreal.

After completing his career on the field in 1977, Dierker directed the Group and Season Sales office for the Astros, and from 1979 until his appointment as manager in 1997, he worked as the club's principal color analyst on radio and television.

"I feel pretty sad today but I feel contented that this is all right," he said. "I will always be an Astro. All the way back to the Colt .45s, I've spent 36 years here. I'm not going anywhere. You'll see me. I just won't be in the dugout."

In his first three seasons as the Astros' skipper, Dierker guided his team to three NL Central titles with a combined record or 283-203. He reached managerial win number 200 in his 347th game, faster than any of the other six managers who won 200 games during their tenure as Astros skipper.

Under his direction in 1997, the Astros compiled an 84-78 record to clinch their first-ever NL Central title. In 1998, Houston finished the season with a franchise record 102 wins. Upon the conclusion of that campaign, Dierker was named the BBWAA's Manager of the Year.

In 1999, Dierker overcame health problems to guide his team to an unprecedented third straight division title. On June 13 of that year, he collapsed in the dugout after suffering a grand mal seizure in the eighth inning of Houston's game against the San Diego Padres. Two days later, he underwent brain surgery to remove a cluster of blood vessels that had dislodged, causing the seizure. He was forced to miss 27 games as he recovered from the ordeal.

The Astros sunk to a fourth-place finish in 2000 with a 72-90 record but recovered in time to capture the division crown in 2001, ending the year tied with St. Louis with a league-best 93 wins. The one-year turnaround represents the largest in franchise history in a non-strike year.

Dierker recorded his 300th managerial win on May 25, 2000, making him the quickest manager to reach the 300-win plateau in club history. In addition, Dierker managed his 500th game on April 19, 2001, at Los Angeles to mark only the fifth time that a Houston manager has directed 500 or more games.

"When I was offered this job in the fall of 1996, I said it was like being given the opportunity to go to the moon," Dierker said. "I knew there might be risks, but who would not want to go on that ride?

"What a ride it has been. I am very proud of what we accomplished on the field. Winning four division championships in five years is unprecedented for this franchise. The final years in the Astrodome, the opening of Enron Field and being able to wear the Astros uniform again has provided me with some great memories."

Hunsicker said that the search for a new manager will begin immediately, but the club will "want to do our due diligence and make sure we exhaust our best candidates out there. Our timetable will be as long as it takes to find the right person."

Hunsicker has contacted the Astros' six coaches -- Matt Galante, Mike Cubbage, Jose Cruz, John Tamargo, Burt Hooten and Harry Spilman -- to inform them of the managerial change. While none of the six have been dismissed, they are all free to inquire about coaching jobs with other organizations.

"That doesn't mean that they won't have a place here but in fairness to them, not knowing how long the search is going to take, in fairness to the (new) manager in allowing him to have input on the coaching staff, there's just no commitments that we can make at this point to the coaching staff," Hunsicker said.

Quotables
Larry Dierker, on the makeup of the Astros:
"I would have liked to have had a different mix of tools in my tool box. Right-handers, left-handers, speed, power...a little more diversity. I think that's where in a playoff type situation, that's the break you need when you go up against tough pitching. When you have a lot of right-handed power hitters, against a real good pitcher, one you get (the ball) up and in, or low and away, with a slider, they're all the same. Whether it's Bagwell, Alou, or Castilla or Hidalgo, they're all going to hit mistakes out of the park, and they're also not going to get good pitches to hit because they're not trying to slap the ball the opposite way. They do a pretty good job waiting for walks but if you have good control, they're not going to get many walks either."

"The attack we had was one-dimensional. I think anybody that had the capability would rather manage a club that has many dimensions. This is not a great ballclub. But they are a tough ballclub. They have talent, and they all play hard."

On today's baseball politics:
"When I played, the managers had one-year contracts and the manager had a lot more power. Today, all you really have is the power to influence. There may be somebody who can do that better than I did and I hope they can find him."

"There are very few teams that stay with the manager a really long time. You know when you're hired that you get hired to eventually get fired."

On when he sensed the end of his managerial tenure was near:
"This is all very recent. I never thought about this three weeks ago. There was the Barry Bonds thing, and then the playoff thing, and after that I started getting a lot of letters from people who were upset with some of the things we did."

"The pressure you get as a manager comes from above in the front office. It comes below with the players. It comes from the stands with the fans. It comes from the media. It comes from every direction. Just recently, it seemed like it was too much."

"Most of our good fans, they may not have liked that we walked Barry Bonds, but they wanted us to win, and they would accept walking him if we were trying to win. And that's exactly what we were trying to do."

On the Astros' playoff failures:
"When I was doing the Baseball Library (for the Houston Chronicle during his years as a broadcaster), I wanted to do one on Reggie Jackson because I wanted to see what Mr. October was really about. When I added up everything he had done in the postseason, he ended up hitting about .270, with the same amound of home runs that he would typically hit during the year, and the same amount of RBIs. For all the great series that he had, the three home runs that he had in a game, he had several postseason series where he went 0-for-20. Or 1-for-15. When you put it all together, he wasn't Mr. October, he was just Reggie Jackson. I hope our guys get to play in enough playoffs because if they do, they will become what they are."

"For example, Bagwell. He has a slow start every April, but you know he's going to have a good year and you don't worry about it. But when it comes time for the playoffs, after three games you're out of there. You don't have a chance to come back tomorrow. If you give those star players enough chances, they're going to show they can do it."

On his favorite memory as manager:
"The highlight for me is still the first year (1997). I know we only won 84 games, but to win the championship and celebrate in my uniform down on the field with all the fans and confetti, all that stuff. Even though the next year we won 102 games, nothing was like the first year. That's the way to do it."

On fan scrutiny:
"They may not appreciate the politics and the behind-the-scenes aspects of managing in professional sports. Like when people suggest, 'Why not put Bagwell at third?' Well, it's because he cannot throw the ball to first. I get letters to put Truby at short. People want me to move people around in the batting order, move people around position-to-position, and they think that we can do things and everything will be just hunky-dory. You can't do that. You will have an eruption in the clubhouse. The biggest part of the job is trying to keep everyone together."

Alyson Footer is the site reporter of astros.com.