Kiwanis Club of Houston
October 7th Luncheon
Speaker: Larry Dierker
Lawrence Edward Dierker, the man whose name would one day become synonymous with Houston baseball, was born in Hollywood, California on September 22, 1946. His professional career with the Houston Astros has spanned four decades and his success on the field, behind the microphone and in the dugout, has made him one of the few players to have his uniform number retired by the team.
Larry Dierker's baseball career started at the age of 7, By the time of his high school graduation ten years later, Dierker had matured into a lanky, 6'4", 190-pound pitcher pursued by 18 of the 20 major-league teams. The Chicago Cubs and the Houston Colt .45s were his biggest suitors and Dierker signed with the Houston because he knew the fledgling franchise represented his best chance to reach the major leagues.
He was right. Immediately after signing with the .45s, Dierker was sent to pitch for their Instructional League team in Cocoa, Florida. After nine starts, the teen had struck out 55 batters and allowed just 20 hits in 39 innings. General Manager Paul Richards then promoted Dierker to the majors to make his first major-league start on his 18th birthday, barely three months out of high school. Larry made a big impression when he struck out sluggers Jim Ray Hart and Willie Mays in the first inning.
Larry would never step on a minor-league pitching mound again. The following year, the team was renamed and moved into the modern and spacious Astrodome.
It was during the 1969 season that Larry would completely rewrite the team's record books. The team stalled to its worst start in franchise history, and after the first month of the season, already 12 1/2 games out of first place. Amazingly, the team caught fire, going 71-45 over the next four months to close within 2 games of first place. It was the first pennant race for the team and was documented by reliever Jim Bouton in his must-read book, "Ball Four."
Dierker's season was a key component to the team's success. He completed a staggering 20 of his 37 starts, racking up an astonishing 305 innings, posting an amazing 2.33 ERA while becoming the first 20-game winner in franchise history. Towards the end of the season, Dierker suffered what he would later call one of the toughest losses of his career. After shutting out the Braves over 12 innings on September 12th, Dierker watched closer Fred Gladding blow a 2-0 lead, giving up 3 runs in the bottom of the 13th. The loss crushed the young team.
Larry is a 2 time All Star and as of 2021, he is the last 17-year-old to make his major league debut.
His career with the Astros was not over but beginning a new phase. Dierker returned to Houston in 1978 to work in the promotions department and soon began providing color commentary on the team's televised broadcasts. That launched a 19-year career in broadcasting for Larry, cementing his position as one of the most respected and admired personalities in Houston.
In 1997 the Astros took an unprecedented move and hired Dierker from the broadcasting booth to manage the team. After years of expert commentary, he would now run the baseball team he played for. Larry led the Astros to four National League Central titles during his five seasons at the helm.
Dierker in his first season at the helm, led the Astros to the 1997 NL Central Division title. It was the first post-season appearance for the team in 11 years. Dierker and the Astros bettered that mark in 1998, leading the team to 102 wins, reaching the post-season again while shattering the franchise record of 96 wins set by the 1986 squad. Larry Dierker was named the NL Manager of the Year.
In 1999, the team was on its way to its third consecutive team when Dierker had a different challenge- during a June game against the San Diego Padres. After experienced from severe headaches for several days, Larry had a "grand mal" seizure that rendered him unconscious and required emergency brain surgery to save his life. After four weeks of recovery and a national outpouring of support, Larry returned to the helm and guided the team through one of its most exciting seasons. The team won 97 games and won its third consecutive NL Central title.
Thirty-five years after the opening of the Astrodome, Dierker was still on the team to witness the debut of Houston's new park, Enron Field. Unfortunately, the team did not make a smooth transition to a hitter's park and finished with a 72-90 record. Larry helped rebound the team in 2001, winning 93 games en route to its fourth division title during Dierker's fifth season at the helm.
In his 5 years as manager he was selected Manager of the Year in 1998, finished 3rd in 1997 and 1999 and 5th in 2001.
After 14 years as an accomplished pitcher, 19 years as a popular announcer, and 5 years as a successful manager, the Astros honored Dierker on May 19th, 2002, by retiring his #49 jersey. Larry is a member of the Houston Astros Hall of Fame.On January 27, 1999, he was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, sharing the spotlight with other Houston sports figures including Roger Clemens, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.