Astro Author

Anybody who's seen Bobby Valentine make a fool of himself on ESPN's Baseball Tonight must wonder why the network can't find a host who can speak in complete sentences. Here's a suggestion for ESPN: Hire former Houston Astros player, broadcaster and manager Larry Dierker.

The Hawaiian shirt-wearing Parrothead, who was with the Astros in one capacity or another from 1964 until 2001 (except 1977), can do more than speak articulately. He just wrote a book, This Ain't Brain Surgery: How to Win the Pennant Without Losing Your Mind, about his experiences in baseball.

"It started as a journal during my first year of managing," says Dierker. "But now it's kind of like my life and times. It's my professional career." The book recounts all the highlights, including Chicago and Houston's bidding war over Dierker in 1964, his no-hitter in 1976, his ascension through the ranks of broadcasting and his surprise hiring as manager of the Astros in 1996. Dierker also discusses the brain aneurysm he suffered during a game in 1999.

The author has a unique perspective on the game, which comes from having observed it from many different angles. "I liked playing the best," he says, "though… even if you're winning, there's a lot of tension…You have to keep concentrating. But after the game, it's fun."

Dierker lucked into broadcasting not long after his playing career ended. He got a job offer from the Astros marketing department and said yes on the condition that he could also join the broadcasting team. There happened to be an opening, and just like that Dierker was in the booth.

"Gene Elston and Dewayne Staats were my mentors," Dierker remembers. "I followed them around and did what they did…But I realized they didn't need two people saying the same thing." So he started keeping notebooks of quotes and stats and trivia, and when the moment arose, he would throw that material into the game. "I just learned how to do it," he says.

Now retired, Dierker is content to spend his days playing golf, working out, reading and writing another book. ESPN better give him a call, and soon.

Dierker signs This Ain't Brain Surgery at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, at Barnes & Noble, 7626 Westheimer, 713-783-6016; and at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 23, at Borders, 3025 Kirby, 713-524-0200. Free.

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John W. Royal