For most of the history of the Houston Astros, there was perhaps no person more associated with the franchise than Larry Dierker. He joined the team as a player when it was still the Colt .45s. He spent one season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1977, then retired as a player. He joined the Astros broadcast booth in 1979 and stayed there until being named the team’s manager in 1996. Even after he was fired as manager, there was Larry’s Big Bamboo (a bar that played on Dierker’s name and signature Hawaiian shirts) at Minute Maid Park, and Dierker’s brief return to the broadcast booth in 2004-2005.
This is not another rumination on Dierker the player, the former franchise icon (replaced by Craig Biggio) whose number was retired by the Astros and who was the heart of the starting rotation for more than a decade. Nor is this a discussion of Dierker, the stats-minded manager who many thought would fail because he was nothing more than an ex-jock who worked in the broadcast booth and had zero coaching experience.
This instead is a glorification of Dierker the broadcaster. And it’s written with the hope that my fellow media members, those who cover the Astros, will take the opportunity to nominate Dierker for the Astros Media Wall of Honor.
For those not aware, the Astros established the Media Wall of Honor in 2007. It’s located on the press box level, visible only to journalists. Its purpose is simple: celebrating members of the Houston media who have made significant and lasting contributions to Houston baseball through either journalism or broadcasting. The first inductee was Anita Martini. Also inducted have been former beat writer Neil Hohlfeld, Gene Elston, Bill Brown, Milo Hamilton, Alex Trevino, Rene Cardenas, Mickey Herskowitz and Harry Shattuck.
And now it’s time to add Dierker to the wall because there’s no broadcaster who did more to educate Houstonians on the game of baseball. He brought the player’s perspective to the booth — something highly desired in color analysts — but he brought more than just that. He was a historian of the game who also wrote a column for the Houston Chronicle as well as two books. He was entertaining and funny — not Jim Deshaies funny, of course, but still funny.
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Dierker’s style wasn’t to treat his listeners or viewers as idiots. He didn’t talk down to people, and he didn’t explain things away just by saying he had been a player and that’s just the way the game was played. His broadcast partners all had different styles, like the Vin Scully-esque style of Gene Elston, the loud, bombastic Milo Hamilton, or the erudite friendliness of Bill Brown. But Dierker found a way to blend with all of them, bringing a measured, analytic approach to his work in which he unwittingly defined many of the principles that would serve him as a manager.
But most of all, Dierker made baseball fun — the game of boyhood heroes played in backyards and schoolyards. It was a joy listening to Dierker behind the microphone, and it was educational — I can still remember a game back in the early ’90s where the Astros had a big lead and the starter (I think it was Butch Henry as a rookie) was struggling late in the game. With the bullpen up, Dierker said that this was the best time to stick with the starter, to figure out if the youngster could pitch out of trouble. You couldn’t test the kid if it was a close game, but with the lead, there was a bit of room to spare. Henry did pitch out of trouble, and the Astros did win the game, and Dierker just continued broadcasting several more years.
Now I do have a bias here. I’ve met Dierker many times (even interviewed him many years ago), though he probably doesn’t remember me. During the years I worked at the Astrodome, especially my law school years, I’d study (or just read a book) in the press dining room before games. I was generally alone but for Dierker, and he would ask me how the studying was going, or we would share thoughts about the book I was reading — generally one that he’d already read. He was funny and smart and I always enjoyed the chats, and I hope I entertained him half as much as he entertained me.
So there you have it, my fellow media members. When it comes time to decide on the 2016 Media Wall of Honor nominees, make sure that Larry Dierker is one of those names selected.