Coming up on February 27, Larry Dierker will host the Reader Cup, a golf tournament to benefit Literacy Advance of Houston. Astros County had the opportunity to ask him some questions. So you better get out there and play some golf - or it will be obvious that you don't like reading, or people.
AC: 1998 was your 2nd full season as manager of the Astros, after going 84-78 (good enough to win the Division) in 1997. What were the most important lessons you learned, going from the 1997 season into 1998?
LD: The most important lesson was to be patient when things weren't going so well (although that seldom happened in 98. It happened a lot in 99) . And the other thing was that with our power/speed attack, bunting and using the hit-and-run were not as effective as just stealing when we could and slugging away.
AC: The amazing thing for me, looking at that 1997 team, is that only two players - Biggio (.916) and Bagwell (1.017) - had an OPS over .800. As you reflect on the 1997 team, what were you most excited about, leading into 1998?
LD: First of all, the pitching improved enough in 97 to allow us to win the division with only 84 wins. Most of our important pitchers were still in their prime or even approaching their prime at that time. I thought we would continue to pitch well, and I really got excited when we got Moises Alou and Carl Everett because I knew we would have a more potent offense.
AC: Heading into 1998, the pitching staff was undergoing a transition: Darryl Kile would head to Colorado via Free Agency, Jose Lima would be moving from the bullpen into the rotation. As a former pitcher, what were your thoughts on your pitching staff at the beginning of the season?
LD: I was worried about Lima. He was no Darryl Kile. But he didn't know it. He reminded me of something Mark Twain reportedly said, "All you need in life is ignorance and confidence and you will surely succeed." His stuff was mediocre but he wasn't afraid to throw strikes, which worked well in the Dome. It didn't work well at Enron, and once he lost the confidence, it didn't work anywhere.
AC: At the end of April, the Astros were 17-10 (still the most April wins in franchise history), but ended the month tied with the Brewers (16-9) for 1st, and a game ahead of the Cardinals. The team wouldn't relinquish its hold on 1st for the rest of the season. At what point did you know the 1998 team was special?
LD: I knew the team was special on opening day. But, I also knew that special teams sometimes don't fulfill their promise. Even before we got Randy Johnson near the end of July, I was pretty sure we would win the decision. With him, I thought we'd go all the way. Then came Kevin Brown. As they say, on any given day...
AC: The turning point of the season - and one of the most exciting days in Astros history - was July 31, 1998, when the Astros traded Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama to the Mariners for Randy Johnson. Were you aware that Hunsicker was going for Johnson, and what was the reaction in the clubhouse when word came down about the trade?
LD: Everyone was excited about getting Randy, but he was not having a great season in Seattle. We knew he would help us, but never dreamed he'd go 11-1.
AC: You won eight straight games from September 5-12, and then finished the season 6-7. What was the feeling in the clubhouse leading up to the postseason?
LD: Clinching early can be a problem. The veterans want and need rest, but they don't want to get rusty. Still, when they play with nothing on the line, it's not the same as when you're trying to clinch. Still, we were confident we would beat the Padres and, for that matter whomever we played in the NLCS. Randy hadn't lost a game, had only given up a few runs in all his starts in the Dome. The bench guys got to play a lot during the last two weeks and I think that helped their confidence too.
AC: In the post-season against the Padres, the Astros fell 3-1. Looking back, how do you feel about that 1998 team?
LD: The '98 team was the greatest Astros team ever in terms of total wins. But we weren't as well balanced as the '86 team. Our pitching wasn't quite as good and weren't as well balanced as that team offensively. We had both speed and power, but didn't have many left-handed hitters. We weren't very good at playing "little ball." and that's what you have to do sometimes against the league;s top pitchers, which are usually the ones you face in post season.
AC: On February 27 you'll host the Larry Dierker Golf Classic, benefiting Literacy Advance of Houston. Obviously you're very involved in charitable works around the city - what does Houston mean to you?
LD: I do a lot of charity work because I have the time. My favorite charity is Literacy Advance of Houston. It is an adult education agency and am a volunteer there. We have a diverse city and that is one of Houston's great attractions. But we are way too diverse at the bottom end of the literacy scale. Adult illiteracy is a problem everywhere, and an even bigger problem here. It is a contributing factor in joblessness, homelessness, broken families and crime. Every time we get a person educated, it opens up their world and makes our world better. More importantly, it also improves their kid's chances for success in school. So we not only enhance the lives of the people we teach, but also the lives of their children.
Check out Literacy Advance for more information about how you can sponsor, play, or support.