After mentioning Larry Dierker in today’s column, I became curious as to why he never managed again. In searching for the answer why, I came across this terrific Q&A with Dierker, which I encourage everyone to read in its entirety. It has segments on his playing career, broadcasting career, managerial career and what he’s doing today. The excerpt below is about his managing. It’s very lengthy, much more than we usually feature here in The Garden. But as much as I’ve copied here – there’s more in the managerial section and that’s just part of the interview. This blurb has been edited – with me adding bold type to the questions to make it easier to distinguish between our host and the subject.
Four of your five seasons as manager were successful. Is it fair to characterize you as a manager who was old-school, yet had innovative ideas?
In a lot of cases, I had ideas that I thought would improve our chances, but I had trouble selling those ideas to the players.
The hit-and-run was a deadball-era play. The game had developed into a power game going into the steroid era. It was more high-scoring. I was happy to see teams bunt in the first inning with a man on. I will take an out and face the number-three hitter; pitching with an open base was a luxury when I was pitching.
The whole idea to me on defense is to make all the runs earned. Be focused, and be stingy. Don’t make stupid mistakes.
Did you emphasize fundamentals more than other managers?
I probably didn’t emphasize them as much—really a lot of those on offense would go back to deadball era strategies. I had everybody that was fast enough to steal had a green light unless they got a ‘don’t steal’ sign. For instance, if a left-handed pull-hitter was up with a runner on first, I wanted the batter to have that big hole to hit through; don’t try to steal.
I didn’t have anybody bunt until the eighth inning, unless it was the pitcher – or if it looked like one run could change the game.
I probably talked more about defensive fundamentals.
I didn’t try to do anything extra to get the double play. I had to keep getting [second-baseman Craig] Biggio to play closer to first; he wanted to cheat toward second for the double play. I wanted him to get to balls that were pulled by a left-handed hitter, and just get the force at second. But I had trouble convincing him of that.
One idea I added in spring training was that if you thought a guy might be running, and you would ordinarily pitch out, pitch in – up-and-in – and the hitter would have to get out of the way and the catcher would be in position to throw.
If the guy wasn’t running, you would at least move the guy back, and they wouldn’t necessarily know you were doing it for the purpose of throwing out a runner; they would just think it was an up-and-in pitch, which at least may have some positive effect on getting the guy out.
When I tried that, the pitchers were unable to execute the pitch with any control.
I was used to doing that when I pitched – it wasn’t a completely wasted pitch if I threw six inches inside and shoulder-high.
In general, did they play essentially the way you wanted them to play?
Yes, for the most part. With them playing hard and having good focus and making smart plays, that kind of set the tone. The only indication I had that we were more efficient in some ways than other teams was that two or three times around the batting cage, a player form another team would come up to me and say, ‘I’m going to be a free agent, and I like the way you play – let the GM know.’
Greatest compliment we could get.
One of your hallmarks as a manager was your approach to the role of the starting pitcher.
You’re getting paid for winning games; you’re not getting punished for losing games. The more innings pitched, the better chance you have of getting the win yourself, and not a no-decision.
You could get the loss, too. If you keep getting the L, you won’t be in the rotation.
But if you are good enough to be in there for 6-7 innings and 100 pitches — even if you are a little bit tired — if they have only scored one run off you, they are frustrated, and they would rather see a relief pitcher come in, because they haven’t had any success against you.
I would rather have them stare the loss in the face and say, ‘the heck with that – I’m going for the win.’ –– Larry Dierker, on starting pitchers
Source: Jim Haught, The Haught Corner
Just really great stuff.