Dierker and the clubhouse, a brief digression

DMZ · October 5, 2004 at 11:40 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Dierker’s a guy who shows up in the candidate speculation post, and is my favorite managerial candidate. Maybe not for this team, for reasons I may get into later. The knock on him, in a nutshell, is that his team quit on him and he had to get fired. This is going to illustrate something important that’s too-often forgotten in the discussion of managers… but we’ll get to that.

If you followed those Astros, it’s a little more complicated than just “they quit”. Dierker did well for a while managing his team, because he understood that Biggio and Bagwell were hard workers and didn’t need him to stomp on them over a botched DP. He had a soft touch, I think, which gets managers lauded when it works (“He wasn’t the kind of guy who would bawl you out in front of people, he’d take you aside later and say ‘You see what happened there? Here’s how you handle this next time.'” versus “He’s a fiery competitor who lets you know what’s on your mind.”)

What backfired, was that the team soured badly and almost immediately in his last season. They brought in some players (Meluskey’s been singled out particularly) who didn’t get along with anyone else, there were fights, and the Bs turned on Dierker. A long discontent with his strategic decisions, because Dierker often didn’t play by the book, leaked into the press and guys like Brad Ausmus jumped in with the Bs to slag Dierker.

Now, the crux of their complaints, in my mind, was entirely baseless, but illustrates something important. Like this: Dierker didn’t like walking the #8 guy to get to the pitcher. He’d given this traditional strategy a lot of thought and figured out you were better off taking your chances (and most likely an out) from the #8 guy.

Ausmus hated, hated, hated this strategy. It worked almost all of the time, but the one time in twenty it didn’t, Ausmus would glare at Dierker, bitch at him, carp at the press. Eventually this kind of thing led to Dierker losing the respect of his players and his job.

Which is to say — some thing aren’t worth the fight. Lineups are like that. I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face that lineup construction is something where a manager can eek out a couple runs a season, force interesting matchups, and tinker to their heart’s delight. But if that tinkering’s perceived as weakness, for instance, the team and the media seize on it. Rob Neyer argues persausively that it’s not worth it. Whatever runs you get aren’t worth the trouble, and you’re better off expedning that energy elsewhere.

I think walking guys is a case where it is. A couple times a game, it’s a significant advantage.

This was one symptom. The others were similar: that he didn’t make enough moves, call enough weird plays — which, if you think those plays are of limited value, makes sense.

Dierker was unable to convince his players that these were the right moves. His players are not without fault in this, either. Dierker expressed a desire to have nine captains on the field — a lineup every day that thought through each play, knew what to do, and what might go wrong. In that, I think he did well — his teams were prepared, played hard, and didn’t make the kind of crazy gaffes you saw in, say, Art Howe’s Athletics teams.

What may have happened is that in so doing, in trying to create nine captains, Dierker created nine managers who disagreed with him.

There’s more than enough blame to go around, but I’d suggest that Dierker’s style there worked well to a point in accomodating the veterans but was doomed to failure. Ausmus and Bagwell want a Melvin, say, not a guy who reads baseball research and comes up with a new way to do something.

Many managers fail until they find the right team, when suddenly they go from being dolts to being geniuses. Joe Torre is the best model of this today, and the list is long and distinguished.

Dierker seems like an ideal manager for a team like the A’s, who are willing to do crazy stuff to win games, try to draft and create smart players, but who still need better preparation on the field. Their players have already seen managers make extremely few moves, they’re culturally ready for a more cerebral guy, and they don’t have the kind of elephant-in-the-room veteran presences those Astros teams have.


18 Responses to “Dierker and the clubhouse, a brief digression”

  1. Troy on October 5th, 2004 11:54 am

    Nice defense of him Derek, and if your analysis is correct (as usual), then I’m totally behind him. You turned him into my favorite candidate with a couple paragraphs yesterday, and have only reinforced that today.

    Of course, I would be shocked if the M’s brought in a guy like that. Bavasi seems to like people he’s comfortable with, and the M’s FO is never going to push for an out-of-the box thinking like LD. I’m afraid its a pipe dream.

  2. chris w on October 5th, 2004 12:05 pm

    One thing you say is particularly important: “Many managers fail until they find the right team, when suddenly they go from being dolts to being geniuses.” That’s absolutely true, and it’s why, as Dave has pointed out, it’s almost impossible to predict how a manager is going to work out (with a few exceptions). Personally, I like the idea of having a guy like Dierker in there, because it would be nice to have one person in management that is a little statsy. That doesn’t mean it would work. I just like the idea.

  3. Pete Livengood on October 5th, 2004 12:18 pm

    DMZ — Agreed that your defense of Dierker has turned me into more of a fan than I was. I am still curious to see what you think about Dierker as a chronic over-user of starting pitching, though, and whether your previous opinion that BP would moderate him was changed any by the experience of watching BP let Melvin overuse Madritsch, Meche, Pineiro, Freddy, et al. over the last two years. If you answered this on the other managerial thread, I apologize — I can’t access that (server’s pounded).

  4. Jim Thomsen on October 5th, 2004 1:00 pm

    Let’s consider that Dierker’s considerable intelligence has helped him learn from the mistakes of his Astros years, and that he might well approach a new managing opportunity quite differently. We all evolve in our careers, and rarely do the next job up the ladder in the same way we did the last one. Certainly what happened in Houston is instructive, but it cannot be considered the fairest or only yardstick of what he might do if called to interview for the Seattle job … which, in the interests of variety and objective ambition, I sincerely hope happens.

    And the book is one of the best. I happen to be acquainted with folks on Bainbridge Island who are married into the Gerry Hunsicker family, and when I was sports editor there I was invited to dinner with the clan one night when he was passing thyrough town in 1999. I don’t remember verbatim what he said about Dierker, but I remember leaving with the impression that there was a very family-like atmosphere among the Astros, and that Dierker had a large role in crafting it. All families have their dysfunctions, of course, but usually given enough time and love and willingness, bad times correct themselves for the good of the larger unit and its pride.

  5. Bernard Aboba on October 5th, 2004 1:00 pm

    Case in point: Casey Stengel

    Warren Spahn: “I’m probably the only guy who worked for (Casey) Stengel before and after he was a genius.”

    Stengel sent Spahn down in 1942 after the left-hander refused to brush back Pee Wee Reese in an exhibition game. Stengel called farming Spahn out the worst mistake he ever made. Spahn went 17-12 with a 1.96 ERA at Hartford that season while the Braves finished in seventh place.


  6. Metz on October 5th, 2004 1:46 pm

    If I remember correctly Dierker had a plan in place in regards to his starting pitchers. He made a conscious decision to leave some of his younger starters in the game to force them to pitch out of the situations they had created. His thinking was that, if he pulled his starters every time they got into trouble in the 5th, 6th and 7th innings, they’d never learn how to get out of the 1st & 3rd, no one scenarios. I sort of agree with this philosophy, but you can certainly merge it with an eye toward pitch counts and pitcher health. It’s one thing to have a guy go deep into his pitch count to get out of the 6th, it’s another thing entirely to bring a guy out in the 8th after having thrown 120 pitches already. The question is, did Dierker follow through on what he said or did he just leave his pitches in a lot longer than neccesary, racking up pitches?

  7. Evan on October 5th, 2004 2:03 pm

    I think someone like Dierker would work really well if there was a concerted effort from ownership and management to paint him as the guy in charge, while fully acknowleging that he had some weird ideas.

    And honestly, if any city in America is ready to try new things, it’s Seattle. It’s a forward-thinking city.

    At least, that’s the impression I get. I haven’t really BEEN to Seattle since 1986, though I did drive through it in 1999 (did you know you can drive from Canada to San Francisco in one day?), and I changed planes there last year. So I don’t really know anything about Seattle’s sports culture, but my impression is that the fans wouldn’t jump all over Dierker for being unusual just because the media told them to.

  8. NBarnes on October 5th, 2004 2:35 pm

    Just to comment; what DID happen with Torre anyway? I was a teenager in St. Louis when Torre was there and I remember him being a TERRIBLE manager. He was murder on pitchers and persisted in pretending that replacement level talent was good enough for 3rd base. And then he goes to the DAMN YANKEES (teenager in St. Louis was after childhood in Boston) and suddenly turns into the second coming of Casey Stengel? That always galled me to no end, thanks for giving me the chance to get it off my chest.

    Oh, and I hated Tony LaRussa when he was managing those damn late 80s, early 90s As teams and am glad to see him doing so well with the Cards after turning to the light side of the Force. If the Sox don’t FINALLY (PLEASE GOD), go Cards!

  9. Zach on October 5th, 2004 4:03 pm

    Isn’t the whole point of firing your manager to hire another one that gives you the greatest chance of winning? Of all the re-treads I have seen listed for the M’s job, Larry Dierker clearly is the lead candidate in my eyes. It’s anyones guess as to how the non re-tread candidates will handle a club given that have yet to experience the fire of the major league bench, so it is much harder to compare these ‘kids’ to the ‘seasoned vets’. However, when you have a guy like Dierker who has the track record of success on his resume like he has, it seems overwhelmingly obvious to hire him.

    The main point of contention against him is that his team quit on him. This is after 4 division championships in 5 years. For my money, I am willing to have my favorite team quit on me after 5 years if I made it to the post-season in 4 of them.

  10. The Ancient Mariner on October 5th, 2004 4:35 pm

    Rooting for a Sox-Cards WS–with all due apologies to Dave and Edgar (and Holli, apparently), those two teams, plus the Cubs, have the best fans in baseball. That would be a fun series.

    Re: Dierker: an important point is that the *M’s* don’t have “the kind of elephant-in-the-room veteran presences those Astros teams have” anymore, either. Boonie’s the last of them, and he’s on his way out. The veteran presences we have left are guys like Jamie (also near the end, alas), Dan (ditto, except for the “alas”) and Ichiro, who are quieter sorts–and, from what I can tell, seem likelier to be open to crazy ideas.

    So, yeah, I’m all for Dierker; though I do incline to think he’d work better as a bench coach.

  11. Jim Thomsen on October 5th, 2004 5:17 pm

    Here’s why Seattle’s mainstream sports media drives us nuts:

    — On Melvin’s firing, P-I columnist John Levesque quoted Bill Bavasi thusly: “To the untrained eye, I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth,” Bavasi admitted. “We just let him go, but I’m recommending him. In this crazy business, that fits because he will do things differently the second time. He had some bad luck here.”

    — On the same page in today’s P-I, John Hickey’s story quoted Bavasi as saying: “To the untrained eye, it may look like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth,” he said. “But we had some bad luck here. I thought he was a good hire when it was made and I was on the outside looking in.”

    For the record, Hickey was the one working with a tape recorder; Levesque was the guy taking notes and trying desperately to make sense of the unintelligible squiggles on his notepad hours later. Which basically describes the rest of his moronic column today as well.

    This is relevant to Dierker because, bad notetaking notwithstanding, it sounds as though Bavasi is open to recognizing that folks like Dierker may deserve another shot … that was what true in one circumstance may not be true here.

  12. JPM on October 5th, 2004 6:50 pm

    One of the reasons that Dierker may be a “pitcher abuser” (if that’s even the case, I don’t remember his days with the Astros too well) is because he was MASSIVELY overworked himself, and he might figure thats the way your supposed to do it. Larry Dierkier was a great pitcher when he was 22, a pretty good pitcher when he was 23, a very good pitcher when he was 24, and then all of a sudden he’s running into injury trouble.

  13. PaulP on October 5th, 2004 7:19 pm

    If Dierker let’s Moyer pitch a game without the catcher calling the pitches (Moyer gets to throw whatever he wants whenever he wants) then I’m sure Moyer would put up with any crazy ideans Dierker wants to do…

  14. Gary on October 6th, 2004 1:41 am

    Here’s how to get Dierker as manager of the Mariners. [I already started with a post to one of those Seattle newspapers].

    Dierker is an ideal compromise candidate, one who understands the statheads while at the same time respects traditional baseball values. [This is the point to emphasize, whatever your other reasons may be.]

    If you put Dierker into an environment with a lot of young players, whatever philosophy he espouses will (if he gets lucky and the team gets hot early) be internalized and respected by the team. Jacobsen, Reed, Leone, Madrisch, Moyer (if he can call his own pitches [q.v. post 13 above]), even Boone–all would be amenable to a smart manager who respects their personal style while, at the same time, implements intelligent changes in that style.

    Yes indeedee, Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Bavasi, he’s just the guy you’re looking for.

    Ideal compromise candidate. What are you waiting for?

  15. Scraps on October 6th, 2004 8:18 am

    Honestly, is there any chance at all of Dierker becoming the M’s manager? The only place I’ve seen it discussed is on blogs, and he never comes up for any other openings; why would one of the stupidest organizations in baseball consider a candidate that no one else has? We’re more likely to hire Don Baylor, I think.

    Dierker got done in not just by his own players but by a hostile media. It’s hard to comprehend, but the perception inside the non-analytical world of baseball — that is to say, the vast majority of the baseball world — is that Dierker was a failure. I’ll be surprised if he gets another chance to manage.

  16. DMZ on October 6th, 2004 9:43 am

    I’m sorry, but his name was floated last year for some openings and this year, I’ve seen him mentioned as a Phillies candidate, for instance.

  17. tede on October 6th, 2004 1:29 pm


    Yes and no. Mentioned in the Red Sox search last year. But not yet mentioned in this town by the idiot writers that the M’s execs read everyday.

    Maybe we should take a collection and mail copies of his book to the writers at the three local papers.

    I think we heading towards Terry Collins who Dierker outdid by far in Houston.

  18. Scraps on October 6th, 2004 2:42 pm

    DMZ, I’ll have to take your word for it. I certainly remember seeing Dierker being mentioned by BP when manager positions opened, but not in the major media. I’m not reading everything, of course, so I’m sure I could have missed it.