Larry Dierker made his major league debut at the age of 18, when he struck out future Hall of Famer Willie Mays in the first inning.
Dierker went on to win 137 games for the Astros, which is third-most in team history, before managing the Killer B's-led Astros that finished in first place four of the five years he managed.
From 1979-1996 and in 2004 and 2005 Dierker served as a color commentator for the Astros on the radio and TV.
Now, Dierker is the community outreach executive for the Astros and he often writes for MLB.com.
It was exciting (debuting at 18). It was nerve-wracking. It was kind of over the top for anybody that young. So much so that people would always say “Boy, in that old stadium it was so hot the mosquitoes were so big they could fly away with you.” I'd say, “I don't know. I don't even remember them.” I don't remember how hot it was. I don't remember anything except I was working out with the major league team and I was pitching for the major league team, and it was just exciting. But obviously when you start that young, the guys that you're competing against know a lot more than you do. You may have enough ability to compete but there's still a lot of lessons to learn.
Interestingly enough in the beginning, Paul Richards, the general manager of the Colt .45s, encouraged me to throw strikes and get ahead in the count and not worry so much about pitching to corners. The veteran pitchers were all trying to pitch to corners and I had good enough stuff that I was able to basically challenge hitters early in the count and if I got ahead then I could throw breaking balls or try to shoot for corners.
It was like two games into one (throwing a no-hitter in 1976). At that point I had a lot of arm trouble and I wasn't throwing as hard and I had made up my mind before the game I was going to not try to overthrow it. I was just going to mix it up, move it around, change speeds and not necessarily try to strike anybody out but just try to get them out and win the game. That's the way it went for the first five innings and then I looked up and they didn't have any hits. Then the sixth inning I tried to throw a little harder and then I get a little more adrenaline kick in the seventh inning and by the eighth inning it was like I was when I was 18 years old. I threw all fastballs; I was just pumped up.
I definitely had the adrenaline going right at the end of my career. I only won two or three games after that. It was almost like a gift from heaven to have that kind of game right there at the end.
Most of my career was during a span of time in the major leagues when pitching was dominant. So when you look back at guys of my generation most of us have pretty good ERAs compared to what guys have now. But the only downside to that was the guy you were pitching against was the same way. You were pitching against (Steve) Carlton, and (Tom) Seaver, and (Bob) Gibson, and (Phil) Niekro, and (Don) Drysdale and (Sandy) Koufax; all the rest: Seaver, (Jerry) Koosman, Nolan Ryan. A lot of times we didn't score so that made pitching tough, but on the other hand we played in a lot of big ballparks and so you were able to pitch a lot of good games yourself and win a lot of those.
I played against (Ryan) when he was with the Mets. A funny thing that happened with the two of us is in 1969 I was pitching a game in Shea Stadium and they brought a pitcher out early in the game and they brought Nolan in. I was the first one to face him and I hit a home run. I don't know that he was completely warmed up, but I raced around the bases because I didn't want to show him up, that was for sure. Later on when we signed him as a free agent, 1980 I think it was, I mentioned that and he said “You didn't do that.” I said, “Yeah, I did. I can show you the box scores.” Later on, when he won his 300th game I got a call from a writer in Dallas and he said, “What do you remember about Nolan Ryan's first win?” I said, “Nothing.” He said, “Well, you were the losing pitcher.” So my conclusion was we remember what we want to remember. He probably remembers his first win and I remember the home run.
One of the things that was unusual about my career was I skipped by Oklahoma City. We had guys in Oklahoma City that came through here with the 89ers that made All-Star teams for every position. Jerry Grote, Bob Watson, Joe Morgan, Sonny Jackson, Doug Rader, Cesar Cedeno, Jimmy Wynn, Rusty Staub and a couple of pitchers. But I skipped the rookie league all the way to Houston, so I didn't play here. We had a lot of great players here and we probably could have parlayed that into a championship at some point if we hadn't traded a lot of those guys away in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
I have memories of coming here to play exhibition games. I actually the last half of my career was in an Army reserve unit here and I used to fly in here once a month and went to some of the games when I was in here at that time.
One of the things that you find as you get older in the game is you keep learning more things about the game even after you finish playing. I had some ideas that I thought would be useful and I learned a lot about the new statistics, the Moneyball-type stuff. So I had some confidence that I might bring something to the dugout that was a little different from what was there when I played. Fortunately, what I brought to the dugout was worth a little but what we already had in the dugout was worth a lot. That was the (Jeff) Bagwell, (Craig) Biggio years and we had the most talented teams that we've ever had. Really all I had to do was stay out of the way when we were hitting and help the pitchers hold the other team down. Mainly I focused on the pitching and defense, and let the hitters hit and it was a great five years in Astros history.
There were a lot of things about (managing) that were not as enjoyable to me as broadcasting and playing. I kind of like to play and just do my thing. Once the game started, nobody could do it. I was on my own. Before the game and after the game, things happened that I didn't enjoy as much as maybe some other guys do.
I've written a couple books, I write some columns. One of the things that probably helped me when I was a young kid when I got out of high school was my dad said, “If I sign this contract with you, you're going to promise me you're going to go to college during the offseason.” So I did and I liked English; I was an English major. I always liked the kind of test where you could write instead of having to answer objective questions. I guess that was kind of the B.S. in me. It had something to do with the announcing and everything else.