04/20/2002 01:58 am ET
Astros to retire Dierker's number
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- Larry Dierker wore many hats during his 38-year run within the Houston Astros organization. But in exactly one month, it'll be his jersey, not his hat, that garners the most attention.
The Astros announced that they will retire Dierker's No. 49 before their May 19 game against the Pirates to honor the 13-year pitcher, one-year salesman, 18-year broadcaster and five-year manager. In a press conference on Friday before the Astros' series opener against the Giants, Dierker addressed a packed room of reporters with his usual candor.
On the subject of how the past few days have been for him ever since club owner Drayton McLane informed him that his number will be retired, Dierker commented, "In the last day or so it's been different for me. My wife, Judy, said that I woke her up last night in the middle of the night because I was screaming something in Spanish. And I don't speak Spanish.
"That, as much as anything else, will tell you that last night was kind of a different night for me."
Club officials reflected fondly upon Dierker's nearly four decades with the club. President of baseball operations Tal Smith remembered one highlight in particular -- Dierker's no-hitter on July 9, 1976 against the Expos in the Astrodome.
Smith recalled his conversation with the young pitcher following the historic game.
"It was customary to call a player in, tear up his contract and give him a new contract," Smith said. "We were going to add a $1,000 or $2,500 to the contract and Larry, who was a very special person, declined.
"He said 'I appreciate that, but I don't want to accept it. I'm simply doing what I'm paid to do. Every time I go out there it's my objective to get the hitters out, to win a ballgame, and try to pitch a no-hitter.'"
Dierker enhanced Smith's story when he replied "the company was in receivership and to be honest, the company needed the money more than I did."
The press conference had undertones of both a humorous and candid nature -- much like Dierker himself -- but at the same time he showed very little emotion as he stood at the podium and attempted to put his thoughts into words.
"I know I don't sound like I'm excited or bubbly or jumping up and down but to me, this is more of a deeper satisfaction," he said. "I feel very fortunate to have been with a team and to have come to a city that I've grown to love. I put down roots, and knew that I wasn't going to have to leave. That wasn't necessarily true as a player but I always felt my goal with whatever I was assigned to do for a team was make myself indispensable.
"I think that maybe if you do that for a long period of time maybe you have a chance to get in line for an honor like this one."
Dierker drew comparisons between how he felt after his no-hitter and how he felt after receiving his most recent honor.
"I wasn't the pitcher I was when I was younger and having the no-hitter come that late in my career after several near misses, it meant a lot more to me because I knew I didn't have much time left," he said. "That, in a sense, is the way this feels today. Part of it is having pitched 300 innings and won 20 games and part of it is the feeling of doing something at the very end of your career that is a milestone type thing that you'll never forget and you'll always be known for.
"This, to me, is sort of the culmination."
Dierker will be the seventh player in franchise history to have his number retired. Previous honorees include Jim Umbricht (32), Don Wilson (40), Jose Cruz (25), Mike Scott (33), Nolan Ryan (34) and Jackie Robinson's number 42, whose number was collectively retired by all Major League teams in 1997.
"It's deservedly so," said Craig Biggio. "He did a lot of great things as a player here, a lot of great things as an announcer and a lot of great things as a manager. I think it's a great thing for Larry and a great thing for the people in the organization and in the community."
"Larry is certainly an institution in Houston and in Texas and in Houston Astros baseball for a multitude of reasons," club owner Drayton McLane said. "His integrity was as important as his athletic ability or his leadership ability."
General Manager Gerry Hunsicker, who has known Dierker since the late 1970's and established a close friendship with him over the years, said that he didn't think there was a better relationship between a manager and GM than the one he had with Dierker during their five-year run together.
"We wish you well," he said directly to Dierker. "I can't think of any greater honor, really, than after having the unique situation of being a player and then a manager of having your number retired. Hopefully that shows a special significance how this organization feels toward you.
Said Smith: "I've known Larry since he first signed on out of Woodland Hills as a 17-year-old in 1964. He's a very special person and a very dear friend."
Dierker's final words seemed to appropriately close another chapter of his storied Astros career that spanned nearly four decades.
"There's not much further you can go than having your number retired. That's it. I'm not going to the World Series. I'm not going to the Hall of Fame. Of all the things that are possible this is the last possible thing that I could achieve, it's the last honor that I could get and it's had a major impact on me."
Alyson Footer covers the Astros for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.