Dierker pays the price, but Astros may not profit

ON BASEBALL

Baseball

October 21, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Some things just aren't right. Larry Dierker resigned the other day, ending a five-year run as Houston Astros manager that can only be described as very successful.

The Astros won the National League Central title four times in the past five years. Dierker, a former major-league pitcher who was plucked out of the broadcast booth to assume command of the team in 1997, was one of the brightest stars of the managerial universe until a string of first-round defeats in the postseason tarnished his credentials.

Somebody always has to pay and Dierker was the logical choice, but it shouldn't have to be that way. There are about 25 teams that would trade their past five years for his, but success breeds expectations that allow no substitute for greater success.

Dierker did a good job in Houston. He helped turn a lackluster franchise into a perennial contender. He deserves better than to be whispered into submission because he couldn't squeeze enough key hits out of his star players at crunch time.

It's also unfortunate that the most memorable thing about Dierker's managerial career for most fans outside of Houston will be the way he managed the series against the San Francisco Giants during the final week of the season.

He warranted fair criticism for his decision to steer around Barry Bonds as the Giants' slugger closed in on the single-season home run record.

The number of times the Astros walked Bonds - even in situations where a home run would not seriously impact the outcome of the game - bordered on ridiculous and actually helped the Giants sweep the three-game series at Enron Field.

But that was just three games in an otherwise solid managerial tenure. The Astros are clearly better off for having hired Dierker to manage the team. It remains to be seen whether they will take the next step in his absence.

The Cleveland Indians forced out Mike Hargrove under similar circumstances after the 1999 season. He had fashioned a long string of playoff appearances and led the Indians to the World Series twice, but was let go because they did not win a world title.

The next year, they failed to reach the postseason and this year had to stage a strong second-half rally to outdistance the small-market Minnesota Twins in the American League Central. The Indians did get back to the playoffs under second-year manager Charlie Manuel, but they did not get past the first round.

Sometimes, maybe it's better to leave well enough alone.

He couldn't fill shoes

Former Toronto Blue Jays general manager Gord Ash never had a chance. He was fired recently after seven years without a playoff appearance, but his real crime was trying to replace Pat Gillick.

Gillick resigned in 1994 after constructing back-to-back world championship teams in 1992 and '93. He turned the reins over to Ash just as the Blue Jays were beginning to wilt under the weight of baseball's payroll and revenue problems.

Now, there is speculation in Toronto that Gillick might return to rebuild the franchise, though it seems far-fetched. The top candidate to replace Ash probably is Canadian-born Doug Melvin, who had a pretty good run in Texas before being dismissed recently.

Melvin pays for A-Rod

Superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez hit 52 home runs this year, but his presence in the Rangers' lineup cost both Melvin and manager Johnny Oates their jobs during the course of an otherwise disappointing season.

Owner Tom Hicks wasn't willing to settle for anything less than a contending team after he spent a staggering $252 million to sign Rodriguez to a 10-year contract last winter.

Trouble was, the acquisition of A-Rod (and several veteran offensive players that were jettisoned at midseason) failed to address the most important needs of the team and consumed the resources that might have been better spent on a multi-year strategy to upgrade the pitching staff.

Look for the Rangers to sign a top-dollar, free-agent pitcher this year, but they could have built a whole staff for the ridiculous sum that agent Scott Boras squeezed out of their overzealous owner.

Melvin will land somewhere and be successful. It could be a while for the Rangers.

Orioles options

It is no secret that the Orioles are interested in pending free-agent first baseman Tino Martinez, but the resurgence of the Yankees - and Martinez's great regular-season numbers - will make it hard to pry him out of New York. He apparently wants to return, and the Yankees, who were ambivalent about him a year ago, want him back.

From the home office ...

With the usual apologies to late-night talk show host David Letterman, here are my top 10 reasons why the Orioles should try to sign free-agent home run king Bonds:

10. If Bonds hits 73 homers again, the Orioles have a chance to break 100.

9. Godfather Willie Mays would look pretty good in the No. 5 hole.

8. Larry Dierker's resignation puts 80 within reach.

7. Agent Scott Boras could use the Orioles to jack up the price for George Steinbrenner.

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