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Some mornings when he's driving to the ballpark Larry Dierker
catches himself practicing his batting signs in the rearview
mirror, and he chuckles at the sight. But then everything about
his overnight transformation from Astros broadcaster to the
team's manager has been somewhat amusing. Dierker wore shorts to
what he thought was a casual meeting with the Houston brass in
October when owner Drayton McLane suddenly offered him the
manager's job. A former Astros and Cardinals pitcher with no
coaching or managing experience, Dierker had gone to the
broadcast booth two years after retiring as a player, and that's
where he spent the past 18 seasons.

So spring training was a little different for Dierker this year.
The Hawaiian-print shirts he used to wear around camp stayed in
the closet. There were no more late nights drinking beer and
listening to big-band music at the Big Bamboo, his favorite
Kissimmee, Fla., bar. There wasn't even time for golf. Instead,
Dierker carried a baseball rule book, studied tendencies of
other managers and called every coach he knew for advice about
mastering the minutiae of managing. He had to draw up practice
schedules, find out whether he had to call time to pull a
pitcher and, of course, develop his own system of signals to
send to his players from the dugout. "I'm still not sure if I
can do this job," Dierker says. "But I think I can."

So do the people who hired him. "This decision has been called
everything from off-the-wall to a big publicity stunt," says
Houston general manager Gerry Hunsicker. "But we didn't just
take some Joe Blow out of the broadcast booth and hand him our
team. If you think that, then you don't know Larry."

A righthander from Hollywood, Dierker made his big league debut
for the franchise on Sept. 22, 1964, his 18th birthday, and
struck out Willie Mays in the first inning. He went on to win
137 games in a 14-year career, during which he once won 20 games
and threw a no-hitter. But as the club's broadcaster he had
watched and analyzed more Houston games than anyone now
affiliated with the team and had witnessed the best and worst of
the league's managers.

After accepting the job, Dierker surrounded himself with
experienced coaches--such as Bill Virdon, a former Astros
manager with 40 years in the big leagues--and then approached
his new assignment in typically laid-back fashion. When
centerfielder Derek Bell went to the manager's office to
complain that he was uncomfortable trying to play a new
position, Dierker responded, "Hey, Derek, so am I."

Dierker wants his players to learn to think for themselves so
that eventually they can do things such as make adjustments in
the field on their own. He's trying to improve communications
between the manager and the players, which had broken down after
three straight runner-up finishes in the Central Division under
former manager Terry Collins.

"Whether he was a ball boy or a broadcaster before doesn't
matter," says first baseman and team MVP Jeff Bagwell. "We have
to make this work." It already has in other places. The last
manager to move from the TV booth to the dugout was Joe Torre,
who led the Yankees to the world championship last year.




2B Craig Biggio
Franchise's only player to start All-Star Game twice

SS Pat Listach
Beset by injuries, batting woes since he was AL's top rookie in

CF Derek Bell
Powerful arm, second in league, with 16 assists

1B Jeff Bagwell
Led first basemen with 48 doubles and 16 errors in '96

3B Sean Berry
17 HRs and 95 RBIs in '96, despite torn rotator cuff

LF Luis Gonzalez
Career .270 batter is team's best lefty hitter

RF Bob Abreu
Rookie has cannon arm; 13 homers, 24 steals in Triple A in '96

C Brad Ausmus
Nailed 14 of last 33 runners attempting to steal

Ace Shane Reynolds
Seven straight no-decisions to end last season

Closer Billy Wagner
K'd Barry Bonds and Matt Williams on six pitches for eighth save


Second baseman Craig Biggio and first baseman Jeff Bagwell
played in every game for the Astros last season, just as they
did in 1992. They were only the third pair of teammates in 60
years to play their club's entire schedule in two seasons. The
others were Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. of the Orioles, who
did it in 1984 and '88, and Nick Etten and Snuffy Stirnweiss of
the Yankees, who played all the games in 1944 and '45.