This Ain’t Brain Surgery

Larry Dierker went directly from high school to the big leagues and struck out famed slugger Willie Mays the first time he faced him. Dierker went on to a highly successful pitching career with the Houston Astros, and when he retired began his broadcasting career, providing the “color” for the Astros. In a unique career switch, he then began a five-year stint as manager of the Astros, guiding them to four division titles.

Though he provides some biographical material, in This Ain’t Brain Surgery: How to Win the Pennant Without Losing Your Mind Dierker focuses primarily on his baseball career and provides insights into pitching, managing, broadcasting, umpiring, and cheating. He is most interesting when he discusses pitching (pitch counts, strategy, drills) and managing (creating team spirit, encouraging players to think for themselves, and determining when to pull pitchers). He opposes having managers call pitches and devising game plans, preferring instead to let pitchers determine what is working best for them at the time. The advice is backed by anecdotes and stories, many of them about his teammates and players.

Dierker’s colorful personality, illustrated by his trademark Hawaiian shirts, and intelligence ( he was also a baseball columnist) permeate the book. He even includes some of the entertaining songs he wrote. Despite the title of the book, which also alludes to the seizure and brain surgery he underwent during his managing career, it is full of thoughtful observations about dealing with the media, umpires, and players and about how good pitchers succeed (he advised one of his players to play serious golf to improve his pitching). Many of his comments concern the pitching staff of the Atlanta Braves, the team that often stymied the Astros. Dierker entertains and teaches in a light-hearted way and avoids, for the most part, the sordid and raunchy details found in books written by other former big leaguers.