Five former Houston Astros players have gone on to also manage the club, even if one only made it there on the close to barest of possibilities. Dave Clark played his last professional season as a pinch hitter and utility corner outfielder for the 1998 Houston Astros. Then later, when he was working as a coach for the 2009 Astros club, he took over as interim manager when Cecil Cooper was fired with just a few games remaining on the schedule. The club hobbled to the finish line at 4-9 and .308 under Clark and that was it for the probably least remembered member of our small group.
No doubt about it – Larry Dierker was the most overall successful manager in club history. As a former Astros pitching ace, and the only member of the group to have had his number (49) retired by the team, Dierker guided the Astros to four first place division finishes from 1997 through 2001. Dierker’s 448-362 record produced the club’s highest winning managerial percentage (.553) in history.
Dierker’s 810 total games tied him with Art Howe as the most games managed for the Astros by a former Astros player, but the record for most regular season games managed by an Astros manager of any background goes to the one and only Bill Virdon, who took the Astros into regular season battle for a total of 1,066 times during the 1975 to 1982 period he managed in Houston. The Astros also took their first division crown under Virdon in 1980 and then, sadly, fell only one painful win short of reaching their first World Series that year.
Four of the former Astros players who later became Astros managers also had a direct connection to Bill Virdon, the man who put the run and gun into the offensive philosophy of the franchise that also learned to appreciate and cultivate good pitching and athletic defense under their grand mentor Bill Virdon and Astros administrative iconTal Smith. – Larry Dierker, Art Howe, and Phil Garner all played for Virdon and Bob Lillis coached for him.
Bob Lillis was the first former Astros player to later take the reins as Astros manager when he followed after Virdon left the club late in 1982. Lillis managed from late 1982 through 1985, finishing with a respectable record of 276-261 and a winning percentage of .514.
Art Howe later managed the club to a 392-418, .484 mark at the end of the John McMullen ownership era, from 1989 to 1993. With the purchase of the Astros by Drayton McLane, Howe was “new-broomed” out the door in favor of Terry Collins. All Howe did was prep the young talent core for a harvest of performance that would not take place under new manager Collins, but under the Renaissance Man that would follow him, the tall drink of wisdom water named Larry Dierker.
The last to mention guy on our double Astros duty list was Phil Garner. Taking over in 2004 for manager Jimy Williams, Garner almost wild-carded the Astros into the World Series, a feat he accomplished in dramatic fashion several times over in 2005 as the wild card Astros advanced to their first World Series ever. When the Astros cooled to room temperature over the following two seasons, Garner was replaced, as most manager usually are. Coach Cecil Cooper took over for the final few games of the 2007 season and then returned to manage the team full-time n 2008. He would eventually depart in the same way in 2009, as we have mentioned, replaced by Dave Clark.
Phil Garner’s Astros managerial record was 277-252, .524
It will be interesting to see down the road to the return of another former Astros player as the next Astros manager, whenever that may be. We understand that my old Houston high school (St. Thomas) has won a couple of state baseball titles in a row behind the management of a head coach who used to play a few innings for the Astros. – You have to wonder if the guy I have in mind will ever be open to trying his hand with major league player management.