In our new series, we grab our 5,000 count boxes, open up those dusty albums, rifle through our complete sets, revisit our player stacks and simply flip over a ball player’s trading cards and ask them to elaborate on some of the fun facts found on card backs.
First up in the series is Scott Elarton. A few weeks ago, we chatted with him about some hobby-related topics but he also volunteered to be our first “card back guinea pig.”
The six-foot-seven righthander was a first round draft pick of the Houston Astros in 1994. As an 18-year-old, he passed on the college experience and headed straight to the minors. In 1997 he went all the way from Single A ball the Triple A and in 1998 he made his Major League debut for the Astros.
The Lamar, Colorado native spent a decade in the bigs, playing for the Astros, Rockies, Indians and Royals. His career year came in 2000, when he posted an impressive 17-7 record for an otherwise subpar Astros squad.
The longtime MLB vet then transitioned into the role of pitching coach for the Pirates’ Gulf Coast League team. He was promoted to the Triple A affiliate Bradenton Marauders before being named a special assistant to the general manager in the Pittsburgh front office–a role he trained for as a kid making big baseball card trades.
Tony Reid–One of your 1995 Topps Rookie Card cards stated that you were your high school valedictorian. Is that accurate?
Scott Elarton-I was. My dad was the principal, so I didn’t have much choice but to get good grades. That’s one of those things you really wish they didn’t print on a card. Players would get ahold of them sometimes and then you are facing all kinds of abuse. Some of the number son my early cards were high school numbers. We didn’t play any real competition, so those numbers are out of whack. They would ride me about that, too.
TR–Being a large man and an Astros top pitching prospect, many of your early card backs from Bowman and Topps stated that you were the best Astros pitching prospect since J.R. Richard. That seemed like a pretty big compliment at the time, right?
SE– Yeah, it was. I didn’t live up to that but my health just got me. It was a pretty much a constant battle of trying to keep my shoulder healthy and pitching most of the time when I probably shouldn’t have been. I wouldn’t change it. I wanted to be out there and if that meant it was going to be painful then so be it. Those comparisons are really hard to live up to. Most of the time guys won’t attain that. You will hear people talk about the next Justin Verlander or these new draft picks coming in they compare them to these once in a generation talents. That is a no win situation. To think that one specific draft pick will be that guy, well it’s probably just not going to happen. I try not to do that to our players just because I don’t want them to feel like a failure if they don’t live up to that. Just getting to the big leagues is a huge accomplishment. Being able to stick around for a while is not easy. Actually just getting to pro ball, just getting signed by a professional organization is incredibly tough.
TR–Your 1998 Studio card back said you are one of the biggest and best pitching prospects in all of baseball but that you are also the smartest. Did those smarts lead you to your current role in the Pirates organization?
SE– I didn’t expect to coach. That would be the biggest thing. I was always the guy who was going to ride off into the sunset and live on a ranch and never have to talk to anyone again. I tested that out for about a year and then I realized I needed to have some interaction with human beings in my life. Then I got a job coaching and it’s been great. I feel like I know where the players are. I have been in their shoes. I was, at one point in my career, I was pretty darn good. At a lot of points I was pretty bad. I got hurt. I got sent down. I got released. My career ran the gambit. I can relate. Most of the time that’s all the players need. They need an ear and they need to know that what they are going through is normal. That part of it I really love. The technical piece is way different than it was for me as a player. I have learned to utilize it now instead of complain about it. It’s a different approach but I really enjoy it.