Six-foot-seven righthander Scott Elarton 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.
After a few stints in the minors toward the end of his career, Elarton last put on his game jersey for the Sugar Land Skeeters in 2013.
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.
We caught up to him to talk about that, landing a ton of his own cards and in person autograph etiquette.
Tony Reid–Do you remember the first time you were asked for your autograph?
Scott Elarton-As far as I can remember, my grandma had me sign a baseball after I hit a home run when I was 11 or 12 years old or around that age. I wouldn’t have remembered that but she kept that ball on the mantel. That was one of those things that she remembered and now I do, too.
TR-What is the most memorable fan interaction you had over the course of your career?
SE-Maybe more of a long term interaction. There was a guy in my hometown who was a nut about collecting Scott Elarton baseball cards. It was early internet days. He would have started in 1994 when I was drafted. He ended up with an absolute ton of Scott Elarton cards. A few years after I was done playing he offered the collection to me and I said that I would love to have it. I now have the market cornered, not that they are in any demand whatsoever.
TR–You were drafted in the first round in 1994 by the Houston Astros. Your rookie cards appeared in 1995 products. Being a first round pick, you were in a number of products from Topps to Upper Deck and everything in between. Do you remember the first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
SE-My first memory of that would be the (1994) Signature Rookies cards because I got to see a lot of those. I signed 7,750 of them. I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. At a dollar per card, I thought I hit the jackpot. I practiced all kinds of different signatures, unknowingly, because they wanted you to do your best to make them all look alike. At that point I hadn’t signed my name that much in my lifetime. I had 7,750 chances at it and every once in awhile I will see one of those and they are really, really ugly signatures. It was good practice. Towards the end I had a really bad attitude towards the process.
TR– There is a huge community of fans that send items to players through the mail to sign. Do you get random items that show up at your doorstep requesting your signature?
SE-I do! Actually the COVID pandemic has sparked that again. I’m not in high demand whatsoever. Annually, I would get about 20 letters. I’ve gotten twenty letters in the past few months. I think with people being locked in they are finding things to do and that includes sending letters to guys like me. It’s enjoyable. When I first stopped playing I thought I would never do that but know I think it’s kind of neat. I sign them and send them back. They are digging out the old cards. It’s pretty cool.
TR-What players inspired you to continue to strive to be great over the course of your big league career?
SE– Shane Reynolds for sure. He was a veteran when I was called up for the first time in Houston. He did everything right. Other than if you could say working too hard is incorrect, he might have done that. He would probably tell you that today. He probably worked a little bit too hard and probably wasn’t as fresh as he wanted to be every fifth day because he had been working so hard to improve himself between starts.
He is a super guy. He is a really good friend. He is the one guy that I was inspired by.
SE-I did hold on to them, thinking they would be cool someday to have them. Occasionally, I will go grab some for a kid. We had some painters here at the house the other day and they had a kid that was helping them out. He knew I played baseball, so I went and grabbed some cards and gave them to him.
TR–Did you collect baseball cards growing up?
SE-I was a collector growing up. My brother and I, out in Eastern Colorado, there wasn’t a lot going on baseball-wise. There were a few guys in the area that started doing card shows. I was the kid who made the display cases in shop class in seventh or eighth grade. My shop teacher helped me make a case. Then a little further down the line I made a few myself. I don’t know if you would call it a business, more like a racket, but we had a lot of fun doing it.
I made some trades that I’m not proud of at this point. I remember one kid that wanted new skateboard wheels. He had no use for baseball cards. Somebody had given him the cards. We probably didn’t do him right in the trade. He really wanted those skateboard wheels and we really wanted his cards, so I don’t know if I should confess that right now. It was fun.
That was the Upper Deck era with Griffey’s famous rookie card and the Billy Ripken “F Face” card. I was right in the middle of that. It was a ton of fun. I don’t see it being so much fun anymore. Now it’s all about the value of the card. Not with everyone but with many people. I know that has frustrated players. We would love to sign for people who just think it’s cool to have a signed card. In my case, that’s probably why they want it, honestly. They aren’t looking to make money off of me. The stamp they use to send it is more expensive than what they are going to get for my card. In my case I shouldn’t be bitter about that.
TR–You would say that as your career and time in the big leagues played out that players did sour to the in person autograph signing for fans for that specific reason?
SE-Yeah I think it’s because you start to see the same people all the time. I have known guys who did one signature for people they thought were selling them and another signature for collectors. Some would go as far as putting a mark on the card to see if it would show up for sale on eBay. It was more out of frustration because they would love to sign for the kids and the people who would really appreciate it. The other people were generally more aggressive and you would see the kids getting boxed out and it just made you feel bad. A lot of times the player ends up looking like the bad guy when in reality they would like to do it for the kids.