Here’s to the man who loved baseball and who along the way signed two of the best players of his time.

In the spring of 1996, Dr. James Farrar drove a few hours into rural Mississippi to follow up on a tip he’d gotten about a young right-hander pitching for Holmes Community College. He loved the kid’s stuff, and the more he asked about him, the more impressed he became.

Roy Oswalt didn’t look the part of a guy who’d have success in the Major Leagues. He stood a shade under 6-feet tall, and many franchises are hesitant to draft short right-handers. But Farrar believed Oswalt had a chance and convinced his boss of it, too. Well, sort of.

The Astros took Roy Oswalt in the 20th round as a draft-and-follow. That means they would keep an eye on him, and if they decided he was worth the money, they’d sign him before the 1997 First Year Player Draft.

Oswalt got better and better, and the Astros ended up getting him for the bargain-basement price of $500,000. He flew through the Minor Leagues and won the first of his 143 games for the Astros on May 14, 2001. He ended up being $500,000 well spent.

Farrar, 81, died last week after a long fight against cancer and other health issues. His was a baseball life. He was a respected coach in Louisiana and a scout for for the Astros for 27 years. And Oswalt might have been the second-best player he ever signed. He was also the guy who got J.R. Richard’s name on a contract in 1969.

Scouts are extraordinary people. They love the game more than most of us can comprehend and think nothing of driving 500 or more miles in a day, sometimes seeing three games in the hope of finding the next Roy Oswalt or J.R. Richard. One scout I know once attended games, holding a baby bottle for his infant son in one hand and a radar gun in the other.

They don’t do it because they’re going to get rich. They’re not. They do it because it’s in their blood and because they trust their instincts to see something in players others don’t. They see hundreds of players, looking for a skill or a work ethic that will allow them to have a chance.

Once when I asked Farrar why he’d driven so far out of his way for a player who was considered a long shot, he just laughed.

“This,” he said, “is what we do.”

It’s way more than that. It’s what they love doing. It’s a job, but it’s a passion too.

4 Comments

Hi Richard,

It seems scouts are either dying, getting fired or laid off. At least that is the only time I hear about them.

There was that small scandal involving a scout or two skimming money a while back now that I recollect.

I read, watch and otherwise love baseball, but know nothing about scouts.

I don’t think there is a Scout’s HOF for them and I wonder if a scout is in the Baseball HOF. Doubt it, but I should look that up.

I wonder if they are unionized.

How do you become a scout?

Any ex-MLBers scouts?

I guess teams need a sort of Latin scouting team.

I’ve never heard of a club honoring a scout.

Anywho, I ramble. Enough.

We sure miss you around these parts. Things are interesting as you know and mostly in a very good way, stretching out to College Station. A whole lotta sports BBQ that you could chew on and spill ink about.

The writing in the sports columns at the Chron is coma-inducing, David Barron excepted (I can’t say I knows the man, but I loves his talent). We are being cheated down here and cheated is not a strong enough word.

You may think I am being a smart aleck, but you need to come back and rescue us yahoos.

Before I close, you need to read Dale Robertson’s wine column today. He has a “What I’m Drinking ” blurb written by local wine fellers and today’s is a classic.

Nice talking to you.

Adios.

That is a great story. Oswalt and J.R. I can’t think of two more different pitchers for him to have signed. I still mourn JR’s stroke.

In regards to your Nick Swisher blog post, I thought it was really cool that his GM was able to speak so highly of him. It’s quite amazing that he can switch-hit, and play so many positions well enough to play in the Majors. It’s awesome that he is not only a great player on the field, but he is able to have great energy and spirit in the clubhouse as well.

I really liked how you began your story about Dr. Ferrar. I think that is so phenomenal that he would drive all the way out to a small Mississippi town to see one player play. As it turns out, Roy Oswalt was a great pitcher for the Astros, and the only reason he was even in Houston to play was because of Dr. Ferrar. I can’t even imagine which greats nobody would know about if a scout didn’t find them. I never really realized how important scouts are, until now.

Another thing I think is quite incredible, is the fact that he stayed with the Houston Astros for over 25 years. He and all the other MLB scouts love the American Pastime so much to travel all around the country looking for the next Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, or Albert Pujols. These are some household names and you have to wonder what would have happened to these players if they hadn’t impressed a scout.

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