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.