There are things Fred McAlister loves about scouting, most of which he'll still be able to enjoy. But there are aspects of the business McAlister is happy to relinquish after 13 years as the Cardinals' director of scouting.
"When I started back in 1980, I had a budget of $250,000," McAlister said. "Now, it's $1.5 million, and the players aren't any better.
"I won't miss the money part of it. They all want a barrel of money when you draft them now. You take a guy in the 10th round, and he wants $100,000. They think money grows on trees."
It doesn't, and neither do major-league prospects. But McAlister, 65, was able to find more than his share during his reign as scouting director.
McAlister had a run of seven No. 1 amateur picks who made it to the big leagues. Those players, picked from 1981 through 1987, were infielder Bobby Meacham, pitcher Todd Worrell, outfielder-first baseman Jim Lindeman, pitcher Mike Dunne, pitcher Joe Magrane, infielder Luis Alicea and pitcher Cris Carpenter.
The string was broken with the selection of pitcher John Ericks as No. 1 in 1988. Ericks suffered an arm injury and was released last year. He recently signed with Pittsburgh, so he still has a chance.
Two of McAlister's more recent No. 1 picks - pitchers Donovan Osborne in 1990 and Allen Watson in 1991 - already have made it to the Cardinals' parent club.
"I've only missed two years," McAlister said. "I'm pretty proud of that. Not too many people can say that in this business."
There have been disappointments, as well. For instance, the Cardinals have been frustrated in their attempts to draft and develop a power hitter.
McAlister chose power-hitting prospect Paul Coleman as the Cardinals' No. 1 pick and sixth player taken overall in 1989. The seventh player taken was Frank Thomas, by the Chicago White Sox.
Coleman was a disappointment at Class AA Arkansas last season and is attempting to jump-start his career as a pitcher. Thomas was the American League's Most Valuable Player last season.
"There were five other players taken, besides Coleman, ahead of Thomas," McAlister said. "We all missed on him. I saw him. I had Ted Simmons go see him, and my assistant, Marty Maier. But he never hit for me.
"Looking back, you wish you had taken him. That was probably my biggest mistake."
Another pick that gnaws at McAlister is catcher Paul Ellis. McAlister grabbed Ellis with a supplemental pick after the first round in 1990. Ellis, a UCLA product, had led the nation with 29 home runs the previous college season.
"There was no doubt about him going out and hitting," McAlister said. "There was concern about his fielding; we thought that could be a problem. But we thought, here is a guy who will hit and hit for power.
"I saw him at Arizona State one day get six out of eight in a doubleheader. He had a couple of home runs and a couple of doubles, knocked in a bunch of runs. I thought he could be the Cardinals' catcher for a long time."
Ellis has not hit, for average or power. He batted .200 with no home runs at Class AAA Louisville last season and recently was removed from the Cardinals' 40-man roster.
Thus is the inexact nature of scouting and evaluating. Behind the successes are cases of mistaken enthusiasm. …