Obituary: David Elder (1975-2023)

RIP to David Elder, a relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in 2002 and 2003. He died on January 31 at the age of 47. Elder had been a baseball instructor at WOW Factor Southeast, a training facility in McDonough, Ga. In the days following his death, he was mourned not only his family and friends, but also many of the students and the parents of the students who trained under him.

David Matthew Elder was born in Atlanta on September 23, 1975. He grew up in Conyers before moving to Pensacola, Fla., in 1990. He was a 4-year letterman at Booker T. Washington High School. He threw 4 no-hitters there and was named to the Northwest Florida and Florida Coaches Association All-Star teams in his senior year. He continued his baseball career at Georgia Tech on a scholarship and won 10 games in his freshman season, one short of the school record. During the summers, Elder once pitched for the Atlanta Crackers — not the famed team from the Southern Association, but a team in the Stan Musial World Series in the summer of 1995.

See David Elder at Baseball Almanac

Elder was a successful pitcher for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, though not exactly a dominant one. A May 15, 1996, article in The Atlanta Constitution noted that Elder’s 118 strikeouts in his sophomore season were 36 more than any other pitcher on the staff. However, his ERA was 4.34 — good by college standards, but not his own. “I’ve not done the job as No. 1 [pitcher],” he said. “I’ve had bad innings, maybe not games. Like against North Carolina, I allowed only one baserunner in four innings, then they score five against me, then the next inning I didn’t give up a run.” However, Elder could dominate at times. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Florida State Seminoles before settling on a 4-1 1-hitter, in April of 1996.

Source: The Atlanta Constitution, May 15, 1996.

Elder started his junior year in 1997 as the Georgia Tech closer, but he ended up back as a starter due to injuries on the Yellow Jacket pitching staff. He won 9 games with a 3.44 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 96-2/3 innings, and he was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference Second Team. The Texas Rangers drafted him in the Fourth Round of the 1997 June Amateur Draft. Elder’s college roommate and fellow Yellow Jackets pitcher, Kris Wilson, was picked later in the draft and reached the majors with the Royals and Yankees.

Elder was assigned to Pulaski of the Rookie-Level Appalachian League, and he was very good as a reliever. In 20 games, he fanned 57 batters in 32-1/3 innings and had a 1.95 ERA. Unfortunately, he missed the entire 1998 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right arm. Elder resumed pitching in 1999 and had a good season for Port Charlotte of the Florida State League. He had a 2.84 ERA in 24 appearances and finished the season in Double-A with the Tulsa Drillers. He was roughed up in 3 appearances with the Drillers but threw 5 hitless innings of relief in the playoffs against Wichita on September 13.

Elder returned to Tulsa in 2000 as a closer but was moved into the starting rotation in late May. He remained as a starter for the rest of the season and for most of 2001, as he reached Triple-A for the first time. The pitcher put up excellent strikeout totals, with 104 K’s in 116-2/3 innings in 2000 and 134 in 129-2/3 innings the following year. However, Elder had control problems and walked in excess of 6 batters per 9 innings in each of the two seasons. The Rangers traded Elder to the Cleveland Indians on December 18, 2021, getting reliever John Rocker in exchange. Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro said that Elder would be used as a reliever. “We feel he has an out-pitch curveball. The only question in our mind is durability,” he said. “We feel he’s more suited to be a bullpen guy at the major-league level.”

The move to the bullpen turned out to be a great idea, as Elder split the season as a closer for Double-A Akron and Triple-A Buffalo in 2002. He saved a combined 14 games and had a 5-2 record and 2.31 ERA in 45 minor-league games. His success meant that he was brought to the majors whenever injuries or ineffectiveness created a need for a fresh arm. Elder’s first trip to the majors lasted for less than three days in July, and he never got into a game before being sent back to Buffalo. At least he got to meet the likes of Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel. “These are the guys you watch growing up. I’m just trying to soak all this in.” Elder said. He was particularly excited to meet Eddie Perez and Mark Wohlers. “I’m from Atlanta, and I remember when those guys played for the Braves.”

Elder rejoined Cleveland a little over a week later and made his major-league debut in New York on July 24, 2002. The Yankees had pounded Cleveland pitchers Ryan Drese and Jake Westbrook, and Elder was sent to the mound in the top of the fifth inning with Cleveland losing 12-6. He struck out the first batter he faced, Jason Giambi, and didn’t allow a hit over 2-1/3 innings. He walked 2 and struck out 2. Elder followed that up with 3 shutout innings against Detroit on the 27th. His wildness caught up with him on the 30th against Oakland, as he walked 4 batters in 1-2/3 innings. He was hit hard over his next appearances and was sent to the minors in mid-August. Elder was recalled in September and pitched brilliantly over 9 appearances. He suffered 2 losses but had a 2.03 ERA over 13-1/3 innings, with 13 strikeouts. He pitched in a total of 15 games for Cleveland and had an 0-2 record and a 3.13 ERA. He had 23 strikeouts and 14 walks in 23 innings.

Though he was considered a favorite to make the Opening Day roster, Cleveland opted to send Elder to Buffalo to start the 2003 season. April in Buffalo would be brutal, but it was particularly bad in 2003. The Bisons had five games postponed by snow or rain. “It was horrible. On opening day I had an icicle hanging from my hat in the ninth inning,” Elder recalled. He was brought back to the warmer climate of Cleveland after 8 scoreless appearances for Buffalo. In his first game for the Indians, he was brought into the eighth inning of a game against Texas on May 2, with the Rangers leading 5-4. He walked Juan Gonzalez but struck out Ruben Sierra to end the inning. In the bottom of the inning, Ellis Burks smacked a 2-run double to give Cleveland a 6-5 lead. That’s how the game ended, and Elder picked up the win.

Elder’s other games with Cleveland weren’t as effective. He gave up 3 runs in 1/3 of an inning in his next appearance, and walked the only 2 batters he faced on May 9 against Texas. He faced the Rangers again on May 11, with 2 runners on base and Texas already leading 13-5. He struck out Alex Rodriguez for the second out of the inning, but then Rafael Palmeiro took a 3-2 pitch deep to right for a 3-run home run. That homer was the 500th of Palmeiro’s career. Elder pitched the sixth inning and surrendered a solo homer to Ryan Christenson. That appearance left him with a 19.29 ERA in 4 games, having given up 5 runs in 2-1/3 innings. Shortly after that game against Texas, Elder was placed on the disabled list with shoulder tendonitis. When there was no improvement, he was transferred to the 60-day DL, ending his season.

Cleveland released Elder in October of 2003. He pitched briefly at the Double-A level for the Braves in 2004, but when he was released, he joined the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League. Elder was a lights-out pitcher for the Patriots and an important part of the bullpen, and his success gained him a minor-league contract with the Yankees. The next few seasons played out in a similar way. Elder split the 2005 and 2006 seasons between the Patriots and the Omaha Royals, Kansas City’s Triple-A affiliate. He performed well, but never gained another promotions to the majors. He pitched briefly for Somerset and Laguna of the Mexican League in 2007 before ending his pitching career. He had endured multiple shoulder and arm surgeries over the later years of his playing career and retired at the age of 31.

In 19 games in the majors over 2 seasons, Elder had a 1-3 record and 4.62 ERA. He walked 18 batters and struck out 26 in 25-1/3 innings. He also earned 33 wins and 35 saves in the minors over 9 seasons and had a 10-5 record, 12 saves and a 2.31 ERA in 4 seasons with Somerset.

Elder spent the rest of his life in baseball as an instructor and coach. He also worked for a shipping company in Griffin, Ga. He is survived by his daughter Haven, his father and three siblings.

For more information: Scot Ward Funeral Services

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