Obituary: Ed Farmer (1949-2020)


RIP to Ed Farmer, who had a long career as a MLB career and an even longer career as a radio broadcaster for the White Sox. He died on Wednesday night, April 1, from complications of a previous illness. He was 70 years old. According to the White Sox, he broadcasted one spring training game for the White Sox in 2020 before returning to his home in Calabasas, Calif., for health reasons. Farmer played for the Cleveland Indians (1971-73), Detroit Tigers (1973), Philadelphia Phillies (1974, 1982-83), Baltimore Orioles (1977), Milwaukee Brewers (1978), Texas Rangers (1979), Chicago White Sox (1979-1981) and Oakland A’s (1983).

“Ed Farmer was the radio voice of the Chicago White Sox for three decades, and he called no-hitters, perfect games and of course, a World Series championship,” White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “His experience as a Major League All-Star pitcher, his wry sense of clubhouse humor, his love of baseball and his passion for the White Sox combined to make White Sox radio broadcasts the sound of summer for millions of fans. Ed grew up a Sox fan on the South Side of Chicago, and his allegiance showed every single night on the radio as he welcomed his ‘friends’ to the broadcast. I am truly devastated by the loss of my friend.”

Ed Farmer was born in the South Side of Chicago — specifically, Evergreen Park — on October 18, 1949, and he went to high school at St. Rita’s. He was a multi-time member of the Chicago Tribune Prep Baseball All-Stars. In his senior year of 1967, he had 158 strikeouts to lead the Catholic League. He also pitched the Mustangs to the Chicago Catholic High School League championship. Still, after attending a White Sox summer camp, Farmer was told by a scout to forget about pitching and become a catcher instead.

Ed Farmer, back in the high school days at St. Rita. Source: Chicago Tribune, June 22, 1967.

Fortunately, Indians scout Benny Zientara liked Farmer liked him as a pitcher and recommended him to his bosses. Farmer was drafted in the 5th Round by the Cleveland Indians in the 1967 Amateur Draft and made his pro debut with the Gulf Coast Indians of the Rookie League that year. He was 3-0 with a 1.97 ERA in 7 games, but his first full seasons in the Indians’ system were marked by pretty high ERAs as a starter.

In 1970, Farmer had a 5-7 record and 4.02 ERA for the AAA Wichita Aeros. He was still just 20 years old and had taken part in several spring training camps with the Indians already. He started 1971 with the Aeros, but after 7 starts, he was brought to the major leagues that summer.

Farmer, a White Sox fan from childhood, ended up facing his favorite team in his MLB debut on June 9. Staked to a 3-1 lead with 2 outs in the 9th inning, Farmer came in from the pen to strike out Tom Egan, picking up a save. Later in the season, Farmer made it to Comiskey Park on August 12 and worked 3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the win in a 3-2 victory.

Farmer had 4 starts with Cleveland in ’71, but he primarily worked out of the bullpen. He saved a total of 4 games, to go with his 5-4 record and 4.35 ERA. He pitched pretty steadily for the Indians for two-and-a-half seasons before he was traded to Detroit on June 15, 1973. That kicked off the rest of his nomadic career.

Farmer’s Tigers career lasted 24 games and resulted in a 3-0 record and 5.00 ERA. He ended up with the Yankees on March 19, 1974 as part of a three-team deal with the Tigers, Yankees and Indians. He was with New York for all of two days before he was sold to the Philadelphia Phillies. New York had tried to send him to the minor leagues. Farmer, who was a pre-med student at the University of Chicago when he wasn’t pitching, vowed to return to his studies instead of going to the minors.

“I asked the Yankees why I should be sent down, and they couldn’t give me a reason,” Farmer later explained. “I told [Yankees general manager Gabe Paul] I felt I could make a deal for myself.”

Paul actually let Farmer try to find a new team for himself, and he found the Phillies. In a six-degrees-worthy connection, Farmer was friends with Woodie Fryman, who owed Phillies GM Paul Owens a favor after Owens granted his trade request a couple seasons prior. Fryman repaid the favor by putting Farmer in a car and sending him to Clearwater for a tryout. Owens was pleased enough to make a deal with the Yankees for Farmer.

Farmer did well when injuries forced him into the starting rotation, but couldn’t get into a rhythm with the Phillies and ended up with a 2-1 record and 8.42 ERA in 14 games. Farmer was sent to the minors, but not before blasting Phillies manager Danny Ozark for his infrequent usage.

“Danny was upset with the way I pitched. He thinks I can go out there with ten days’ sitting on the bench and pitch one inning. That’s not the way it works with a pitcher,” Farmer said. “He thinks I can stay sharp pitching on the sidelines. I think he lacks the smarts to realize it can’t be done on the sidelines.”

After being released by the Phillies, Farmer was away from the major leagues for three years. He signed a minor-league deal with the Brewers and pitched for Sacramento in 1975. A sore arm led to poor pitching, and he was released on June 13. After a couple bad starts in Mexico, Ed Farmer was out of baseball.

Farmer missed the entire 1976 season after undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur in his right shoulder. Dr. Frank Jobe, who performed it, didn’t know if he would ever pitch again. While he recovered in Santa Monica over the winter, Farmer decided to call a friend, Terry Crowley of the Orioles, to bug him about the beautiful California winter weather. One thing led to another, and Crowley talked to his general manager, Hank Peters, who happened to be the GM of the Indians who signed Farmer to a contract in the first place. Peters arranged a tryout, and Farmer restarted his baseball career in 1977 with the AAA Rochester Red Wings.

After winning 11 games for Rochester, Farmer was brought back to the majors. He made just one appearance with the O’s, on September 7, 1977 against the Tigers. He gave up a single to Lance Parrish and issued a bases-loaded walk to Ben Oglive before being yanked. Parrish came around to score in the inning, leaving Farmer with an infinite ERA as an Oriole. He evened that out the following year in another brief callup with Milwaukee. He won 1 game in 3 relief appearances and had a 0.82 ERA.

After years of being sent up and down in the minors, Farmer was able to stay in the majors from 1979 through 1982, and he even earned an All-Star nomination. That success, which came in 1980, was made even sweeter because he was pitching for his beloved Chicago White Sox. He joined the Sox in 1979 after a brief stay with Texas. His time in Texas is best remembered for the game in which he put both Frank White and Al Cowens on the disabled list after hitting them with pitches — White with a broken thumb and Cowens with a shattered cheekbone. Farmer blamed his wildness on nerves; it was his first start in the majors in years. The Royals believed he hit them deliberately, and Cowens would attempt revenge later.

Farmer’s fortunes turned completely around with the hometown Sox. He had a 3-7 record in 42 games in 1979, but he also saved 14 games and had a fine 2.43 ERA. In 1980, he had a career-high 30 saves, along with a 3.34 ERA. His 30 saves were third-best in the American League and a White Sox record at the time.

Farmer’s control, frequently a problem in his career, was greatly improved. “He changes speeds so beautifully on the curve ball,” said pitching coach Ron Schueler. “He’s the first relief pitcher I’ve ever seen with a curve ball like that. Against Boston, he threw a 1-2 curve to Jim Rice that Rice must have swung at three times.”

Farmer threw 2/3 of an inning in the 1980 All-Star Game, inducing Pete Rose to hit into a 4-6-3 double play.

He also was involved in a wild brawl with Detroit and Al Cowens on June 21. Cowens hit a ground ball against Farmer and charged the pitcher instead of running to first base. He was suspended for seven games, and White Sox owner Bill Veeck threatened to have him arrested.

Farmer dropped to 10 saves in 1981, and his ERA rose to 4.61. He left Chicago via free agency and signed with the Phillies for the 1982 season. Once again, his time with the Phillies wasn’t entirely successful, though he at least stayed with the team for the full season. He had a 2-6 record and recorded 6 saves in 47 games, with 4 starts. When he got off to an 0-6 start and 6.08 ERA with the team in 1983, he was released. He signed a minor-league deal with the Oakland Athletics, and he returned to the majors late in the season, allowing 4 earned runs in 10-1/3 innings in 5 games.

Farmer continued to pitch in the minors through the 1986 season, when he was 36 years old. When he retired after pitching for the Hawaii Islanders in ’86, he had worn 22 different uniforms in his 19-year career.

In parts of 11 seasons in the major leagues, Farmer won 30 games, lost 43 and saved 75. He had a 4.30 ERA in 370 games, including 21 starts. He struck out 395 batters and walked 345. One of his teammates in his last season was Barry Bonds, who was just getting started in the Pirates system.

Farmer worked as an Orioles scout for a couple of seasons and was a special assistant to Ron Schueler, his old White Sox pitching coach who had become the general manager of the team. He started broadcasting part-time for the Chicago White Sox in 1991, and he became a beloved figure in a city known for its larger-than-life broadcasters like Harry Caray and Ken Harrelson. He settled into a permanent role in 1992 and partnered with Jon Rooney until 2005, with Rooney as the play-by-play man and Farmer as the analyst. He then took over the play-by-play duties in 2006 and teamed with Chris Singleton, Steve Stone and, most recently, Darrin Jackson.

Source: MLB.com

During his tenure in the White Sox booth, Farmer battled polycystic kidney disease. His mother died from the disease, and Farmer himself needed a kidney transplant in 1991. According to ESPN, he served on the board of directors of the Polycystic Kidney Disease Research Foundation and testified before the U.S. House of Representatives about the disease in 1995. He also supported the state of Illinois organ donor program.

His White Sox colleagues and players remembered him for his openness and friendly demeanor, and his seemingly limitless connections. At the drop of a hat, he could arrange a tour of the Notre Dame football field for interested Sox players or take Jackson on a golf outing with former President George W. Bush.

“My heart is broken, but my mind is at peace knowing my dear friend is no longer suffering,” Jackson said in a statement. “Ed was a competitor who also was everyone’s best friend. I saw firsthand how hard Ed fought each and every day and season after season to keep himself healthy and prepared to broadcast White Sox baseball. I first got to know Ed during my time in Chicago as a player and am honored to have been his friend and radio partner.”

For more information: Chicago Sun-Times

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