These are never easy things to write.
In the midst of the unspeakable tragedies that are surrounding us, as thousands are slowed and felled by the coronavirus, news came early Thursday of the death of White Sox icon Ed Farmer.
He was 70. No cause of death has been given, but Farmer did suffer from a rare kidney cyst disease that even had began to affect him near the end of his playing career. A longtime advocate of organ donation, Farmer received a kidney from his brother around the time he joined the White Sox broadcast team (his brother was unaffected by the disease, as Farmer had inherited it from his mother, who died at 38) and had a massive volume of daily medications taken to help him deal with his illness.
“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 team 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.”
Farmer was a hometown kid who made good, growing up in Evergreen Park and making his major league debut in 1971 before eventually joining his South Side heroes in 1979. He made the AL All-Star team in 1980, during what would become a career-best 2.6 bWAR and 30-save season.
Unfortunately for Farmer, his old-school approach on the mound might have hastened the end of his career. While pitching for the Texas Rangers, he hit two Royals in a 1979 game, breaking Frank White’s thumb and Al Cowens’ jaw. A year later, then pitching for the White Sox and with Cowens on the Tigers, Cowens incited a mound brawl after grounding to short but running to attack Farmer rather than run to first base.
Farmer initiated charges against Cowens, for assault, but dropped them when the two shook hands and forgave the incidents. Cowens, however, was forever changed by the beaning and the whirlpool effect it had on his career.
Farmer was affected, too. When I was on the beat with the White Sox, among the many things he and I chatted about was that day, and those incidents. I came in with an attitude of what were you thinking, and while acknowledging that the game was very different then, Farmer also confided that things took a turn for the worse for him with that brawl, as well — and not just in terms of his reputation.
“The weight of the pile — I was on the bottom of it all — was crushing me,” he said. “My cysts burst, my kidneys were weakened. Almost from the minute I stood back up, I felt weaker ... I pitched six more years, but I was never the same.
“It’s strange, just a few years earlier, almost out of baseball, I was hit by a car [Farmer was riding his bike and went though a car windshield, suffering significant facial injuries, among others], but this was way worse. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, why it all happened. But it happened, and I had to deal with it ... still do.”
His career ended in 1986, and by the early 1990s Farmer had joined the White Sox radio team. Though slowed by health issues lately, Farmer has remained a stalwart radio voice of the White Sox since then.
The Ed Farmer everyone knew was an impassioned fan of both the White Sox and the University of Notre Dame. Nearly every weekend in early spring and fall was marked with some story about the Notre Dame football team.
Farmer, in fact, himself could have played basketball at Notre Dame. The university, among “hundreds” according to Farmer, offered scholarships to the St. Rita High roughneck. But Farmer’s mother, then already very ill, believed he should follow his heart and play pro baseball, so he signed for $10,000 with Cleveland.
Four years later, Farmer was in the majors.
After his bicycle injury (and truly, even before), Farmer was pretty much at journeyman status, struggling to remain in the majors. A familiar name to many Chicago fans was responsible for bringing him to Chicago — and for his brightest moments in the majors.
“Jerry Krause, Jerry Krause brought me to the White Sox,” Farmer said of the midseason 1979 trade that sent Eric Soderholm to Texas. “He was a White Sox scout, you know, before building the Bulls. Great guy.”
Back in Chicago, Farmer had his career year in his first full season with the White Sox in 1980, playing in the All-Star Game (he gave up the eventual winning run when Willie Randolph booted a Dave Winfield grounder). He racked up 54 saves and 3.31 ERA for the White Sox through 1981, before leaving to sign as a free agent with the Phillies.
Farmer rejoined his hometown club as a front-office assistant in 1990, and, having gotten a small taste of broadcasting while scouting for the Baltimore Orioles, subbed for the White Sox on the radio beginning in 1991. His role became permanent in 1992 and over the years, Farmer partnered with John Rooney, Chris Singleton, Steve Stone and Darrin Jackson on White Sox broadcasts.
“My heart is broken, but my mind is at peace knowing my dear friend is no longer suffering,” Jackson said, in a team 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. My heart goes out to [wife] Barbara and [daughter] Shanda, the only people he loved more than the White Sox and his hometown of Chicago.”
Contrary to his broadcast persona, which could be gruff and sometimes even dulled by the action, Farmer was an engaged, friendly, and ultimately soft-spoken man. He would gesture to you conspiratorially, as if letting you in on a secret.
It didn’t matter that he often “conspired” the same information to everyone he saw that day. Ed made you feel special. That’s a pretty monumental achievement, in these days or any other.
White Sox fandom will miss you dearly, Ed. Rest in peace.
Donations may be made in Farmer’s name to the Polycystic Kidney Disease Research Foundation (support.pkdcure.org).