Broadcaster Ed Farmer, who pitched for Tigers and famously brawled against Detroit, dies at 70

Phil Rosenthal
Chicago Tribune

Chicago — Ed Farmer — a son of Chicago’s South Side who had an 11-year major-league baseball career including one season with the Tigers and then, for almost 30 years, was a radio announcer for the White Sox— died Wednesday night according to the White Sox. He was 70.

A member of the 1980 American League All-Star team while with the Sox, Farmer had been a full-time radio announcer for the White Sox since 1992, first as an analyst and, beginning in 2006, as a play-by-play man.

Farmer was plagued most of his life with polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder in which cysts form in clusters mainly around kidneys, eventually keeping them from functioning properly.

Ed Farmer died Wednesday at age 70.

The same condition claimed the life of his mother, Marilyn, when she was 38 and Farmer was 17, in his first year of minor-league baseball.

The kidney disease began to affect him toward the end of his playing career, which included stints with the Indians, Tigers (1973), Phillies (twice), Orioles, Brewers and Rangers, concluding with the Athletics in 1983, although he continued to pitch in the minors through 1986.

Farmer received a transplanted kidney from a brother in the early 1990s and attempted to control his condition’s ill effects with medications, a regimen that at one time required as many as 56 pills daily.

But at his peak, he could be scary on the mound.

In one memorable 1979 game for the Rangers, his first start in almost five years, he hit Royals leadoff man Frank White with the second pitch of the game, breaking White’s right thumb.

Then, in the fifth, a wild pitch by Farmer with runners on second and third enabled the Royals to tie the game, 7-7, bringing Al Cowens came to the plate. Another tight fastball from Farmer broke Cowens’ jaw and some of his teeth and he was taken off the field by stretcher.

“I have to believe he was looking for a breaking pitch,” Farmer said at the time. “He never moved.”

Farmer said he didn’t throw at White or Cowens on purpose.

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“No, of course it wasn’t intentional,” Farmer said. Royals reliever Al “Hrabosky was yelling over there (in the bullpen), and I thought that was unfortunate. But, with their losing two key ballplayers, I can understand how they would feel that way. I’m sorry it happened.”

White agreed, suggesting Farmer “was just trying to be impressive” and overthrowing.

“I was lucky I got my hands up, or he would have hit me in the face, too,” White said.

Cowens was less forgiving.

The next season, with Farmer playing for the Sox and Cowens for the Tigers, Cowens came to bat against Farmer to lead off the top of the 11th inning.

Cowens hit a grounder to short. Farmer turned to watch the play. Cowens opted to make a beeline for the mound rather than run to first, tackled Farmer and began wailing on him, triggering a bench-clearing melee.

Farmer would file assault charges against Cowens that would prevent him from joining the team on their next road trip to Chicago. Farmer agreed to drop the charges in return for a handshake.

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Farmer would later say that, while on the bottom of a pile of players during the bench-clearing fracas, the weight on him burst the cysts on his kidneys and began to cause him health troubles.

“After that, I wasn’t strong anymore,” he said.

Edward Joseph Farmer was born at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park on Oct. 18, 1949, the second oldest of nine children. His father, also named Edward, was an electrical contractor.

“I learned at an early age life was terminal,” Farmer, whose father would die at age 41, told the Tribune in 2017

Farmer grew up on Chicago’s South Side at 79th Street and Francisco Avenue. He was big for his age, more than 6-feet tall by age 11, on his way to becoming a hard-throwing 6-foot-5 right-hander who impressed scouts while still attending St. Rita High School as a pitcher and third baseman.

Dozens of schools, including Notre Dame and Arizona State, offered scholarships.

His father hoped he would go to Notre Dame and play football. But Farmer was drafted in the fifth round of the June 1967 amateur draft by the Indians, and his ailing mother believed he should take the $10,000 contract and pursue his dream of being a big league ballplayer. So, he did.

Farmer made his major-league debut with the Indians in a game against the visiting White Sox on June 9, 1971, striking out Tom Egan to cap a 3-1 victory.

The Indians traded him in 1973 to the Tigers. In 1974, he would be part of a three-player spring-training deal the Indians and Yankees that included Walt Williams and Jim Perry that sent him to Yankees, who promptly sold him to the Phillies.

Philadelphia eventually sent him back to the minor leagues and his career began to stall out.

By 1976, he was out of the game and might have resigned himself to life without baseball if not for encouragement from his wife, Barbara. He was working in a warehouse in Southern California, which had become his off-season home and would be for the rest of his life.

While training in preparation for a tryout with an Orioles scout in 1977, Farmer was out riding his bicycle when he was struck by a car, going through the windshield. He lost his front teeth but it obviously could have been much worse and he still impressed the scout.

Farmer spent much of 1977 with the Orioles Class-AAA team in Rochester, N.Y., making just one appearance with the major-league squad, a game in which he faced two batters. One walked. The other homered. The Orioles released him the following spring.

He had a hitch with the Brewers in ‘78 and was with the Rangers in ‘79 before landing with the White Sox in 1980 on the recommendation of Jerry Krause, then a scout for Jerry Reinsdorf’s ballclub before becoming general manager of his Bulls, in a trade that sent Eric Soderholm to Texas.

Farmer racked up 30 saves for the Sox in ‘80. At that year’s All-Star Game, Farmer was a teammate of future fellow White Sox announcer Steve Stone, who was on his way to the 1980 Cy Young Award.

Stone started for the American League and threw three scoreless innings. Tommy John in relief gave up a home run in the fifth and, after three straight one-out singles, another in the sixth.

Farmer took over for John to face three batters. Future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield reached on an error, driving in the go-ahead run at 3-2. Keith Hernandez singled, and Pete Rose grounded into an inning-ending double play. The National League would win, 4-2.

With the Sox from mid-’79 to ‘81, Farmer was 13-19 with 54 saves and 3.31 ERA. He joined the Phillies as a free agent in 1982, and they released him in August 1983, freeing him to sign with the A’s 10 days later to close out the season.

Over his major-league baseball career, Farmer was 30-43, with 75 saves and a 4.30 ERA, appearing in 370 games.

Farmer was working for the Orioles as a scout when the White Sox asked if he would like to work a couple games on the radio. After a broadcast, he ran into Reinsdorf, the team’s chairman.

As Farmer recalled: “He goes, ‘Ed, can I talk to you for a second? If you want this job ...’ I said, ‘Jerry, I appreciate it, but I work for the Orioles.’”

The White Sox subsequently hired Farmer in December 1990 as special assistant to General Manager Ron Schueler.

Farmer began filling in regularly for John Rooney on the radio alongside Wayne Hagin in 1991 when Rooney was doing national broadcasts for CBS.

The next year Farmer replaced Hagin and, when Rooney left for the Cardinals after the White Sox’s 2005 World Series championship, Farmer slid into the play-by-play role alongside Chris Singleton, then Stone and most recently Darrin Jackson.

Farmer nearly lost his California home in the wildfires of late 2018.

“I’m lucky I’m alive. I’m lucky my family is alive,” he told the Daily Herald. “I’m not kidding. When we were evacuating and driving out on the 101 Freeway, there were flames on both sides.”