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The Farmer Files

The tributes are pouring in bearing the news of Ed Farmer's death on Wednesday. From Jerry Reinsdorf to Daniel Palka, the White Sox family, the people who knew him, have disclosed details about the team's play-by-play radio broadcaster that were pretty much unknown to those of us who never met the man.

We were aware that Farmer suffered from a genetic renal disease and that he received a kidney, basically saving his life, from a brother a number of years ago. We knew that Farmer was a champion of the organ donor program and that Secretary of State Jesse White visited the radio booth every season touting the program in Illinois.

We didn't know that Farmer's mother died at age 38, and his dad passed at 41. If we ever were aware that Ed appeared before a congressional committee, testifying about receiving a donated kidney, we had forgotten.

Perhaps the most revealing memoir of the man came in the Daily Herald in a piece by Barry Rozner, who knew Farmer quite well. Rozner was able to capture the essence of Farmer's personality, his sense of humor, South Side roots, love of the White Sox, and knowledge of the game of baseball.

For those of us who grew up in the days when sports were just getting started on television, we listened literally to thousands of games on the radio which were much easier to access. Not only the Chicago teams, but the voices of icons like Ernie Harwell (Detroit), Harry Caray (St. Louis; yes, St. Louis), Bob Prince (Pittsburgh), Earl Gillespie (Milwaukee), and Waite Hoyt (Cincinnati) were familiar to us along with the call letters of their local stations.
Not so today.

Truth be told, the times I listened to Farmer over the past 28 seasons usually were in my car. Occasionally we chucked the TV tables and listened on radio during dinner. In all candor, I never was a big fan. Farmer clearly knew the game and his love of the White Sox was front and center, but the dialogue between him and Darrin Jackson for my taste too often dwelled on tidbits having nothing to do with the action, of lack thereof, on the field.

I could make the same comment about many broadcasting duos including the very popular Jason Benetti and Steve Stone. The entertainment for me is the game regardless of the many losses that the Sox piled up the last few seasons. The old-timers described what they saw on the field from the ball being in play to how the pitcher wore his socks. In today's world, with the exception of the recently retired Vin Scully, they no doubt would be fired for excessive boredom.

I can recall barking at my car radio asking Farmer and Jackson to at least tell me the score. Again, this doesn't apply just to them. No matter the game or the announcers, I'm not all that interested in what these guys had for lunch, or how they slept the night before, or what golf course they played that afternoon.

I understand that this banter is aimed at making the people behind the voices more familiar. The interchanges show us that they are regular guys with interests and habits similar to their listeners. My criticism focuses on balance. I hear too much of the "Hey, I'm just a regular guy" at the expense of telling us what's happening in the game.

Many of the ex-players, of whom Farmer and Jackson are two, relish in the fact that they can replay their careers over the airwaves. Aside from Bob Uecker, it's tempting for some of the retired athletes to embellish their feats - or at least add a few points to their .250 lifetime averages. Don't they understand that if we're interested, we have Baseball Reference?

What I do remember about Farmer as a pitcher is that he threw hard, and he certainly wasn't afraid to pitch inside. He also more or less restarted his career after bombing out of the big leagues in 1974. He persevered his way back two seasons later and became the White Sox closer in 1980, recording 30 saves for a team that won a modest 70 contests. That was his best season out of the 11 he pitched in the majors for eight different clubs.

Ed also was the target in what was one of the ugliest incidents on a major league diamond in my memory. On the night of June 20, 1980, the Tigers' Al Cowens, leading off the 11th inning of a tie game, hit a routine grounder to short. Farmer turned to watch the play. Cowens, after taking a step or two toward first base, made an abrupt left turn and ran toward the mound, attacking Farmer from behind and touching off an awful fistfight that lasted about 20 minutes.

The previous season Cowens, playing for Kansas City, had his jaw broken and a couple of teeth dislodged by a Farmer fastball. Apparently Cowens plotted revenge and waited almost a year to get it. Cowens was no run-of-the-mill player. He was second in MVP voting in 1977, but his behavior that night at Comiskey Park was anything but big league.

According to accounts the past couple of days, Farmer filed an assault charge so that Cowens didn't travel to Chicago that August for the next series against the Sox. He remained secure at home rather than getting arrested in Chicago.

Later Farmer withdrew the charge in exchange for a peace-making handshake. Cowens, who died in 2002 at the age of 50, complied.

One other item about the incident is that Farmer remained in the game, facing three more hitters, all of whom reached base, while Cowens was justifiably ejected.

Had the season opened last week sans a world pandemic, the baseball community would have been physically united to grieve, commiserate, and provide group support. Of course, the Sox would have played their regularly scheduled games, but a sadness would have pervaded the clubhouse, offices, broadcast booths, and the ballpark. A moment of silence would be observed, quite possibly in more locales than just the South Side.

It would have been different.

However, what is constant is the fact that Ed Farmer, despite a life-threatening condition, was able to live his dreams, having the thrill of doing exactly what he wanted to do, loving his work and the people around him. May we all be so fortunate.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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