Rozner: Ed Farmer was gift to White Sox, all of us

  • Longtime White Sox broadcaster Ed Farmer died Wednesday. He was 70.

    Longtime White Sox broadcaster Ed Farmer died Wednesday. He was 70. Rich Hein/Sun-Times, April 2008

 
 
Updated 4/2/2020 6:21 PM

Ed Farmer was excited for the baseball season.

OK, truth be told, he was excited to play golf again, and since it was the week of the Genesis Invite at Riviera Country Club, that meant he was on the range and engaging as many caddies and players as possible.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Some would say harassing. Actually, I would say harassing.

But it was cold. He kept saying it was raw in Southern California. Too raw to pound balls, and he indicated he wouldn't be going back to watch the tournament.

That didn't sound like him.

It was mid-February and Farmer did say he was happy to be headed to Arizona shortly and back in the booth calling spring-training games, after a long absence last year due to illness.

That was six weeks ago and the call lasted more than an hour. I mean, every call with Farmer lasted more than an hour. The man could talk and talk and talk. He sounded less than 100 percent, but he gave no hint that he wouldn't see the 2020 baseball season.

Ed Farmer died Wednesday night in a Southern California hospital at the age of 70, due to complications from a previous illness.

Summing up a person's life is never fun, and it's especially difficult when it's a good friend. It's particularly hard when it's someone as complicated as Ed Farmer.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Complicated as in genius.

Ed being incredibly smart and well-read, we were as likely to spend 18 holes talking about Albert Einstein and the book we both read about him, as we might the White Sox's bullpen.

But when he would start to discuss Harvard Medical School and the offers he received to spend the rest of his life there lecturing on polycystic kidney disease, it's where he lost me.

No kidding. The man was absolutely brilliant.

At the same time, we could have a ridiculous conversation about "Blazing Saddles" or "Deadwood," and argue the merits of our favorite fast-food restaurants.

When he gave you directions, he spoke as if the internet didn't exist, giving you chapter, verse and street sign. "My phone can do this, Ed," you would say. And then he would just keep going, 10 more minutes of directions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ed Farmer was pure entertainment on a golf course.

Maybe you felt that during his 29 years in the radio booth, and maybe you didn't, but one certainty is he was like a family member when you heard his voice.

He began each broadcast with, "Hello friends."

While hardly knowing one another before their partnership, he and Darrin Jackson became thick as thieves, a joy of being together on and off the course that you could feel during a broadcast the last decade.

Ed Farmer had that with so many people.

One summer night as we were finishing 36 holes at Cog Hill, Bo Jackson showed up on the back nine, and he and Farmer went at each other, betting on every shot and talking trash like they were brothers.

They hit identically brilliant shots over the water into 18 green, yelling at each other like children.

Crazy.

Ed Farmer is a man hard to describe, not a story with a neat bow, but suffice it to say that he spent much of his day thinking about wife, Barbara, and daughter Shanda.

He did not want to be away from them, and when he talked about his life expectancy, and the possibility of leaving them, golf would stop and we would cry.

Farmer was 40 when he went into renal failure, knowing at the time that his father died at 41 and his mother at 38. Polycystic kidney disease killed his mother and is the No. 1 genetically-passed disease in the world.

"I knew what was coming," Farmer told me 10 years ago, when I wrote about his survival. "I had already started putting everything in my wife's name and my daughter's name."

One of eight brothers and sisters, Tom Farmer was a transplant match and gave Ed the gift of life when Ed's daughter was only 10.

"Now here I am, 20 years have passed, and I'm with my wife and daughter, the two best people I've ever known in my life, and it's all because of Tom," Ed Farmer said at Christmas 2009. "He gave me the greatest gift anyone can give. He gave me my life back. There's not enough ways to be thankful for that."

Farmer grew up in Evergreen Park and attended St. Rita before the Indians drafted him at the age of 17. A Cleveland scout by the name of Jerry Krause signed him while Farmer was in his mother's hospital room, as she convinced him to turn pro and leave behind thoughts of pitching for his beloved Notre Dame or Arizona State.

Those same kidney problems brought a premature end to his baseball career, but his "rebirth" after getting a kidney from his brother -- I always guessed -- was the reason for his constant search.

A constant search for more golf. Tougher courses. Better swings. New friends. Knowledge. Conversation. Intelligent conversation. Stupid conversation. Sweet wedges. Sharper grooves. Deeper meaning.

In other words, anything that meant using his time instead of letting it pass.

He would sit for hours with close friends like Jerry Reinsdorf debating the eras of baseball. He would nuzzle up to every Notre Dame coach and walk the sideline during a game like he was in charge. He would argue with Jackson and booth producer Paul Zerang about nothing and everything.

He stumped endlessly for all to register as organ donors, testified before Congress about polycystic kidney disease, and in 2009 was asked by Dr. Ted Steinman to speak to 60 professors, interns, residents and incoming students at Harvard Medical School.

He said it was more thrilling than pitching in the 1980 All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, and Harvard asked him to stay and work there.

Farmer would have done it, too, giving up baseball broadcasting, if not for his wife and daughter being on the opposite coast.

"For 20 years, every time I've been to Boston, I've spent a day or two with Steinman learning everything I could," Farmer said in 2009. "They've schooled me, and they wanted the young doctors to hear the story from the patient side.

"Dr. Steinman said I knew more than nearly everyone in the room, but that's only because I've studied it longer. Those people in that room will have the gift of saving people's lives. They're special."

So was Ed Farmer. He brought a constant and self-deprecating humor to the booth, unless he and Jackson were arguing pitcher vs. hitter.

"I love the games. I love the booth. It really is a gift from God and a gift from my brother Tom," Farmer said in 2009. "It's a little bit of escape from life for me as a broadcaster and for the fan as a listener, and whatever Darrin and I can do to make the day a little more fun, we do.

"Every day is Christmas to me. As I say on the radio every time a player gets hurt, and I truly mean this, we're all day to day."

Ed Farmer knew everyone. If you needed anything, Ed could help you. Most people only contact you when they want something, but Ed only wanted to give. And unlike most people I know, he was always there and available.

If you needed a new sand wedge, he knew what kind to get. If you needed to understand Bob Feller's delivery, Ed explained it. If you needed to understand why your brother was dying, Ed could explain it better than the doctor and in terms you could understand.

So, yeah, an hour was an average call. In our last conversation, we laughed a lot, but he was truly excited to see the White Sox rebuild coming together and what it could mean in a year.

He said we would play golf at Cog Hill in April, play until our hands were blistered. He told me he loved me and he would see me soon.

I think now that he knew better. He always did.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.