Ed Farmer caught me completely off guard on a June afternoon at the ballpark.
“Last week I was studying stem cells at Harvard,” he said.
I think that was my actual response.
Sometimes you didn’t know if Farmer was messing with you, but this time, he had a serious look on his face. He really was at Harvard looking at stem cells during a three-game series in Boston.
The White Sox broadcaster was the most interesting man I’ve ever met. He had an amazing ability to tell you a fascinating story on Monday and easily top it on Tuesday. He loved to talk. He loved his job. And he held onto the radio booth until he absolutely couldn’t. Sadly, Farmer passed away Wednesday night. He was 70.
I had the pleasure of working with Farmer in two different radio gigs over the last 11 years. The first was as a producer at 670 The Score, when I primarily worked in the studio during White Sox broadcasts, not at the ballpark. But Farmer genuinely cared who was helping with the broadcast and made a point of mentioning each producer and engineer by name multiple times during every game.
And when you made it out to the ballpark, he made you feel at home in the radio booth. I once brought my father up to the booth on his birthday. I was young and didn’t even know if it was allowed. Farmer talked to my dad like they had known each other for 40 years.
Years later, when I was hosting White Sox pre- and post-game shows on WGN Radio, I brought my son to a game. Farmer immediately directed him to the open chair next to him and my son sat between he and radio analyst Darrin Jackson for the entire half inning.
I came to realize over the years that Farmer’s hospitality was constant. It was common to walk into the booth in the fifth inning and weave your way through 10 people just to get to Ed and D.J. There was always food on the back table, usually some pastries or cake that Farmer had some connection to. And there was grape soda in the refrigerator that was pretty much the only thing off limits. I learned the hard way.
Farmer always had a story. He’d tell you about how Jerry Krause signed him or about some random fight he got into as a player. When I limped into the booth last April with a giant knee brace because of a pickup basketball game, I heard all about Farmer’s illustrious high school basketball career. I can’t verify it, but it sure sounded like he was a better basketball player than baseball player. We had a Catholic League connection/rivalry. He went to St. Rita. I went to St. Ignatius. Somehow, it always connected to Notre Dame.
Farmer had an amazing ability to start a story off the air in between innings and continue it up until the absolute last second he had to put his headset back on. He’d call three outs over however many minutes it took, and when that half inning was over, he’d put the headset down and continue the story like he had never been interrupted.
But Farmer also deeply cared about the broadcast. He’d spend hours before games telling stories, but he always had one eye on his scorebook, completely ready to take the microphone 10 minutes before first pitch. I got on his bad side once last season when my pre-game show ran long on a particularly newsy day at Guaranteed Rate Field. It didn’t matter. Clock discipline. Farmer held me accountable for being late.
Like any broadcaster with an ego, I was a little annoyed, but a few weeks later I learned Farmer hadn’t been feeling well. I was surprised because he was battling through it so well. He was still welcoming people to the booth – albeit maybe fewer than usual – and gutting his way through long days at the ballpark.
Farmer’s health issues have been well documented. He was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in 1990 at the age of 40. He was in renal failure and would have died had his brother, Tom, not donated one of his kidneys. Farmer was never afraid to talk about it. In fact, it was so important to him that he would often go back to Harvard, where his transplant was performed, and talk to patients.
Which brings us back to the stem cells. Farmer wasn’t a doctor, but he did want to go into medicine before choosing baseball. After his transplant, he was determined to learn everything he could about kidney disease. If you talked to him about it, he could easily make you think he was a doctor. And that’s why every short trip to Boston to play the Red Sox meant time spent at Harvard.
After 11 years in Major League Baseball as a player and three as a scout, Farmer called White Sox games on the radio for 28 years. And he would have done it for many more.
The radio booth at Guaranteed Rate Field was his home. And whenever baseball starts up again, that booth will be missing its dear friend Ed Farmer.
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