Ed Farmer, the Chicago White Sox broadcaster and former major league pitcher, has passed away. He was 70.
Farmer, a big righthander who threw hard and not very accurately, spent 11 years in the majors, including a brief stint with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers acquired Farmer and Gary Holle in December, 1978, in exchange for Reggie Cleveland, then traded the pair exactly six months later to the Chicago White Sox for Eric Soderholm.
While Farmer only pitched 11 of his 370 career major league games for the Rangers, he was involved in an infamous saga that started while he was with the Rangers and ended over a year later, involving a hospital trip, a brawl, and an arrest warrant.
Farmer, as I noted above, was not known for his control. A fireballer, Farmer averaged 5.7 Ks per 9 in his career, which spanned from 1971 to 1983, and while that isn’t much by today’s standards, it was above average at the time. He also, however, walked 5.0 batters per 9, also well above average.
Despite the fact that Farmer had been a reliever for most of his career, on May 8, 1979, the Rangers opted to use him as a starter in a home game against the Kansas City Royals. Farmer hit Royals lead off hitter Frank White with the second pitch of the game, breaking his thumb, and setting the stage for a 3 run first inning. Farmer allowed 3 more runs in the third inning, but stayed in the game until the fifth. After retiring Royals catcher (and future Ranger) Darrell Porter to start the inning, Farmer hit Cowens in the face with a fastball. Cowens was taken from the field on a stretcher and transported to the hospital, where it was determined he had a broken jaw and several broken teeth. Farmer was removed from the game shortly thereafter.
13 months later, Cowens was a member of the Detroit Tigers, Farmer was a member of the Chicago White Sox, and they faced off for the first time since Farmer put Cowens in the hospital. Cowens hit a routine grounder to shortstop, but instead of running to first base, he charged the mound and punched Farmer, prompting a benches-clearing brawl. Cowens was ejected and suspended for 7 games, and a warrant for his arrest was issued, though Farmer later dropped the charges in exchange for the two shaking hands and making up.
You can see video from that episode here:
Farmer always swore he wasn’t throwing at Cowens, though Cowens believed otherwise. In any case, I remember that game — I was 8 years old and listened to it on the radio. Looking at the box score, there’s quite a collection of names from the Rangers’ past that appeared...third string catcher John Ellis started the game at first base and had a two out, three run home run in the first off of Larry Gura to tie the game at 3, then was pinch hit for by Johnny Grubb, who was replaced in the field by Mike Jorgensen. The legendary Gary Gray was the DH that day until he was pinch hit for by the legendary Pat Putnam.
And the Great Emu, Jim Kern, appeared in relief for Farmer and got the win (yes, the Rangers won, 8-7) with 4.2 scoreless innings of relief. It was a different game back then, and Kern had a career year out of the pen for the Rangers, putting up a 1.57 ERA in 143 (!!!) IP in 71 relief outings. Kern was named to the All Star team, finished fourth in the American League Cy Young balloting and 11th in the American League MVP voting, and put up a remarkable 6.1 bWAR.
For the Royals, their starting first baseman was Pete LaCock, the nephew of Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall, and their starting left fielder was future Rangers’ hitting coach Clint Hurdle.
Farmer, interestingly, for all his control issues, didn’t hit many batters. Those two HBPs in that game were his only HBPs for the Rangers that season, and he only had 12 HBPs in his major league career.
Farmer joined the White Sox broadcast team in 1992, and was a fixture in the booth for the ChiSox from that point forward.