Former Detroit Tigers Who Died in 2020: Ed Farmer

Ed Farmer, then a White Sox broadcaster, poses for a portrait in Chicago in 2011. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
Ed Farmer, then a White Sox broadcaster, poses for a portrait in Chicago in 2011. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /

A brief series about former Detroit Tigers players who died in 2020 continues with a remembrance of Ed Farmer, who wore the Olde English D for one season. As an opponent, he later pitched in two Tigers games that are each remembered for bizarre reasons.

Early Days

Ed Farmer debuted with the Indians in 1971. His first big league start was against Detroit in the second game of a doubleheader in Cleveland on June 20. In the top of first, Gates Brown doubled with one out. During Al Kaline’s at-bat, one of Farmer’s pitches got away from catcher Chuck Hinton. Brown moved to third on the passed ball. Farmer struck Kaline out, but Hinton couldn’t hold on to strike three. Kaline made it to first base safely and Brown scored. The Indians countered with a five-run outburst in the bottom of the first.

With a comfortable lead, Farmer settled in. He kept the Tigers off the board for the next four innings, despite yielding three hits and two walks. He ran out of gas in the sixth. Norm Cash singled, Dalton Jones hit a two-run home run, Dick McAuliffe singled, and Jim Price hit a two-run homer. That was it for Farmer. The right-hander ended up getting a no-decision, although the game’s outcome wasn’t settled until September 28. It had been suspended in the eighth inning due to a lighting failure at Municipal Stadium. The Indians eventually won 8-7.

Ed Farmer in Detroit

The Indians traded Farmer to the Tigers in June 1973 for Tom Timmerman and Kevin Collins. Farmer had been struggling in Cleveland, but Tigers general manager Jim Campbell remarked,

"“He has a live arm, and he’s only 23. The only drawback is he doesn’t have any options left.”"

Farmer made his Detroit debut against the very familiar Indians on June 19 in Cleveland. The Tigers once led 6-2, but Farmer entered a 7-7 tie in the bottom of the ninth. There was a runner on second and one out. He walked future Tigers manager Buddy Bell and got Oscar Gamble to fly out to center. George Hendrick then spoiled Farmer’s arrival with a walk-off single to left, although the 8-7 loss was charged to Fred Scherman. Indians catcher John Ellis said he felt sorry for his former teammate, adding that he liked Farmer. Tigers manager Billy Martin commented,

"“Farmer threw a good inside fastball, and Hendrick jumped on it. I never expected to lose that ballgame, but sometimes things like that happen.”"

The Tigers were the defending AL East champs, but they’d fallen to fifth place by the end of June and were just trying to get back over the .500 mark. In Farmer’s eyes, however, the team was still a contender. Jim Hawkins of the Detroit Free Press shared an anecdote about a chat he had with Farmer. He wrote,

"“I was sitting in the hotel lobby with Ed Farmer Monday night, and he was talking about how great it was to come from a nowhere club like Cleveland to the Tigers – a ‘first place’ team, as he called them.‘Fifth place’, I reminded him.He gave me a rather disgusted ‘you really don’t believe that nonsense’ look, and resumed his explanation of how and why the Tigers are going to take it all this year.”"

Hawkins didn’t share details of Farmer’s vision with readers, but the Tigers made their new pitcher’s prediction look good for a 10-game stretch from June 26 to July 3. The Tigers went 9-1, sweeping two doubleheaders along the way. Farmer was the winning pitcher in three of those games. (His record was 0-2 in Cleveland, and 3-0 in Detroit.)

Farmer got his first win in the nightcap of a doubleheader in Milwaukee on June 27. He came into a game the Brewers led 3-0 in the fourth. There were two outs and Gorman Thomas was on first. Thomas stole second, but Farmer got Pedro Garcia to ground out to short to end the frame. The fifth inning was a challenge for Farmer. He hit leadoff hitter Don Money with a pitch. Money took second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third, and scored on Ellie Rodriguez’ single. Farmer also walked a batter in the inning.

The Tigers chewed up the Brewers’ 4-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Aurelio Rodriguez homered, Eddie Brinkman walked, Gates Brown singled, and Mickey Stanley singled in Brinkman. Norm Cash doubled, which drove Brown in, although Stanley was thrown out at third on the play. Willie Horton tripled Cash in, and Duke Sims doubled in Horton. The Tigers had roared back to take a 5-4 lead.

From there, Farmer was lights out. He set the Brewers down 1-2-3 in the sixth, seventh, and eighth. Five of those outs were groundouts to either second baseman Dick McAuliffe or shortstop Brinkman, two outs were fly outs to center fielder Stanley, one was an infield pop out, and Farmer himself fielded a groundout, which went in the scorebooks as a 1-6-3 play. Farmer faced just one hitter in the ninth. After Dave May doubled to left, John Hiller took over and held Milwaukee at bay. Detroit won 5-4 to nail down the sweep. Hiller, who was in the midst of his Comeback Player of the Year season, picked up saves in both ends of the doubleheader.

On July 2, the Tigers arrived in Cleveland for the first pair of games in a four-game home-and-home series. In the opener, Farmer took over in the fifth inning after Woodie Fryman gave up three runs to wipe out a 2-0 Tigers lead. Farmer got the third out that he needed by simply inducing a grounder back to the mound. Detroit scored two in the top of the sixth to go up 4-2.

Farmer pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth. George Hendrick, who nicked Farmer for the game-winning hit in his Tiger debut, grounded out to second. John Ellis, who felt sorry for Farmer after that loss, struck out. Charlie Spikes, who had nothing to do with it, struck out. In the bottom of the seventh, Farmer gave up back-to-back singles to John Lowenstein and Chris Chambliss. With Lowenstein on third, Farmer got Oscar Gamble to force Chambliss at second. That kept Lowenstein from scoring. Martin then turned the inning over to the Tigers bullpen for the last couple of outs. The 4-3 score held up as the final, and Farmer was credited with the victory. He, in turn, credited his manager. Farmer said,

"“Billy has displayed a lot of confidence in me, and that makes a big difference.”"

The big story surrounding the Tigers-Indians game on July 3 was the matchup of starting pitchers, Detroit’s Jim Perry and Cleveland’s Gaylord Perry. For the first time in American League history, two brothers were starting a game against each other. (Joe and Phil Niekro had already started against each other in a National League game.) The younger Gaylord’s team had the edge over the elder Jim’s team. In the bottom of the sixth, Jim was the first of the brothers to get knocked out of the game. The Indians led 4-2 when Farmer came in to clean up the two-on, two-out mess that his Perry had left him. A fly out to left field did the trick.

The Tigers rocked Gaylord for three runs in the seventh to go up 5-4. With a new lead to protect, Farmer set the Indians down 1-2-3 in the bottom half. He got Gamble to pop out to third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez in foul territory to start the eighth inning, but then walked two batters. Hiller came on to finish Cleveland off. Detroit held on for the 5-4 win.

For the second night in a row, Farmer picked up a victory against the team that traded him away. He’d given up only one earned run in his first 13 innings as a Tiger, which dropped his ERA to 2.97, a season-low. During the series, he talked to an Indians beat writer about the difference in pitching philosophy that had developed between team and pitcher, which may have led to the trade. He revealed,

"“The Indians wanted me to go sidearm 100 percent. They thought I’d lost my fastball over the top. I prefer coming over the top. I didn’t get here throwing sidearm, although it can be an effective two-strike pitch. The Indians got upset with me because I didn’t change my motion. I can honestly say I tried.”"

Farmer didn’t have any hard feelings about the trade. He acknowledged that he hadn’t been pitching well when he was dealt. He hadn’t started throwing well until after he’d arrived in Detroit. Martin seemed to have a looser outlook than Indians manager Ken Aspromonte, and that may have helped Farmer. Martin said,

"“The first thing you find out is what the problem was with the other club. Then you tell him the way you want him to pitch.He likes to throw the fastball more and the breaking ball not so much. I told him to stop throwing to spots. He was trying to be too fine with everything when he came to us. I told him to just throw hard because he’s got a good live arm.”"

Farmer pitched twice in the Tigers’ eight-game winning strike in late July. The team also spent eight days in first place in August, but Farmer’s pitching was headed in the other direction. He didn’t pitch well in August or September. He ended up with a 4.91 ERA (5.00 with Detroit) in 1973. His 1.756 WHIP and 5.4 walks per nine innings as a Tiger were the worst of any pitcher on the team who threw a minimum of five innings. Farmer went to winter ball to work on improvements, and it turned out to be a positive experience for him. He said,

"“I’ve never gotten to pitch a lot of innings, but (this past) winter I played for Frank Robinson in Puerto Rico and worked as a starter. I got my rhythm, really for the first time. Once that happened, my ability took over.”"

Starting for Detroit in 1974 became Farmer’s new goal. However, he would need to prove himself all over again in spring training for a new manager, Ralph Houk. A confident Farmer stated,

"“I’ve got the stuff to do it. I haven’t even thought about relieving. I won’t be in the bullpen when the season opens. I’ll be in that rotation. I’ll be one of those four starters…If I throw the ball down here the way I did this winter…I’m going to win one of those starting jobs. And if I don’t, then somebody else will have it because I don’t deserve it.”"

Houk, who managed the Yankees during Ed Farmer’s first three big league seasons, said he knew the pitcher had a good arm, but still needed to see him more. After three shaky appearances in exhibition games, Houk had apparently seen enough. On March 19, Farmer was traded to the Yankees for catcher Jerry Moses in a three-team deal that also involved Farmer’s original team, the Indians (who received Jim Perry from the Tigers).

Transactions and Transitions

New York promptly assigned Farmer to their Triple-A farm team in Syracuse. Unlike the first time that he was traded, Farmer did not take this one well at all. He groused,

"“Why would New York trade for me? They’ve already got their staff picked. There’s no room for me…They can trade me to someone else. That’s the only way I’ll go. I had a spot in Detroit. I’m not going to pitch Triple-A baseball. They (the Tigers) sent me to winter ball to be a starter…I didn’t think my career would be coming to a head this quick…I walked into the clubhouse at four o’clock, and five minutes later, after finding about about the trade, I was a complete stranger to myself…Work hard, work hard, work hard. Then you get sent down for no reason. Houk said I was the hardest worker in camp.”"

After Farmer met with Yankees general manager Gabe Paul, he was allowed by Paul to sign with any team that was interested in him. A couple of days later, the Phillies purchased Farmer. He had heard good things about the Philadelphia organization from Tiger teammate Woodie Fryman, who was a former Phillie. It was Fryman who drove Farmer to the Phillies’ spring training camp, so Philadelphia general manager Paul Owens could watch Farmer in a throwing session. Farmer thought he knew why the Tigers had traded him. He surmised,

"“I was the last one to sign a contract (for 1974) in Detroit. They offered me exactly what I made last year, and I felt I deserved a raise. I guess that didn’t sit well with the organization there.”"

Ed Farmer broke camp with the Phillies, but he ended up being sent to the minors by the end of July. He disappeared from big league box scores until he made a single appearance for the Orioles in September 1977. It just happened to be against the Tigers. Detroit’s offense was on fire that day. Farmer took over in the midst of a Tigers rally in the third inning. With two on and one out, rookie catcher Lance Parrish (who had a 4-hit day) tapped out what Farmer called “a 66-foot single.” That loaded the bases. Farmer was pulled after walking Ben Oglivie to force in a run. Parrish later scored, giving Farmer the ‘infinity ERA’ for his time in Baltimore. Detroit won 12-5.

After bouncing around to the Brewers and Rangers, Farmer revived his middling career with the White Sox in 1979. It had been a hard path back for Farmer, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side. He was going through a divorce when the Tigers traded him. His father died not long after Ed debuted with the Phillies. There was also a shoulder injury that wiped out the 1976 season.

Farmer found consistency with the White Sox, and he handled the Tigers well in 1979. In 11 1/3 innings against them, spread over five games, he gave up only one unearned run. Detroit batters hit .220/.283/.244 with six strikeouts. Farmer attributed to his success to basically learning how to pitch all over again after the injury. He said,

"“When you don’t know how to pitch, you think you have to have your good fastball every day that you go out there. That’s how I was when I was with the Tigers. I’d start to warm up and I wouldn’t have a good fastball some days, and I just didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t know I could get a batter out without overpowering him.”"

Ed Farmer
Ed Farmer, circa 1979, with the Chicago White Sox. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /

Ed Farmer vs. Detroit: Disco Demolition Night

Farmer pitched against the Tigers in the 1979 season’s most bizarre game. It was the first game of a scheduled doubleheader at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on July 12. It was also “Disco Demolition Night,” hosted by WLUP-FM’s Stave Dahl, one of rock radio’s first prominent ‘shock jocks.’ People who brought disco records to the ballpark that night got in for only 98 cents. (WLUP was 98 on the FM dial.) Dahl was planning was to blow up a bin full of the hated disco discs in center field in between games. The promotion drew a sizable chunk of the 47,795 on hand. It was the biggest crowd of the season at Comiskey Park.

At one point, it looked like Farmer was going to start the second game. Instead, Farmer took over in relief in the top of the sixth in the opener. Lance Parrish’s RBI single off Sox starter Fred Howard had just boosted the Tigers’ lead to 4-1. There was only one out. Farmer got rookie Tom Brookens to hit into an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play.

By this point of the game, the partying crowd was having a very loud and festive time. “Disco sucks” chants rang throughout the ballpark. Too many were too rowdy, unfortunately. There were multiple delays during the game because records, assorted debris, and even lit firecrackers were continually being thrown on the field. On the podcast The Voice Behind The Voice in 2016, Farmer described how close his view was. He said,

"“Disco records, 45s, the little…ones, one song on each side. Those were flying through the ballpark. They were like Frisbees. I was pitching. One came flying right past my head. The third baseman caught it in the air, yeah, with his glove.”"

Farmer faced Alan Trammell to start the seventh. Tram flew out to the future Tiger Chet Lemon in center. The Tigers lineup turned over, and Ron LeFlore singled to right. Farmer went to first base with a throw before pitching to Lou Whitaker. His first pitch was a pitchout. The Sox were right in guessing that LeFlore was going to try to steal second, but the speedy Tiger beat the throw. Farmer faked a pickoff move to second before getting Whitaker to ground out to short. With Rusty Staub up, catcher Jim Colbern went to the mound for a chat. The pause gave unruly revelers another opportunity to engage in more shenanigans that caused another delay. Farmer stood behind the mound and glared out toward the outfield while he waited. Then he got Staub on a groundout to second to end the inning.

In the eighth, Farmer struck Jason Thompson out and walked Champ Summers. Jerry Morales singled to right field, just out of second baseman Don Kessinger’s reach. Farmer was visibly irritated by the missed play and stalked off the mound twice to collect his thoughts before facing Whitaker. Another break in the flow of the game meant more time for more record throwing from the crowd. It wasn’t visible on the White Sox telecast, but one of the guys in the booth freaked out when one of the sharp-edged discs almost hit Tigers first base coach Gates Brown. Finally, Farmer regrouped and got Parrish to line out to short. Morales, running with the pitch, was easily doubled off.

Brookens swung at Farmer’s first pitch in the ninth like he was in a hurry to get out of there. He grounded out to third. Farmer needed only three pitches to put Trammell away. LeFlore stung Farmer with another single to right. Whitaker was up next, but didn’t see his first pitch right away. There was another delay as more records on the field were picked up. Then Farmer tried a couple pickoff attempts. When he finally pitched to Whitaker, LeFlore again stole second. After the second pitch to Whitaker, ball two, an unhappy or uncomfortable Farmer stepped off the rubber and stalked around the back of the mound for a moment. Farmer again regrouped and got Whitaker to fly out to left to end the inning.

The Tigers went on to win the first game 4-1. There was no second game. “Disco Demolition Night” got out of control. An estimated 7,000 people stormed the field after the explosion ceremony. Their wild frolicking rendered the field unplayable for the rest of the night. The White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game to the Tigers. On The Voice Behind The Voice, Farmer told a wild story about how crazed attendees almost infiltrated the White Sox clubhouse. He got himself, his wife, and his daughter (who, unfortunately, picked that night to attend a game) out of the ballpark as soon as possible.

Ed Farmer vs. Detroit: Cowens

From Ed Farmer’s perspective, June 20, 1980 might have been a worse night at Comiskey Park. The Tigers and White Sox were tied 3-3 in the top of the tenth when Farmer came in to get the last out of the inning. As he sat in the dugout in the bottom half, watching Aurelio Lopez retire the Sox 1-2-3, Farmer couldn’t have imagined what was about to happen after he took the mound for the eleventh inning. Al Cowens would be leading off for the Tigers.

The previous May, when Cowens played for the Royals and Farmer pitched for the Rangers, Farmer broke Cowens’ jaw with a pitch. The injury knocked Cowens out for 20 games. He bitterly believed that it was on purpose, even after Farmer visited him in the hospital and apologized. In Cowens’ mind, he had a vendetta to carry out. After he grounded Farmer’s 3-1 pitch to shortstop Todd Cruz, Cowens carried his vendetta out. He made a beeline for Farmer and attacked him. The pitcher’s back was turned. It was a cold-blooded cheap shot.

To watch the existing TV footage, it’s a strange sight to see Cruz look confused about what to do as he fielded the ball while seeing that his pitcher was about to get jumped. On The Voice Behind The Voice, Farmer described what happened from his perspective. He told Cruz to throw the ball. That’s when Cruz warned him. Farmer recalled,

"“I saw a figure coming behind me. I tried to hit him with my right elbow coming up behind, like I was going to hit him like a hockey player would hit somebody who’s playing center with a guy pushing him out of the goal crease. I tried to hit him with my elbow, and he came around and put his pinky finger in my nose. Then I had some things to say to him on the ground.”"

As soon as first baseman Mike Squires completed the play, the White Sox swarmed Cowens. The Tigers, led by the hulking Lance Parrish, then stormed in. It looked like Cowens had Farmer in a headlock before the pile-on, and he reportedly landed some punches to Farmer’s head. Farmer said that Parrish grabbed him by the shoulder to keep him from really getting back at Cowens.

A full-on brawl ensued between both teams, although it was only the second biggest fight in the sports world that evening. In Montreal, Roberto Duran beat Sugar Ray Leonard for the WBC welterweight title. With just a reported scratch on his nose, Farmer came out of his fight in better shape than either Leonard or Duran. Afterwards, he barked at reporters, “Do I look like I’m hurt?” He was happy to vent some anger. Farmer continued,

"“I hope he sleeps well tonight. If that’s his best shot, he won’t scare anybody…Talk to Cowens about why he did it, but don’t expect to understand him. Whatever language he speaks, it’s not English. He’s an idiot.”"

When the chaos finally settled, the eleventh inning resumed. Cowens had been ejected. Farmer stayed in the game, which may not have been a good idea. He walked Parrish, and Johnny Wockenfuss doubled Parrish in to break the tie. After an intentional walk to Richie Hebner, White Sox manager Tony LaRussa pulled Farmer. Champ Summers later singled Wockenfuss in for an insurance run. In what turned out to be a pretty emotional game, the Tigers won 5-3.

The Tigers returned to Chicago in late August for two games. Cowens, who had become public enemy number one among White Sox fans, skipped the trip. He had already been fined and suspended by the American League, but there was still an assault charge pending against him in the state of Illinois. Farmer pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the second game on August 27. After Steve Kemp’s two-run double off White Sox starter Britt Burns tied the game at 2-2, Farmer came in to get Wockenfuss to ground out to end the inning. Farmer wasn’t quite sharp after that, even though he got the job done. He gave up four walks and two hits, threw a wild pitch, plus there was a stolen base. The White Sox went on to win 3-2 in 14 innings.

It was a conversation between Farmer and the Detroit News‘ Joe Falls that led to a reconciliation with Cowens when the White Sox arrived in Detroit for their last visit of the season. Falls had asked what it would take for Farmer to drop the charges. Farmer just wanted an apology from Cowens. He said that he’d accept Cowens’ handshake if the Tiger outfielder offered it. Falls passed word on to Detroit manager Sparky Anderson. The day before in Cleveland, Farmer had taken the lineup card out to home plate before both games of a doubleheader that the White Sox swept. True to the superstitious nature of baseball people, Chicago manager Tony LaRussa wanted his newfound good luck charm to do it again before the series opener in Detroit. The wheels were set in motion.

Before the game that Labor Day evening, Farmer emerged from the visitors dugout at Tiger Stadium, which drew a round of boos. When Cowens came out of the Tigers dugout, the boos turned into cheers. An uncredited Chicago Tribune writer painted a picture of an Old West showdown:

"“The two antagonists stood facing each other like gunfighters on a dusty street until Cowens stretched out his hand and Farmer grasped it.”"

Cowens and Farmer spoke briefly as they exchanged apologies. Farmer said that he was glad they were able to “discuss it as grownup people should do” and confirmed that he “considered the matter closed.” Charges were dropped. Minds were eased. Farmer still ended up leaving town in a foul mood, though.

In the series finale on September 3, the Tigers trailed the White Sox 4-1 as the bottom of the ninth began. Detroit rallied against two Chicago pitchers and scored two runs. When Farmer entered the game, Tom Brookens was on third, and Dave Stegman was on first. There were two outs. In order to protect the one-run lead, Farmer just needed to get Ricky Peters out. With two strikes, Peters’ single to right drove Brookens in with the tying run. Stegman took third. Peters said that he was expecting a fastball, but after getting a curve, he was glad that he “adjusted well.”

Alan Trammell was up next. His plate appearance ended on a wild pitch that scored Stegman with the winning run. Trammell said that he thought Farmer “was trying to overthrow” the pitch, which was an estimated three feet wide of the plate. Farmer said as little as possible about the Tigers’ 5-4 win to reporters as he headed for the showers. He snapped,

"“What do you want to know? You saw the game. It was a wild pitch.”"

One Last Game

The Cowens saga was a definite low point in what was otherwise a career year for Farmer. He notched a career-high 30 saves, third best in the AL. Farmer also made an All-Star team for the only time in his career. Still, the incident lingered on in LaRussa’s mind when the White Sox played in Tiger Stadium for the first time in 1981. In a game on April 26, he almost psyched himself out of using Farmer in a clear save situation that afternoon. The worried manager said,

"“As far as Farmer is concerned, I know that’s over, but still, there’s going to be a reaction from the crowd when he comes in, and I don’t want to give up any little edge. But today my starting pitcher was out of gas, and I didn’t want to use LaMarr Hoyt at all today”."

Farmer was the choice. He was tasked with protecting a 5-4 White Sox lead in the ninth inning. Starter Britt Burns went the first eight. Peters reached on an infield grounder that a diving first baseman, Mike Squires, could only knock down. Trammell laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner. Kemp walked. Parrish hit “a hot smash” that emergency third baseman, Carlton Fisk, somehow fielded. The future Hall of Fame catcher barely tagged the bag for the force before Peters arrived. Left-handed pinch-hitter Richie Hebner was next. LaRussa had a lefty warming up in the bullpen, but decided to stick with his righty. Farmer, who was the right choice all along, got the third out on a line drive to second baseman Tony Bernazard. Farmer picked up his third save of the season in Chicago’s 5-4 win. It was his last appearance at Tiger Stadium.

Ed Farmer, a member of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, died on April 1, 2020 at the age of 70.