Merkin recalls meaningful moments with Farmer

April 5th, 2020

CHICAGO -- I don’t remember what day or month it was -- or what year it was, for that matter.

All I recall is being on the same commercial flight with Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson from Chicago to Kansas City and then driving the White Sox radio broadcast team from the airport to Kauffman Stadium for that evening's American League Central contest. And I remember laughing almost non-stop as I focused on the road.

Jackson is one of the classiest people you will come across, with his own deep treasure trove of baseball stories. He played for both the Cubs and White Sox, among other teams. He also spent two seasons in Japan, and he has had a long and accomplished broadcasting career.

But Farmer -- who passed away Wednesday night at age 70 in a Los Angeles-area hospital -- well, he was simply one of a kind. Jackson pointed out during a conference call on Thursday how Farmer created stories for others to cherish and recount for the rest of their lives, as much as he expertly told them.

We often talked about college football, in that I am a proud graduate of the University of Michigan and Farmer was an unofficial part of Notre Dame’s program. Farmer’s support was that strong, and of course, detailed and knowledgeable.

After a three-year absence from each other's schedules, Michigan and Notre Dame opened their 2018 season on Sept. 1 in a matchup in South Bend, Ind. For a normal human, the travel time from Notre Dame to Guaranteed Rate Field is about 90 minutes without traffic, but as has been established since his passing and has always been understood, everything was wonderfully different about Ed Farmer.

If the schedule allowed, he was going to go from the Notre Dame-Michigan football game to his job calling the White Sox hosting the Red Sox -- or vice versa. He invited me to go with him, even if it involved taking a helicopter in either direction. Alas, both games ended up being at night, preventing such an opportunity.

WGN Radio 720, the White Sox flagship station, paid a tremendous hour-long tribute to Farmer on Saturday night with White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf as the first guest. Reinsdorf told a story of how Farmer would come into his office around 4 p.m. CT on game days even if Reinsdorf was too busy to see him at that particular time, but Reinsdorf would quickly forget about what he had to do and be engaged by Farmer for an hour.

That story reminded me of a Sunday afternoon in 2018 when I was finishing my pregame notebook in Seattle. Farmer came to the writers' side of the pressbox, sat down next to me, and with a little free time before his pregame duties beckoned, began a conversation. Our talk eventually moved to where we grew up -- about three miles from each other in Chicago -- and waves of great childhood memories started rushing forth as we discussed familiar places. I messaged my producer to let them know that the notebook was going to be a little late.

Farmer’s play-by-play style was not for everyone, somewhat similar to Ken "Hawk" Harrelson’s approach. But both of these gentlemen were accomplished baseball players, bigger-than-life personalities and expertly shared their love for the game in their own way, from what they knew firsthand.

“Somebody said this about me and also Ed,” Harrelson told me Thursday. “They said, 'Vin Scully was a play-by-play guy who told stories.' They said, 'You and Ed are storytellers who do play-by-play.'”

“Hawk and Ed are from a unique era of storytellers that can broadcast a game by telling stories throughout,” White Sox senior vice president of sales and marketing Brooks Boyer told me on Thursday. “They could relate you to times gone by and what the protagonist or antagonist were thinking or about to do. It’s a unique skill, and that’s something you just don’t see in baseball or around sports.”

Farmer's will and determination to bring White Sox games to fans was unmatched, even during struggles with his health, which brings me to the third game of the 2019 season in Kansas City. I was walking into the Kauffman Stadium visitors’ clubhouse when Farmer called to me from an office just inside the door.

Fans were wondering if there was something wrong with Farmer on the Opening Day broadcast, and Farmer wanted everyone to know he was just battling a bad case of the flu, was feeling better and hoped to be at 100 percent soon. He appreciated the concern, which was true worry across White Sox Nation for someone who had done so much for the fans even if they were part of the seemingly few who didn’t personally know Farmer.

Even if the specific details are a bit hazy, like our Kansas City car ride, the uplifting feeling of being around Farmer always remains. Here’s two more memories from that K.C. excursion. We stopped at some sort of fast-food conglomeration off the highway and Farmer gave me a hard time for claiming I was trying to eat healthy by choosing Subway. I wished I had taped that entire entertaining trip, much like many of the great conversations we had over the years.