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In My Words: Farmer went the distance

Former closer racked up the innings to earn a save
Special to MLB.com

To show you how much things have changed in baseball, there was a game in 1980 when Tony La Russa had me come in during the sixth inning. And I was the White Sox closer.

I came in relief of Ken Kravec after Toronto cut our lead to 7-4 with one out in the sixth. Back then, there was no such thing as using two or three set-up men to get to the closer. The closer was expected to close out the game whether it was the sixth inning or the ninth inning.

To show you how much things have changed in baseball, there was a game in 1980 when Tony La Russa had me come in during the sixth inning. And I was the White Sox closer.

I came in relief of Ken Kravec after Toronto cut our lead to 7-4 with one out in the sixth. Back then, there was no such thing as using two or three set-up men to get to the closer. The closer was expected to close out the game whether it was the sixth inning or the ninth inning.

:: Chicago White Sox: In My Words ::

I got the last two outs in the sixth and then went the rest of way to preserve our 7-4 victory. I went 3 2/3 innings to record my 14th save of the season. You never would see that in today's game.

I wound up with a career-high 30 saves that year, earning a trip to the All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium. I pitched two or more innings in 14 of those saves.

It was just a different mindset compared with today's closers, who are conditioned to pitch one inning. Now it's a big deal if the closer comes in during the eighth inning. Forget about the seventh inning.

I once had a teammate in Detroit, John Hiller, who came in the third inning of a game and went the rest of the way for the win. And he was our closer.

When I was the Sox closer, I'd come in, throw 40-50 pitches over three innings, and then go out there again the next day. If you went into a game, you were out there until you couldn't pitch anymore. I didn't want to let down my teammates. I was going the length of the game to earn a save for the White Sox.

Video: Farmer & Jackson call Melky's 10th-inning go ahead HR

When the sixth, seventh innings came around, I knew I could get the call to go into the game as the closer. The other guys in the bullpen knew it as well. I played off their energy because they expected me to make sure we won the game.

La Russa was the manager who changed everything. When he came over from managing our Minor League team in Iowa to take over in the middle of the 1979 season, it didn't take long to see he was far superior to the other managers in the game. He was a tactician from Day 1.

Tony was the first guy who really started to use the set-up men as a bridge. I remember Steve Trout, who had been a starter, came out to the bullpen for a few days.

I said, "You won't pitch. It's Kevin Hickey's job to come out of the bullpen."

He said, "If that's the case, I'm walking right across the field back to the dugout."

The next day, the call comes to the bullpen, and sure enough it was for Kevin Hickey. Trout was upset, but Hickey became the guy Tony used to get to me.

You could tell things were changing in the '80s with closers. The Yankees started using Rich Gossage a certain way. When Tony went to Oakland, his closer, Dennis Eckersley, became the poster boy for the closer mainly pitching only the ninth inning. It worked out pretty well for Eck. He went to the Hall of Fame.

The game evolved, and it should evolve. Now those bullpen roles are cut a certain way. This is your job, this is your responsibility. Everything changes, and that's fine.

I was among the last of my kind when it came to closers.

Whenever I get asked, "Will we ever see the day when a closer records three-inning saves?"

I say, "Sure, the same time you see the Great Pumpkin around Halloween. Have you seen him lately?"

As told to Ed Sherman

Ed Farmer is a White Sox announcer and former Major League pitcher.

Chicago White Sox