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Ed Farmer's backpack is filled with pills — just in case.There was a time when Farmer swallowed 56 per day — and he can name every one. "I had to," Farmer said. "My life depended on it."The White Sox's radio play-by-play man has...

White Sox announcer Ed Farmer doesn't let kidney disease slow him down

Ed Farmer's backpack is filled with pills — just in case.There was a time when Farmer swallowed 56 per day — and he can name every one. "I had to," Farmer said. "My life depended on it."The White Sox's radio play-by-play man has...

White Sox announcer Ed Farmer doesn't let kidney disease slow him down

Ed Farmer's backpack is filled with pills — just in case.

There was a time when Farmer swallowed 56 per day — and he can name every one.

"I had to," Farmer said. "My life depended on it."

The White Sox's radio play-by-play man has polycystic kidney disease and has been living with his brother's kidney inside him for 26 years. These days he is down to one medicine — cyclosporine —which he takes every night at 10.

He carries the backpack when he travels, in case his body rejects the kidney that saved his life.

Farmer's mother, Marilyn Truesdale, died from the same ailment when she was 38.

Ed Farmer was 17 then, playing his first year of rookie ball.

He was sure he'd suffer the same fate.

But it took doctors a while to figure it out — and Farmer a while to come to terms with it.

"I learned at an early age life was terminal," Farmer said.

Hated to lose

Farmer was born in Evergreen Park on Oct. 18, 1949.

The second oldest of nine children, he and his siblings grew up at 79th Street and Francisco Avenue on the South Side.

In 1954, when he was 5, Farmer's mother took him and his two brothers to old Comiskey Park, to their first White Sox game.

He was in awe the moment he saw the field. And he made a promise that day to his mother: He told her he would play there.

She always backed his love for baseball, even if she didn't fully understand the game.

She also encouraged him with truths he sometimes didn't want to hear.

Such as when 11-year-old Farmer struck out 16 in a game, didn't allow a hit through 8 2/3 innings and lost 1-0 after a walk, a single and an error.

Farmer was in tears in the dugout. His mother had none of it.

"She said, 'That's part of life,'" Farmer said. "'You're going over there and congratulating them on beating you.' "

Conflicted, Farmer finally relented.

"I didn't know what to do, so I went to every one of them and said, 'Thanks for beating me. Thanks for beating me. Thanks for beating me,'" Farmer said with a laugh.

But the lesson was clear: He loved his mother. And he hated to lose.

Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune

White Sox announcer Ed Farmer talks with his radio co-host Darrin Jackson before the White Sox play the Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

White Sox announcer Ed Farmer talks with his radio co-host Darrin Jackson before the White Sox play the Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune) Choosing baseball

By the time Farmer was a senior at St. Rita High School, where he also played basketball and football, his zeal for baseball was becoming clearer.

His mother also was becoming more ill.

Farmer's father, an electrical contractor, recognized his son's promise on the diamond too. He knew of the promise Ed had made his mother that day in 1954 at Comiskey Park.

He was hoping his son could help his mom.

"He goes, 'You gotta pitch a no-hitter today; your mom won't go in the hospital for me. She's in failing health. I don't want her to die in this house, do you understand me? So you better pitch a no-hitter,'" Farmer, explained.

"I struck out 18 and beat them 1-0 or 2-0. She went in the hospital, came out and she was OK for a while."

Farmer's mother soon was back in the hospital. And her son was by her side there when he signed with the Indians, who picked him in the fifth round of the 1967 draft.

She urged him to sign the $10,000 contract and pursue his dream.

Farmer had 77 scholarship offers, including from Arizona State and Notre Dame. He wanted to study pre-med.

He also wanted to make his mother happy.

He chose baseball.

A few months later, after Farmer had left to play rookie ball, his mother died.

The road back

The first time Ed Farmer almost died was February 1977.

He had played 4 1/2 years in the big leagues and didn't own a car when he found himself out of a job, injured and unsure whether he'd play again.

He took a job at a warehouse in California, ready to settle in as Ed Farmer the 9-5 guy.

At his wife Barbara's urging, Farmer's mind turned back to baseball — and getting back in shape. She'd drop him off at the beach a few miles from their home. He'd run back.

All the way back to the big leagues, it turned out. A friend with the Orioles promised Farmer a scout would be out to see him that February.

Soon after he received that good news, Farmer took a bicycle ride — and had his front teeth knocked out when he went through the windshield of a car that hit his bike head-on.

A few days later he pitched well enough for the Orioles to sign him.

"The scout looked at me, he said, 'What happened?'" Farmer said. "I said, 'I was in an accident.'"

Farmer spent much of the 1977 season at Triple-A Rochester and made just one appearance for the Orioles. He pitched in three games for the Brewers in 1978 before starting the 1979 season with the Rangers.

Jerry Krause, the former Bulls general manager, was a scout for the White Sox at the time and helped bring Farmer to his hometown team in a trade.

Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune

Ed Farmer writes out the game roster before the White Sox play the Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

Ed Farmer writes out the game roster before the White Sox play the Royals at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune) The Cowens fight

Farmer stayed with the Sox for three of his 11 seasons in the majors.

He was 13-19 with a 3.31 ERA in 148 games with the team.

In 1980 he made the American League All-Star team. His career finally felt back on track.

That is, until the disease that took his mother's life began to show itself.

On May 8, 1980, a feud with the Tigers' Al Cowens had carried over from the 1979 season, when Farmer broke Cowens' jaw with a pitch.

Cowens was batting against Farmer that day, and rather than running to first base after hitting the ball into play, he charged Farmer looking for revenge, tackling the pitcher.

Benches cleared and during the melee, Farmer was on the bottom of a pile of players. Because of pressure from the weight on top of him, cysts on Farmer's kidney burst.

It was a warning.

Before that fight with Cowens in 1980, Farmer was running 30 miles per week. By the time he was with the Phillies in 1982, he couldn't run 90 feet without wanting to quit.

"After that, I wasn't strong anymore," said Farmer, who pitched in his last big-league game for the A's in 1983.

The transplant

The next time Ed Farmer almost died was August 1990.

Fate — and Roger Clemens — brought him to Boston.

Farmer was a scout for the Orioles, there to watch the Red Sox ace pitch against the Angels. The trip turned out to be a life-saver and a relationship-builder.

Farmer had been in renal failure for about a year. His illness was becoming impossible to ignore.

Then-Angels manager Doug Rader noticed Farmer didn't look right and, at the team trainer's urging, Farmer was taken to Harvard's Beth Israel Medical Center.

Doctors knew immediately that Farmer needed a transplant and told him later that he was within three days of dying.

Farmer figured that this day might arrive. His father died at 41. His mother at 38. He began putting his assets in Barbara's, and their 10-year-old daughter, Shanda's, names.

When Farmer told his brother Tom he needed a transplant, Tom offered him one of his kidneys.

He was a match.

"They cut him in half," Farmer said of his brother. "He said, 'I was bitten by a great white shark.' He's walking around the next day. … He was on morphine."

Farmer, 67, the same man who wanted to study medicine before baseball took over, now talks about synthesizing organic molecules as casually as he constructively criticizes a pitcher's curveball.

He also spends a lot of time speaking with patients at Harvard, where his transplant was performed. It's therapy — for him and those going through what he's been through.

"He's more passionate about that than anything in his life," Farmer's broadcast partner, Darrin Jackson, said. "He wouldn't be here if it weren't for his brother giving his kidney to him."

Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune

Ed Farmer waves from a broadcast booth during the third inning of the White Sox-Royals game at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

Ed Farmer waves from a broadcast booth during the third inning of the White Sox-Royals game at Guaranteed Rate Field on Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune) To the booth

While he was still working for the Orioles, the White Sox invited Farmer to join Wayne Hagin for a couple of White Sox radio broadcasts. That soon turned into more permanent work when his hometown team called with an offer.

Farmer had little booth experience before he began working with John Rooney on Sox radio broadcasts in 1992. He'd practice at home. He'd call games to himself in the car.

Now he was given the opportunity to do it for real, for the team he grew up cheering for, the team for which he had one of his best seasons, in 1980, when he saved 30 games and posted a 3.34 ERA in 992/3 innings.

One day after he'd been on a Sox broadcast, team Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was walking by outside Comiskey Park.

"He goes, 'Ed, can I talk to you for a second?' Farmer said. "'If you want this job …' I said, 'Jerry, I appreciate it, but I work for the Orioles.'"

But not for long. The Orioles urged Farmer to go for the Sox job. Hagin left after the 1991 season and Farmer has been there since.

Jackson said his broadcast partner has had the biggest impact on everyday people.

"He's a social guy; let's say that," Jackson said. "I don't think the White Sox have probably ever had a better person as a diplomat for the organization. He'll walk down the street and say, 'How are you doing?' Next thing you know, they're White Sox fans."

Jackson said he has accompanied Farmer to Harvard, where he often talks with kidney patients and doctors, and sees him light up their days.

Twelve years ago at Harvard, Farmer met a 70-year-old woman with his condition. She was scared. He was optimistic after she began taking her medicine. He still keeps in touch.

"I said, 'I'm so happy for you. You're never going to be on a kidney machine; you're never going to be on a dialyzer. You're never going to find kidney failure.'"

His disease has left its scars but hasn't stolen his strength.

Farmer's fingers are bent like mini accordions because of a side effect of the transplant operation.

But he will shake another person's hand to prove there's no weakness.

"Physically, there's nothing wrong with him. Mentally, that's another story," Jackson joked. "He takes care of himself to live. … He's in it for the long term. He's his best medicine.

"It's something to watch."

And, for White Sox fans, something to listen to.

pskrbina@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribSkrbina  

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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