Number 47 on our countdown, but top five in grit is reliever Steve Farr.
Jeremy Affeldt was an amazing talent who could never seem to put it all together and was constantly shuttled between roles in an effort to maximize his potential. Some fans, including myself at times, complained at the Royals constant shifting of Affeldt's role. Surely having to adjust to different situations was hurting his development? No one with stuff that good should struggle that much.
On the other hand, is Steve Farr. Here's a pitcher who never had stuff that amazed anyone. He was shuttled from role to role, from long reliever to spot starter to setup man to closer. He never complained, he never made excuses. He just did his job and did it well.
Steve Farr relied on guile and guts, and even looked gritty with his blue collar mustache. He didn't wow any scouts and was not offered a bonus to sign professionally. He didn't debut in the big leagues until age 27, and was released by the lowly Indians early in his career. Nonetheless, he persevered, lasting eleven seasons, pitching in over five hundred games, and collecting 132 saves, good enough for 76th all-time in baseball history.
Farr hailed from Maryland and attended prestigious DeMatha Catholic High School. He went on to play baseball at nearby American University in Washington D.C., but left after his frehsman year to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He fared well his first professional season in 1977, but in his second season he was incredibly wild, walking 84 batters in 93 innings. He began to harness his command and by 1980 he found himself in AAA, just a step away from the big leagues. Farr would struggle immensely in AAA, so over the next three seasons, the Pirates would bounce him between AA and AAA. In 1983 they dealt him to the talent-starved Indians, and Farr enjoyed his best professional season in AA Buffalo, going 13-1 with a 1.68 ERA.
The Indians promoted Farr to AAA in 1984, and after pitching well in six starts, they finally promoted the 27 year old pitcher to the big leagues. The Indians had Farr pitch in the rotation, but he was inconsistent and posted a 3-11 record with a 4.58 ERA. The next spring, Farr was one of the last players cut from camp, and by Opening Day he found himself unemployed. He returned to Maryland and contemplated a career in the steel mills.
"It was kind of a depressing time for me. You get released, that's just like getting fired from a job . . . I had friends who had been out of college a few years who were making 30 grand and up and they kept telling me, 'Give up this game; start making some money.' "
"I didn't think my career was over, but I didn't know."
The Royals signed Farr in May, and assigned him to Omaha. He dominated, going 10-4 with a 2.02 ERA as a starter. He would be named American Association Pitcher of the Year. In August, the team promoted him, utilizing him as a reliever. The team was in a pennant race, and used him in low pressure situations, but he performed adequately, posting a 3.11 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings.
"All we were looking for was a 10th man in Triple-A,"
-Royals General Manager John Schuerholz
Farr made the playoff roster and was summoned immediately, with the bases loaded in the third inning of Game One of the 1985 ALCS. He allowed all three runners to score and would allow one run of his own in two innings of work. He would redeem himself in Game Three however, by pitching 4 1/3 shutout innings of relief work and picking up the win in a crucial victory for the Royals. Manager Dick Howser failed to call upon Farr in the Fall Classic however.
"I wish I did. I was up once, and he (Howser) told me I was going in, then he shut me down and put (Joe) Beckwith in, so I was a little chafed. I just wanted to get in an appearance. That's all right. I'll trade it for the ring."
Farr began 1986 firmly in the Royals plans as a long reliever. By mid-season he would begin sharing closing duties with Dan Quisenberry, who had lost the confidence of manager Mike Ferraro. Farr would be very effective all season, keeping his ERA under 3.00 all season until a terrible outing against the Angels to end the year. He relished his relief role, appearing in 56 games, throwing 109 1/3 innings, with eight saves.
"I used to worry so much between starts, I'd lose my pitching rhythm. I don't want to know when I'm pitching until the (bullpen) phone rings."
Farr served a similar role in 1987, providing whatever relief role the Royals called upon him. He was lit up in an early April game against the Yankees, ballooning his ERA, but he pitched well afterwards, finishing with a 4.15 ERA. Despite his performance, Farr was on the roster bubble in the spring of 1988. His versatility proved to be an asset, as he made the ballclub. In June, he was called on to make a spot start against the powerful first place Oakland A's. He threw six shutout innings against the "Bash Brothers" and extended a Royals winning streak to five games.
By late June, vets Dan Quisenberry and Gene Garber had both lost the closer job and manager John Wathan turned to Farr to close out games. Farr didn't take over the full-time closer job until late June, but still finished with twenty saves, tenth in the league. He was summoned 62 times, tops on the team, and finished with a 2.50 ERA, best in the bullpen.
Most Relief Appearances in Royals History
Jeff Montgomery 1988-1999 - 686
Dan Quisenberry 1979-1988 - 573
Steve Farr 1985-1990 - 277
Steve Mingori 1973-1979 - 262
Jason Grimsley 2001-2004 - 251
The Royals looked to strengthen their bullpen before the 1989 season, but found it hard to swing a trade. They settled on Farr as a closer, despite not having closer "stuff". He would get off to a good start, but by June there were grumblings about some of his performances. He was also being overshadowed by two younger players in the bullpen - Tom Gordon and Jeff Montgomery.
"Farr has taken some heat from people because of some late-inning home runs he gave up. But he's been successful in 16 out of 19 save situations, and I'll stack that against any closer in baseball. If you get 16 out of every 19, you've done a pretty good job."
-Royals manager John Wathan
By July, Farr had pretty much lost his closer role to Montgomery, who was having a sensational season. Farr still ended with a fair 4.12 ERA in 63 1/3 innings of work.
The Royals had gone into 1989 thinking they had a thin bullpen, but they had been surprised by the performance of some unproven younger players like Montgomery and Gordon, as well as decent performances by reclamation projects like Terry Leach and Steve Crawford. Nonethless, they felt the need to further stabilize the bullpen. With owner Ewing Kauffman looking to make a splash, the Royals signed Cy Young Award winning closer Mark Davis to a huge mulit-million dollar deal. The signing seemed to give the Royals an embarrassment of riches in the pen, with two former closers - Farr and Montgomery - serving as setup men.
Instead, Davis was just an embarrassment. He turned out to be one of the biggest free agent busts in baseball history and by Memorial Day he had lost his closer job to Montgomery. Farr meanwhile, was filling in whatever role the Royals needed from him, and performing it well. He even made six starts, going 4-1 with a 1.47 ERA as a starter, including a complete game shutout of the Angels. He posted a 1.98 ERA in 57 appearances with 127 innings pitched, while leading the team with thirteen wins. He was named Royals Pitcher of the Year. That winter, he filed for free agency.
''I've had a lot of fun here, but I'm just keeping my mind open. 'I assume something will be worked out the next couple of weeks. I don't know what team needs what pitching. We'll just wait for the phone to ring. I assume the Royals are interested.''
Farr would sign a lucrative three year $6.3 million deal with the Yankees. These were the pre-Jeter Yankees, a laughable bunch that threw around money at crappy free agents like Mel Hall and Andy Hawkins, but Farr served them well as closer for three years. After pitching a few games for the Indians and Red Sox in 1994, Farr retired.
Sometimes, when old baseball men complain that today's pitchers are coddled, I cringe. The development of pitch counts and the monitoring of young pitcher mechanics to protect against injury are welcome developments that can help prevent the next young Steve Busby to blow his arm out before age thirty. On the other hand, maybe we should stop making excuses for pitchers who can't handle tough situations. Maybe we should expect more of them. And maybe they'll surprise us.