When most baseball fans think of Steve Farr, images of the excellent reliever and closer in a Royals and Yankees uniform come to mind. Farr, who twice had seasons with sub-2.00 ERAs, actually could be viewed in a Cleveland Indians jersey when his Major League Baseball career began in 1984. He not only started his career on the shores of Lake Erie, but also appeared in the starting rotation more times than out of the pen in his rookie year. Ten years later, Farr very nearly ended his career with the Tribe, as well. In the middle, he entered the Tribe history books thanks to a young rookie named Jim Thome.
Farr was (no pun intended) far from an instant success in professional baseball. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 1976 by the Pittsburgh Pirates at the age of 19. He kicked around Pittsburgh’s minor league system, into the 1983 campaign, never getting above the Double-A level. The Pirates dealt the right-handed throwing Farr to Cleveland in June 1983 in a small deal.
The Tribe apparently saw something in Farr that Pittsburgh did not. Perhaps the change of scenery helped, as well, as Farr started 1984 in Triple-A Maine, posting a 2.60 ERA in six starts. It was enough for the Indians to take notice and call him to the big leagues. Farr’s long-awaited Major League debut came on May 16, 1984 at the age of 27.
Farr struggled that initial season for Cleveland. He made 16 starts and 15 relief appearances, posting a forgettable 3-11 record and equally disappointing 4.58 ERA. He was released by Cleveland on March 31, 1985 as the Indians did not view him in their long-range plans.
It was not the end of the road for Farr, though essentially the end of his days as a starter. He would make 12 starts over his final 10 seasons. The Royals took a flyer on the free agent about a month into the 1985 campaign. He was converted at that point to a full-time reliever who made spot starts. He responded with a 3.11 ERA in 16 outings and enjoyed playing in his lone postseason that year.
In 1986, Farr showed that he could be a closer, saving eight games. Two years later, Kansas City promoted the 31-year-old to the closer role on a regular basis. He had 20 saves and a 2.50 ERA in 1988. Following a rough 1989, in which Farr’s ERA ballooned to 4.12, Kansas City dropped him back down to middle and late-inning relief. He rebounded with a strong 1.98 ERA in 57 appearances in 1990.
The 1990 season would be his last year with the Royals, who chose not to keep him. Farr signed with the Yankees, where he enjoyed three solid seasons as their full-time closer. In his trio of years in pinstripes, Farr saved 23, 30 and 25 games. In 1992, he posted the best season of his career with the 30 saves to go with a sterling 1.56 ERA.
At the end of the 1991 season, Farr became a footnote in Cleveland history again. He surrendered the pitch that would become Jim Thome’s first career home run. Thome went on to hit a team record 337 more in an Indians uniform. It was also the first of his 612 career bombs, seventh all time and fifth among players never linked to steroids.
On February 10, 1994, at 37 years old, Farr inked a free agent contract to go back to where his career began. The Indians, at that time, a young, talented team on the verge of big things, were looking for veteran leadership to lend a guiding hand to their plethora of youthful talent. Farr was looked at as one of those guys. He was a middle reliever for the ’94 Tribe. He was used in 19 games. However, it was clear his career was winding down as his ERA was a poor 5.28. He was shipped off to Boston on July 1, where he entered 11 contests before the August players strike that wiped out nearly two regular season months and the entire postseason that year.
With Farr’s effectiveness and numbers in a serious decline over the previous two seasons, no teams were willing to take a shot at him when the strike ended in 1995. Farr’s career ended with 11 Major League seasons, a respectable 3.25 ERA and 132 saves. For a guy who was never drafted and then took eight years to get out of the minors, it ended up being a solid career.
Photo: Getty Images