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Father figure, former Wrigley Field umpire clubhouse manager

Jimmy Farrell right with former Cubs relief pitcher Kerry Wood. Farrell was former clubhouse manager for umpires Wrigley Field.

Jimmy Farrell, right, with former Cubs relief pitcher Kerry Wood. Farrell was the former clubhouse manager for the umpires at Wrigley Field.

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Updated: January 31, 2013 7:45AM

Jimmy Farrell’s job wasn’t glamorous or easy.

Often, he was busy picking up towels, wiping floors and cleaning bathrooms in the umpires’ room at Wrigley Field.

But his innate decency, good humor, and gift for listening endeared him to umps and players who sought him out, not only as a concierge, but as a sounding board and a father figure. Baseball players are notoriously superstitious, and Sammy Sosa liked to have him nearby to indulge in a pre-game hand-pumping ritual. Ryne Sandberg thanked him in his Baseball Hall of Fame speech.

Mr. Farrell, of Glen Ellyn, a U.S. Army veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, died Wednesday at 91. From 1982 to 2007—when he turned 85—he managed the umpires’ clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

His days started early. If a game had a 1:20 p.m. start time, he was there by 9 a.m., cleaning shin guards, chest protectors and masks.

He also had to massage nine dozen baseballs with the concoction called Lena Blackburne Baseball Rubbing Mud. (The special mud de-slicks new baseballs without turning them black.)

He’d arrange tickets for the umps’ families, and sometimes even babysat their kids.

His clubhouse “felt like home instead of a locker room,” said former umpire Mike Fichter. “It made it a pleasure to work over there.”

Mr. Farrell knew “inside baseball” details on keeping the 68 MLB umpires fed and rested.

He understood it was important to hydrate home plate umpires with water and Gatorade because chest guards can make them overheat.

He knew to keep an eye out for rips and tears on their pants and hems so they wouldn’t trip or fall. (Umps wear “plate pants” that are baggy enough to accommodate shin guards.)

“Jimmy absolutely loved working with the umpires and many of them became close personal friends,” said Wrigley’s current umpires’ room attendant, Tom Farinella. “He attended their personal events or weddings. He was like a father figure.”

The food he set out was far from gourmet, but he was so likeable, the umps didn’t seem to mind the little sandwiches and hot dogs, said his son, Jay. “They’d say, ‘That’s ok, Jimmy, don’t worry about it—we’re going out to dinner anyways.’ ”

He and his wife of 68 years, Eleanor, were a package deal. After he retired from his job as a stationary engineer with the Chicago Public Schools, he applied for the job at Wrigley.

They used to ride the bus together to the Friendly Confines. He’d work in the clubhouse, while she held court and followed the game in the stands. On both their 50th and 60th anniversaries, they posed for pictures at home plate.

After finding a toy cardinal at a shop, Eleanor Farrell sewed it to her ball cap, upside down, to make it look like a dead bird. “Whenever the Cards played, she wore her dead-cardinal hat,” said Jay Farrell.

“They were just great ambassadors for the Cubs,” their son said.

At the ballpark, Mr. Farrell got to meet President Ronald Reagan, Michael Jordan, Jay Leno, Bill Cosby and Bill Murray.

Years after he left the Cubs, Jamie Moyer paused to greet his old buddy in the heat of a game, Jay Farrell recalled. Moyer had returned to Wrigley with the Phillies.

“There was a pop-up, and Jamie Moyer came right by my dad, and Jamie Moyer came and caught the ball, and said, ‘Jimmy, how you doin’?’ ’’

Once, Mr. Farrell inked a “W” for “WIN” on a ball he placed on the pitcher’s mound at the start of the game. “Kerry Wood picked up the ball and looked at my dad and smiled,” Jay Farrell said.

Mr. Farrell, who grew up in Canaryville, was a basketball star at Leo High School before attending Loras College in Dubuque. The Farrells raised their family in Elmwood Park.

He tried to attend all of his kids’ and grandchildren’s games. He is also survived by his daughter, Erin Moroni; his sons, Daniel and Timothy; 10 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

Visitation is 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Leonard Memorial Funeral Home, Glen Ellyn. A funeral service is planned at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Petronille Catholic Church, Glen Ellyn.

His family believes his love for the Fighting Irish kept him going after Eleanor died a year ago. “This year he watched every game,’’ his son said. “He would have loved to see them play Alabama.”

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