Managing is an even smaller fraternity of 30 in the Majors, and among that group, only Farrell and Reds manager Bryan Price are former pitchers. Bud Black, who was dismissed earlier this year by the Padres after more than eight seasons, was one other.
"I've known Johnny for nearly 30 years," Black said when reached by phone. "We were teammates for three seasons in Cleveland -- 1988, '89 and '90 -- and we became fast friends. So this was a punch in the gut."
Price, managing the Reds on Friday night against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, doesn't nearly have that type of relationship with Farrell. But certainly, he said, he can "empathize with anybody who's going through an illness like that."
"We've only met a couple of times," he added. "I hardly know John. I just know how highly regarded he is in the game, first as a pitching coach, second as a manager, but more importantly as a person.
"It's his character that I've heard so much about. His leadership ability. How he works, how he communicates with and treats people."
It just happens to be ThinkCure! weekend at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers honor local survivors and support City of Hope cancer center's efforts to find new treatments and cures. To date, the Dodgers Foundation has provided $1.8 million in local cancer research grants that have been leveraged into an additional $40 million in research support, the team said.
The Dodgers have had their own cluster of cancer survivors: Steve Garvey, Dusty Baker, Davey Lopes and Joe Torre all had prostate cancer.
Garvey and Torre, who ended his Hall of Fame managing career in the dugout for the Dodgers, were both in the house Friday night. Both wore No. 6 for the Dodgers.
Garvey is a national spokesman for the disease, which is still contracted by 1 in every 7 men each year in the U.S. and will kill 27,540 in 2015 alone, according to statistics provided by the American Cancer Society.
Garvey was told he had an elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and didn't do anything about it for a year before having a complete prostatectomy. Now he travels the country preaching early detection.
"You know us guys," Garvey said. "The biggest challenge I have is to get guys to talk about it."
Farrell said on Friday that the cancer he has is "highly curable" for just that reason -- it was caught early. Farrell had surgery to fix a hernia on Monday in Detroit and the blood work revealed the lymphoma. Strangely, when Jon Lester was pitching for the Red Sox and Anthony Rizzo was in their Minor League system, both contracted and survived lymphoma.
"I'm extremely fortunate to be with not only people in the Red Sox organization, but to have access to [Massachusetts General Hospital] and all the world-class talent that can handle this. It's been a surreal four or five days," Farrell said.
But it's just the beginning. Farrell turned over the managerial reigns to bench coach Torey Lovullo for the remainder of the season and will now embark on nine weeks of chemotherapy treatments. If all goes well, he hopes to be back on the bench next February when Spring Training begins in Fort Myers, Fla.
Farrell, who just turned 53, has had his setbacks before. He missed the 1991-92 seasons with the Indians after blowing out his right elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery. Though he was no longer the same pitcher, he never gave up, hanging around for parts of four more seasons.
That's the tenacity Black remembers, and it will serve Farrell well in this latest challenge. Black said he hadn't spoken directly on Friday with Farrell, but they had exchanged text messages.
"Knowing Johnny, he'll tackle this head-on," said Black, whose sister Peggy is a recent colon cancer survivor. "He's such a good guy and so well respected in this game that he's going to get a lot of support. He'll get so much support from the baseball community. They got it early, so that was a blessing there."
It was only two years ago, in his inaugural season as Red Sox manager, that Farrell led his club to a six-game World Series victory over the Cardinals. In doing so, he became only the fifth pitcher in history to manage his team to a World Series title, following Tommy Lasorda of the Dodgers, Dallas Green of Phillies, Bob Lemon of the Yankees and Eddie Dyer of the Cardinals.
With the Red Sox struggling through a 51-64, last-place season, Farrell has talked about still playing out the rest of the schedule hard out of respect to the game and the ravenous Boston fans. That all seems to pale in significance now. Life can change so quickly.
"They caught the cancer early and that's a great thing," Price said. "You never want to see anybody go through such hard times and that kind of physical challenge. I don't even know where to go beyond that. I wish him well and hope he has a quick return to full health."