Forgotten Legends, Part 2: Bob Lemon
Less than 2% of baseball players who have ever played the game have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. When we think of the Hall of Famers, we think of the greats such as The Babe, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Nolan Ryan and many other giants of the game. This series isn’t about them. This Series is about the legends that we fans sometimes forget about.
Bob Lemon made his debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1941 as a third basemen. After a brief rookie season he went off to war. He came back in 1946 as an outfielder and was batting a meager .180 well into the season. Manager Lou Boudreau decided to take a gamble and move Lemon to the pen. He spent the rest of the '46 season there.
By mid season 1947, Lemon was moved into the Tribe rotation until 1958. Here is his record the next 11 years.
That is an average of 17 wins per season. He was a 23 game winner twice and he threw 20 or more complete games in seven of those seasons. He also threw one no hitter on June 30, 1948. As a sinker baller, he got a lot of ground outs, he averaged about 107 strikeouts per season. Let’s not forget his seven all star selections and his World Series ring in 1948.
In the 1948 series he was 2-0 in two starts with a 1.65 ERA. The 1954 series was the opposite; he went 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA, but even the best falter sometimes.
Aside from his pitching duties, the Indians frequently used Lemon as a pinch hitter. In 109 at bats, he averaged a .284 average and has 37 career home runs. That is second all time among pitchers behind Wes Ferrell.
Bob Lemon retired in 1958 then moved on to coaching then management. He managed the Kansas City Royals from 1970-1972. As manager of the White Sox in 1977 he won manager of the year.
In 1978 he was fired by the White Sox and went to the Yankees to be one of the many replacements for off and on again manager Billy Martin. In July of 1978 the Yankees trailed the Red Sox by 14 games. Under Lemon, they made a miraculous turn around and caught up with Boston. That September they beat the Red Sox in a four game sweep known to this day as the "The Boston Massacre." Boston then tied the Yankees again until Bucky Dent came to bat on Oct. 2, and the story tells itself. The Yankees then beat the LA Dodgers in the series.
The Yankees were under performing in 1979. Lemon wasn’t managing to his full potential and he was fired by George Steinbrenner. Apparently the recent death of his son wasn’t a satisfactory excuse for being distracted. He later returned as manager in the early 1980s briefly.
In conclusion; in Lemon’s short playing career he put up one of the most dominating decades of any pitcher in history. In his managing career, he led a team in one of the greatest and most intense pennant races in history.
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