Lemon Assumes Second Spot in Rotation on All-Time Team
Ronnie Tellalian | On 13, Dec 2012
One pitcher holds two distinctive records for the Cleveland Indians. The first being the record for most career 20 win season with seven. The second is the record for consecutive All-Star appearances by a pitcher with seven. Who is this mystery hurler?
Starting Pitcher: Bob Lemon
Lemon made his Major League debut in 1941 as a third baseman. He only played in five games that year, spending most of the season at the minor league level. He batted .301 in 141 games in the Eastern League that year. The following season, in the International league, Lemon hit 21 home runs before being called up for another very brief stint. He played in a total of 10 games for the Indians from 1941 to 1942 before heading off to fight in World War II.
Returning from the war in 1946, Lemon won the Center Field job for the Indians. He manned the position on opening day playing a key role in Bob Feller’s famous no-hitter. Feller even credited Lemon with saving his no-hitter after a daring catch late in the game. Lemon also pitched in 32 games, making five starts for the Tribe that year. His 2.49 ERA in 94 innings impressed manager Lou Boudreau who also used Lemon as a utility outfielder. Boudreau used Lemon even more on the mound in 1947. He made 15 starts this time while still playing the outfield sparingly.
The 1948 season was a turnaround for Lemon. He finally won a starting spot, but in the pitching rotation, not in the outfield. In his first full season on the mound, he won 20 games with a 2.82 ERA. He led the American League with 20 complete games, 10 shutouts, and a 1.22 WHIP. He made his first All-Star appearance and finished fifth in the MVP voting. Perhaps his biggest contribution came in the Indians first World Series since 1920. He won 2 games, completing one, and pitched to a 1.65 ERA. The Indians defeated the Boston Braves in six games to capture their second World Series title in franchise history.
Lemon pitched strongly again in 1949 winning 22 games with a 2.99 ERA. In 1950, He led the league in wins with a career high 23. He also led the league in complete games, Innings pitched, and strikeouts. A 20 game winner again in 1952, Lemon led the American League with career high 28 complete games and 309.2 innings pitched.
In 1954, Lemon tallied the best record of his career at 23-7. Those 23 wins led the American League once again. His 2.73 ERA, coupled with those wins, earned him another fifth place showing in the MVP race. The Tribe went on to win a then AL record 111 games. They went on to face the Giants in the World Series, this time Lemon did not fare so well. Lemon got the start in game one. He gave up two runs in the third but stayed strong to shut the Giants down for the next six innings. With the game tied 2-2, Lemon took the mound to start the 10th inning. He walked Willie Mays with two outs and then issued an intentional walk to Hank Thompson. Dusty Rhodes came on to pinch hit and crushed a three run walk off home run to win game one. He lost both of his starts in that series as the Indians dropped four in a row to lose to the Giants.
Lemon led the AL in wins again in 1955 with 18. He racked up 20 more wins in 1956 and held opponents to a 3.03 ERA. He led the league in complete games for the fifth time in his career.
In 1959, Lemon reported to spring training at age 38 willing to take on a relief role. After a few months he retired saying, “I just couldn’t keep up with the young fellows anymore.”
For his 13-year career, Lemon made 350 starts winning 207 games. His .618 winning percentage is the third highest in franchise history among pitchers making at least 200 starts. He finished in the top 10 in the MVP voting six times. He was elected to the MLB Hall of Fame in 1976 and in 1998 his jersey number 21 was retired by the Cleveland Indians.