Sixty-Six Years Ago Today, Lemon No-Hit Tigers
Mike B. | On 30, Jun 2014
Sixty-six years ago today Cleveland Indians legend Bob Lemon tossed a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers. His no-hitter was just one of many significant events chronicled during the 1948 season in Did The Tribe Win Last Night’s #48Replay that was written and posted last winter. Below are two excerpts, covering Lemon’s no-hitter. The entire modernized, re-written and re-told season can be read online.
June 30: Lemon Pitches No-Hit Victory; Indians 2, Tigers 0
He has not been a full-time member of the Indians’ starting rotation for very long, but he certainly has asserted himself as the ace of the staff quickly. Wednesday might be the loudest assertion sign yet.
Bob Lemon tossed a no-hitter Wednesday evening in front of 49,628 fans at Briggs Stadium. He allowed just three base runners via walk and benefitted from a fine, running catch by Dale Mitchell in the fourth inning. Lemon’s no-hitter is the first in the big leagues in the 1948 season and his league-leading 11th victory.
“I had as good stuff as I’ve ever had and I got wonderful support.” Lemon said. “You don’t see many catches like that one Mitchell made in the fourth.”
The tension began mounting in the Detroit summer air as early as the fifth inning, but was its thickest in the bottom of the ninth inning when Lemon took to the mound. None of the three walks issued by Lemon had even advanced to second base, but Cleveland still just held to a 2-0 lead. Vic Wertz started the inning, pinch-hitting for Johnny Lipon. After taking a first pitch ball, Wertz laced a one bouncer back up that middle that Lemon stabbed from the air before it could sneak by him and risk being the first for Detroit. After throwing to first, Wertz was retired and Lemon was just two outs away.
Eddie Mayo became the second to last Detroit combatant to try and ruin Lemon’s masterpiece. He fouled off Lemon’s first delivery, jerking it down the left field line. After taking a pitch for a ball, Mayo fouled off another pitch. Finally, down 1-2 in the count, Mayo could not make contact on his final swing of the evening, whiffing for strike three and the second out of the ninth.
The final out, like any no-hitter, was the toughest. To build the drama, George Kell had been the most difficult out all evening. In the first inning, Kell lined a ball down the left field line that landed less than six inches foul, otherwise the game would have had a different storyline. Kell worked a walk in the first inning after his near hit.
In the fourth inning, Kell nearly registered a hit again when he smoked a ball that appeared to be headed to the lower level of the left field seats. However, Mitchell raced toward the ball, making a leap at the very last second. He caught the ball just a step before crashing into the stands, then falling to the ground. For a moment, most fans were not aware Mitchell had caught the ball until he got to his feet and showed the ball from the webbing of his glove.
But in the ninth, the most difficult part in retiring Kell was fighting the nerves. Lemon’s first pitch was dangerously inside, yet still grazed off the bat for strike one. The next pitch was so wild, catcher Jim Hegan could not stab it and it went to the backstop. Clearly Lemon was nervous. His third pitch was a knee-high sinker that Kell swung and bounced high in front of the mound. Lemon fielded the bounder amidst a sudden silence in the stadium. He jogged half way to first base before lobbing the ball, underhand, to first baseman Johnny Berardino for the final out of the game.
“Gee, what a thrill it was when that last out was made,” Lemon said. “The fellows on the bench didn’t talk to me from the sixth inning on. I thought at the time it was funny but wasn’t quite sure what was happening.”
As Berardino caught the ball, the silence was replaced with jubilation on the field and eventually in the Indians’ clubhouse. The victory becomes Lemon’s first no-hitter of his career and third straight season the Tribe has had a no-hitter. Bob Feller turned the trick in 1946 against the New York Yankees and Don Black did a year ago in 1947 against the Philadelphia Athletics. Lemon’s gem becomes the 12th no-hitter in Indians’ franchise history.
“We all knew there was a no-hitter coming,” Feller said. “He had everything.”
Lemon (11-6) is the major league leader in wins, only walked three and struck out three in his shutout and no-hitter of the Tigers. It was his 11th complete game of the season and fourth shutout. His three strikeouts give him 70 on the season and overtakes Feller for the league lead.
Cleveland gave Lemon all the offense he would receive in the top of the first inning, scoring two unearned runs off Tiger starter Art Houtteman. Mitchell reached on a muffed grounder to Lipon to start the game. After Berardino popped out, Lou Boudreau doubled to left field, scoring Mitchell. Kell’s relay throw from the outfield to the plate was wild and allowed Boudreau to advance to third base. Hank Edwards hit a fly ball to left field to allow Boudreau to race home making the score 2-0. The two Tiger errors created the two unearned runs, and were the only scored in the contest.
Houtteman (2-10) was a tough-luck loser, not allowing an earned run over nine innings while giving up just five hits, one walk and one strikeout. The 20-year-old right-hander from the Detroit sandlots have pitched much better in his last four starts.
“That guy pitched a hell of a game,” dejected Detroit manager Steve O’Neill said. “But why did he have to throw it at us?”
Cleveland’s victory is their third straight triumph and gives them a one and one-half game lead over the Athletics and two game lead over the Yankees.
July 1: Lemon Turns from Position Player to Ace in Two Seasons
Since the end of the war, military friends have helped one another around the country get jobs and become re-accustomed to civilian life. Indians pitcher Bob Lemon might want to thank some of his old Navy buddies for helping turn him into a pitcher.
Last night, Lemon no-hit the Detroit Tigers and won his major league leading 11th game of the season. Despite being the ace of the Indians’ pitching staff, and one of the biggest reasons the Tribe is in first place, just two years ago he wasn’t even a pitcher. Less than 12 months ago, Lemon wasn’t a starting pitcher with the Tribe, but more a project that seemed to not be progressing.
After five years in the Indians minor league system and three more years in the war, Lemon came up to the Tribe in 1946 as a third baseman competing with Ken Keltner for the starting job in spring training. Prior to an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers, Harry Heilmann and Birdie Tebbetts were discussing the strengths and prospects of their own team when Tebbetts turned his attention to Lemon, fielding grounders at the hot corner.
“I don’t care what they think about Keltner,” Tebbetts said. “But if that guy was on my ballclub, he’d be pitching. I hit against him when he was pitching for the Navy over in Honolulu and if I never have to hit against him again it’ll be too soon. He’s got it. What I mean, he’s rough.”
Heilmann doubted Tebbetts beliefs, citing that any player who was on the cusp of the big leagues could not likely make that significant of a position change at this point in their career. Tebbetts continued to tout Lemon’s abilities as a pitcher to Heilmann and several media members within earshot.
Eventually a media member relayed the story to Indians manager Lou Boudreau, but the Tribe’s leader already was aware of Lemon’s pitching possibilities. Another friend from the Navy had contacted Bourdreau.
“I know,” Boudreau said. “I got a letter from Johnny Pesky last year. He told me the kid was pitching for his Navy team and advised me to forget about him as a third baseman. I don’t know though. He’s a pretty good hitter and he can run. If he can’t beat Kenny out for the third base job maybe he’ll be the center fielder we’re looking for.”
Lemon didn’t beat out Keltner for the third base job, but did open the season as the Tribe’s center fielder in 1946 and made an immediate impression on opening day in Chicago. Headed to the ninth inning, Bob Feller was leading the White Sox 1-0 with Bob Kennedy on second base and one out. Pinch-hitter Murrell Jones hit a looping fly ball over the infield that seemed certain to fall in front of the outfield and tie the game.
However, Lemon and his speed came flying in and made diving catch. His momentum kept him flying forward, doing a somersault that brought him right back to his feet and let him throw to second base for a game-ending double play.
But Lemon did not hit and eventually he was benched. As the season carried on and the Tribe was in a blowout game, Boudreau decided to give Lemon a chance to pitch, remembering the suggestions of Tebbetts and Pesky. With nothing on the line in the game, Lemon did nothing to suggest that he had the control to be an effective pitcher, despite having the speed and curve necessary. His control seemed too inconsistent to make him a regular pitcher, despite several opportunities in 1946. He was 4-5, with a 2.49 ERA in 32 games and 94 innings.
The sentiment remained pessimistic though in the spring of 1947. When Bill Veeck visited Tucson during spring training, he eagerly listened to reports on the team from Boudreau and new pitching and bench coach Bill McKechnie. Veeck asked about Lemon and his pitching prospects. McKechnie, a legendary manager and known pitching expert, had little hope.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” MeKechnie told his boss. “Lemon will never be a pitcher.”
Boudreau liked Lemon’s spirit and continued to stick with him, thinking he could become a front line hurler. After spending the first half of the season in the Tribe’s bullpen, he received his first starting assignment on July 31. Despite not finishing the game, he earned his first of 10 victories as a starter. After going 11-5, with a 3.44 ERA in 37 games and 15 starts a year ago, Veeck was so convinced that Lemon could be a leader of the Tribe’s staff, he doubled his salary from $6,000 in 1947 to the $12,000 he is making this year.
After his no-hitter last night, maybe Lemon will send some of that hefty raise to his old Navy buddies who believed in him before anyone else.
Photo: Cleveland Memory Project