He started out as a third baseman for the Indians, getting a cup of coffee in the majors before serving in the Navy in World War II. But Bob Lemon became a pitcher after the war – and one of the best of his era.
In 1946, he was the Tribe’s opening day center fielder, but he went 4-5 as a pitcher, the only losing season he’d have on the mound until 1957. Lemon won 20 games in a season seven times, including 1948, when the Indians won the World Series, and 1954, when they won the pennant. In his career, Lemon led the American League in complete games five times, innings pitched four times, wins three times and shutouts and strikeouts once each.
Lemon threw a no-hitter for the Indians in 1948 against the Tigers, going 20-14 that year and being named the American League pitcher of the year. He had a 2.82 ERA during the regular season, and a 1.65 ERA in the World Series, where he won two games.
He also served as Ronald Reagan’s stand-in for the movie “The Winning Team,” where the future president played pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander. And he was a pretty good hitter, too, with 37 career home runs, second all-time among pitchers.
After his playing career was over, Lemon served as a coach for the Indians, Phillies and Angels. He went on to manage the Royals, White Sox (for Bill Veeck) and Yankees. He was the skipper of the Yankees team that overcame a 14-game deficit to tie the Red Sox on the last day of the season, forcing a playoff at Fenway Park where Bucky Dent hit his game-winning home run. The Yankees went on to repeat as World Series champions that year.
Lemon was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976 and his uniform number 21 was retired by the Indians in 1998. He died in 2000.
Photo: Associated Press