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Robert Granville Lemon (September 22, 1920 – January 11, 2000) was an American right-handed pitcher and manager in Major League Baseball (MLB). Lemon was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976.

Lemon was raised in California where he played high school baseball and was the state player of the year in 1938. At the age of 17, Lemon began his professional baseball career in the Cleveland Indians organization, with whom he played for his entire professional career. Lemon was called up to Cleveland’s major league team as a utility player in 1941. He then joined the United States Navy during World War II and returned to the Indians in 1946. That season was the first Lemon would play at the pitcher position.

The Indians played in the 1948 World Series and were helped by Lemon’s two pitching wins as they won the club’s first championship since 1920. In the early 1950s, Cleveland had a starting pitching rotation which included Lemon, Bob FellerMike Garcia and Early Wynn. During the 1954 season, Lemon had a career-best 23–7 win–loss record and the Indians set a 154-game season AL-record win mark when they won 111 games before they won the American League (AL) pennant. He was an All-Star for seven consecutive seasons and recorded seven seasons of 20 or more pitching wins in a nine-year period from 1948–1956.

Lemon was a manager with the Kansas City RoyalsChicago White Sox and New York Yankees. He was named Manager of the Year with the White Sox and Yankees. In 1978, he was fired as manager of the White Sox. He was named Yankees manager one month later and he led the team to a 1978 World Series title. Lemon became the first AL manager to win a World Series after assuming the managerial role in the middle of a season.

Early life 

Bob Lemon was born in San Bernardino, California. Lemon’s father, Earl Lemon, ran an ice business. The family later moved to Long Beach, California, where Lemon attended Wilson Classical High School and played shortstop on the school’s baseball team.[1] He was recognized as the state baseball player of the year by the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section in 1938.[2]

Later that same year, at the age of 17, Lemon began his professional baseball career in the farm system of the Cleveland Indians as a member of the Oswego Netherlands of the Canadian–American League and later that year, the Middle Atlantic League‘s Springfield Indians. In 75 games with the Netherlands he recorded a .312 batting average. The following season he played 80 games with Springfield, and hit .293, and then joined the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association, where Lemon hit .309. He spent the next two seasons at the Class A level with the Eastern League‘s Wilkes-Barre Barons as he hit .255 in 1940 and .301 in 1941. In his final stint in the minors, Lemon hit .268 with 21 home runs for the 1942 Baltimore Orioles of the International League.[3]

Major League career 

Making it as a utility player 

Lemon’s major league debut came as a third baseman as a late season call-up on September 9, 1941.[4] He appeared in five games and collected one hit in five plate appearances.[5] He was joined by catcher and fellow rookie Jim Hegan.[6]:p.109 He repeated the same number of games in the 1942 season and failed to record a hit.[7] Lemon served in the United States Navy during World War II and missed the next three seasons.[8] Before leaving for tour duty in 1943, Lemon married Jane McGee.[1][9]

Lemon was the Indians’ center fielder for Opening Day in 1946. On April 30, Indians pitcher Bob Feller no-hit the New York Yankees; Feller later wrote that Lemon’s «daring catch» and «throwing to and doubling a man off second base» were key in «saving my» no-hitter.[10]By season’s end, however, Lemon had entered more games as a pitcher than a utility player.[9] Before that season, Lemon had only pitched one inning while with Oswego and another while with Wilkes-Barre. Birdie Tebbetts of the Detroit Tigers and Johnny Pesky of the Boston Red Sox had played against Lemon in Navy baseball games, and they spoke to Indians player-manager Lou Boudreau about switching Lemon from the outfield to the pitching mound.[1][11]

Boudreau discussed the potential move to pitcher with Yankees catcher Bill Dickey, who had also played in the Navy with Lemon. «I knew Lemon had a strong arm, and once I realized he was not going to hit with consistency as an outfielder, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at him as a pitcher», Boudreau later wrote.[12]:p.86 Lemon resisted the idea at first, but he agreed to the change after he learned that his salary could be higher as a pitcher. Lemon credited Indians coach Bill McKechnie with helping him to adjust to his new position.[12]:p.93[13][14] Indians pitching coach Mel Harder taught Lemon how to throw a slider, a key pitch in his repertoire.[15]:p.38 That same year, Indians owner Bill Veeck said that Lemon «some day will become the best pitcher in the American League».[16] Lemon finished the 1946 season with a losing record (4–5), the only one he would have until 1957, and a career-low 2.49 ERA.[7] He followed up his inaugural season as a pitcher with an 11–5 record. He appeared in 19 games before August, largely as a relief pitcher, but he made his first start in July against the Boston Red Sox.[11] During the last two months of the season, Lemon went 9–3 and pitched six complete games, including two 11-inning outings.[17]

Full-time pitcher to World Series champion 

Before the 1948 season started, team president Bill Veeck doubled Lemon’s contract amount.[18] It would be Lemon’s first full season as a pitcher.[19] Lemon was the Indians’ number-two pitcher in the starting rotation, behind Bob Feller.[20] On June 30, 1948, Lemon pitched a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers in a 2–0 win, earning his 11th win and fifth shutout of the season. He became the ninth Indians pitcher to record a no-hitter and ended the season with an AL-best 20 complete games. His ten shutouts on the season were the most in the majors.[7][21][22] Lemon would go on to win the 1948 AL Pitcher of the Year Award. With three games remaining in the regular season, 20-game winner Lemon started the first game of their final series against Detroit. Lemon allowed three runs on seven hits and the Indians lost the game. Cleveland lost two games of the three-game series, forcing a one-game playoff with the Boston Red Sox.[23][24][25] Speculation built up around which Indians pitcher Boudreau would send to the mound against the Red Sox on October 4; the choices were largely narrowed down to Lemon and Satchel Paige. Lemon was listed as Cleveland’s «probable pitcher» by United Press International in morning newspapers the day of the game, even though he would be working on two days of rest.[26] Instead, Boudreau went with Gene Bearden, who would be pitching on one day of rest, and the choice was solidified when veteran second baseman Joe Gordon spoke up in support of Boudreau at a team meeting.[27][28] The Indians won the game at Fenway Park by a score of 8–3 and prepared to face the Boston Braves in the World Series.

Boudreau started Feller in game one, which Cleveland lost. Lemon was the starter in the second game.[29] Lemon faced Warren Spahn, and Cleveland won 4–1. Lemon was named the starter for game six in Boston with the Indians leading the series 3–2. He allowed three earned runs on eight hits and Cleveland had the lead when Lemon was replaced by Bearden. The Braves scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning but the Indians won the game, 4–3, to clinch the franchise’s first World Series title since 1920.[30] Lemon was the only pitcher from either club to win two games in the Series. He finished the Series with a 1.65 ERA.[29]

Lemon’s hitting skills began to get attention as well. By August 1949, Lemon was batting .295 with 11 extra-base hits and six home runs, prompting Yankees manager Casey Stengel to comment, «Well, I see where the Indians have nine hitters in the lineup instead of eight.»[31] UPI sportswriter Milton Richman wrote, «Lemon’s fine work at the plate has also conspired to tire him more. When the Indians get behind and Lemon is pitching, he rarely is yanked for a pinch hitter in the early innings. It’s a tough price he’s paying for batting fame.»[32] In 1950, Lemon led the major leagues in wins (23) for the first time and won his second AL Pitcher of the Year Award. He pitched a six-hit complete game over the Detroit Tigers in his last start of the season on September 29.[33] When Lemon signed a new contract before the 1951 season, the Indians made him the highest paid pitcher in baseball.[34] At the beginning of the 1951 season, UPI sportswriter Oscar Fraley pointed out that Lemon was one of only 12 active pitchers who had earned a winning record in four consecutive seasons.[35] He finished the season with a 3.52 ERA, lower than the 1950 season mark of 3.84 when he led the majors with 23 wins, and a 17–14 record. The loss total was the most in the AL.[7] He did not record his first shutout of the season until well into August, when he earned a three-hit win over the Chicago White Sox.[36] In 1952, Lemon recorded the second-lowest ERA of his career, 2.50, and went 22–11. His 28 complete games were a career-high and led the AL. Along with teammates Early Wynn (23), and Mike Garcia (22), Lemon gave Cleveland’s starting rotation three 20-game winners.[37]

On Opening Day of the 1953 season, Lemon pitched a one-hitter against the Chicago White Sox and earned a win.[38] He finished the season with a 21–15 record, 3.36 ERA and led the AL in innings pitched for the fourth and final time of his career.[7]

Second World Series appearance 

Lemon in 1953

In 1954 he was 23–7 and won his third AL Pitcher of the Year Award as Cleveland won the pennant. The Indians set an AL record with 111 wins. (The record stood until major league seasons were lengthened to 162 games, and it has been surpassed twice since then.)[39][40] Lemon was named Cleveland’s starter for game one of the 1954 World Series. After nine innings, the Indians and Giants were tied 2–2. Lemon stayed in the game to pitch the tenth and final inning, but he surrendered a three-run home run to pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes and the Indians lost, 5–2. Indians manager Al López went with Lemon again in the fourth game after only two days rest. «He hasn’t worked that close together all year because we had a good bunch of other pitchers, but a year ago, he and Wynn and Garcia pitched every third day for practically a month. Bob will be all right», Lopez said.[41] Lemon and the Indians lost the game, 7–4, as the Giants swept the Series four games to none. In his two appearances, he went 0–2 with a 6.75 ERA, allowed eight walks and recorded 11 strikeouts.[42]

Lemon began the 1955 season with a 5–0 record in April, but he was the only Cleveland starting pitcher with a winning record that month.[43][44] His 18 wins tied for the most in the AL that year.[7] He recorded five complete games through May 30 but none after that date. Indians general manager Hank Greenberg got Lemon to agree to his first reduction in contract salary since joining the organization.[45] Lemon earned his 200th career win against the Baltimore Orioles on September 11, 1956, and he also hit a home run that day.[46] He finished the season with a 20–14 record, the last of his seven career 20-win seasons, and led the AL in complete games (21).[7] On August 13, 1957, it was announced that Lemon would not finish the season due to continued irritation to his elbow after bone chips were found earlier in the season.[47] Lemon ended the season with a record of 6–11, his first losing record since 1946.[7]

In 1958, Lemon was the oldest Indian on the roster at age 37. Lemon pitched 3.1 innings over the span of two games before he was put on the Indians’ disabled list and sent to the Triple-A San Diego Padres. There he continued physical conditioning and mentored the pitching staff of the Indians’ top farm club.[48] He appeared in 12 games with the Padres, going 2–5, with a 4.34 ERA, 22 walks, and 19 strikeouts.[3] He returned to pitch for the Indians on May 25 in a relief role, but he appeared in only nine games that season.[49] He earned just one decision that year, a loss, which brought his career pitching record to 207–128.[7] The club put him on waivers in July.[50]

Retirement[edit]

At 38, Lemon went to Tucson in 1959 to attend Indians’ spring training camp. He told manager Joe Gordon that he was willing to become a relief pitcher, but he retired as a player on March 5, stating, «I just couldn’t keep up with the young fellows anymore.»[51] He accepted a scouting role with the Indians.

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Bob Lemon’s number 21 was retired by the Cleveland Indians in 1998.

Lemon retired in 1958 with 207 wins, all but ten of them occurring in a ten-year span. He recorded 274 hits in 1,1883 at-bats (.232), and his 37 career home runs are second on the all-time career list for pitchers (behind Wes Ferrell‘s 38).[52]:p.198 In 1951, Ted Williams wrote of Lemon: «I have to rate Lemon as one of the very best pitchers I ever faced. His ball was always moving, hard, sinking, fast-breaking. You could never really uhmmmph with Lemon».[53][54]:p.37 The Indians retired Lemon’s jersey number, 21, on June 20, 1998 (Mike Hargrove, the Indians Manager at the time who was Wearing #21 switched to #30). Lemon was the sixth Indian to receive the honor.[19]

On January 22, 1976, Lemon was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. It was the twelfth ballot on which he had appeared. He received 78.6% of the vote.[55] On August 8, one day before his induction ceremony, Lemon said, «It’s a great thrill. My mother is 83 but she is making the trip from California. She says she can die happy now that I’ve been elected to the Hall of Fame.»[56] Lemon’s dominant slider has been cited as a key reason for his election to the Hall of Fame.[15]:p.38:p.278

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