You didn’t just hope for Bob Lemon to enjoy a 20-win season in his prime. You counted on it. Lemon, born on this day in 1920, hit the 20-win milestone seven times during his career.
The right-hander from Long Beach, Calif., began his run of success in 1948 by going 20-14 (2.82 ERA, 144 ERA+) and followed that with a 22-10 campaign (2.99 ERA, 133 ERA+). Lemon’s ERA rose to 3.84 (112 ERA+) in 1950. He still compiled a 23-11 won-loss mark for a hard-hitting Cleveland squad.
Lemon slipped to 17-14 (3.52 ERA, 108 ERA+) in 1951, but he rebounded by going 22-11 in 1952 (2.50 ERA, 134 ERA+) and 21-15 in ’53 (3.36 ERA, 111 ERA+).
Cleveland ran away with the A.L. pennant in 1954, crushing all-comers and ending up 111-43. Lemon led the way on the mound, along with Early Wynn and Mike Garcia. Over 33 starts, he went 23-7 with a 2.72 ERA (136 ERA+) and 21 complete games.
Lemon only won 18 games in 1955; that still led the league. Then, he went 20-14 in 1956. Bob Feller, the greatest pitcher in Indians history, said Lemon didn’t throw hard. Instead, he relied on good control and staying ahead of hitters. “Bob had a good curve, a good slider, and a good sinker pitch,” Feller said. Lemon finished fifth in the MVP voting three times and made seven All-Star teams. A workhorse, he led the league in batters faced five times and in innings pitched four times.
Following his big years, Lemon lost it fast. He went from a 5.2 WAR in 1956 to a -0.5 WAR in ’57. Elbow chips did in the right-hander. He struggled through 25.1 innings in 1958 (5.33 ERA, 70 ERA+) and retired in May, 207-128 lifetime. (Lemon hit 37 career home runs, the second most in Major League history for a pitcher. Which pitcher hit the most?)
Lemon got into coaching and managing, for the Kansas City Royals and other teams. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired him as manager mid-way through the 1978 campaign. The Boss fired Lemon half-way through 1979, hired him again in September 1981 and canned him 14 games into 1982. Steinbrenner liked doing that sort of stuff in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
The pitcher died Jan. 11, 2000, in Long Beach, at age 79. Baseball writers had voted him into the Hall of Fame in 1976.
*Wes Ferrell, who pitched for six teams and won 193 games, hit 38 career home runs.