Year Inducted: 1976 (BBWAA, ballot #12, 305/388)
It’s been a long time since a pitcher from the Third Generation of Starting Pitchers was covered here. But, it makes sense. This was a tough generation to pitch in. While Babe Ruth was retired, his influence lived on in the increase of home runs across the board. A cavalcade of sluggers followed in his footsteps including guys like Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, Hank Greenberg, Ralph Kiner, and so on. Throw in the eventual integration of the game, as well as time serving the country in 2 wars, and it was a tough time to be a pitcher. And one of the best of this difficult time was Cleveland’s Bob Lemon.
Lemon had one of the strangest career arcs of all-time. He didn’t throw his first pitch for the Indians until after WWII when he was 25 years old, so why does his plaque say he started playing for them in 1941? Originally, he came up to the Indians as a left handed power hitting third baseman. Eventually, with third base occupied, they moved him to center field until third became available again. When put back at the hot corner, they noticed his defense wasn’t quite up to par, and that he couldn’t hit a changeup to save his life. So, after pitching during the war, the Indians slowly converted him to be a starting pitcher, and the rest was history.
During his 13 years as a starting pitcher, Lemon won 207 games while losing only 128 all for the Tribe. He threw 2850 innings with an ERA of 3.23, which was good for an ERA- of 84. He struck out almost as many as he walked, but it was an era where walking batters didn’t have the stigma it does now, and strikeouts did (so batters did whatever they could to avoid strikeouts). His strikeout total of 170 in 1950 was enough to lead the league, when today it would rank only 20th (with still plenty of time left to drop further).
From a modern perspecticve, Lemon isn’t that great of a pitcher. He excels from a traditional perspective, however. He won over 60% of his games while spending time on a Cleveland team that, while occasionally showed some dominance, was mostly mediocre. As his career went on, injuries to his arms and legs began to take their toll and caused him to slowly lose effectiveness. After having several bone chips removed from his elbow, he made a handful of appearances and eventually was forced to retire.
Lemon was a fine pitcher, one of the tops of his time, and deserving of his spot in the Hall of Fame because he accomplished a lot in a short time period.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 9/18/16 This Hall of Fame catcher was the only player inducted in 2013.