All-Time Indians: Bob Lemon

Name: Robert Granville Lemon Position: Starting Pitcher
Tribe Time: 1941-42, 1946-58 Number: 21
Accolades: Hall of Fame (1976), Retired #21 DOB: 09/22/1920
Accolades: 7 Time All-Star (1948-54), Top 5 MVP (1940, 1950, 1954), Top 10 MVP (1949, 1952, 1956)
Best Season (1952) 22 11 .667 2.50 42 36 28 5 309.0 236 86 15 105 131 1.10 .203
Indians Career 207 128 .618 3.23 460 350 188 31 2,850.1 2,559 1,024 180 1,251 1,277 1.34 .230
Post Season Career 2 2 .500 3.94 4 4 2 0 29.7 32 13 1 15 17 1.58 .264

A Hall of Fame pitcher who would have been the best franchise hurler on many teams in baseball, Bob Lemon had the fortune (as far as team success goes) or misfortune (as far as individual accolades are concerned) of never even being the best pitcher on his own team. Despite this, his career was remarkable and for his 15 years played only with the Cleveland Indians, he was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1976 and had his number of 21 retired by the team.

Lemon was originally signed as an amateur free agent in 1938, believe it or not, as an outfielder out of Woodrow Wilson High School in California. After a solid first minor league season, Lemon was transitioned to third base, the position he would play in his Major League debut in 1941. He got into just five games in both that year and the next, used as a pinch hitter and hitting safely just once in nine at bats.

After these two years, Lemon joined the US Navy and while many players, such as future Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Joe Gordon, lost valuable time while serving their country, the time away may have been the best thing possible for Lemon. While in Hawaii in his third year in the Navy, Lemon learned how to pitch and upon his return in 1946, he would join the Indians bullpen, posting a 2.49 ERA in 94 innings.

He began the next season as a reliever, but on July 31st, 1947 he would join the rotation for good, a role he would maintain for the next ten years. He held a very respectable 3.44 ERA that year in 167.1 innings, but this would be his worst season of his next nine. He appeared in his first All-Star game in 1948 and would return each year through 1954 for seven total selections, pitching in four for a total of 6.2 innings and two runs allowed.

The 1948 season was a great convergence for the Indians as Lemon had his best season so far (2.82 ERA, 20 wins, 10 shut outs, 293.2 IP, 147 K’s), Feller was just ending his prime years and Gordon was added for extra offense. Starting catcher, Jim Hegan was one of the best at calling a game in Indians history and Lou Boudreau, both the manager and starting short stops, was one of the best strategists in baseball history. With all this as well as another future Hall of Famer in Larry Doby in the outfield and another, Satchel Paige, in the bullpen, the Indians went to their second World Series in franchise history.

In that series, Feller started and lost game one 1-0 and it was up to Lemon to keep them from going down by two. While he did allow an unearned run in the first inning, he would pitch the rest of the game without allowing another, striking out three and allowing eight hits in nine innings. After Gene Bearden and Steve Gromek pitched the Tribe to two more wins and Feller lost his second, Lemon came back to pitch the deciding game six. He earned the win in this game as well, allowing three runs in 7.1 innings as the Indians won the game 4-3 and the series 4-2.

With a ring in the bank, Lemon began his prime seasons. He lead the league in complete games, shut outs and innings in 1948, then lead the AL again in innings in 1950, ’52 and ’53, complete games in 1950, ’52, ’54 and ’56 and strike outs in 1950. For his efforts, he received MVP votes in each season from 1948 through 1956 except for 1951 and ’54 with his top finishes coming in 1948, ’50 and ’54 when he finished fifth behind Boudreau, Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra respectively. In 1954, he had quite the competition as seven Indians received votes, Doby, Lemon, Bobby Avila and Early Wynn finishing in the top six.

The 1950 season was both his best and his worst during this stretch. He lead the league with 23 wins, but was much more hittable than previous seasons, posting a 3.84 ERA and allowing more hits than anyone else in the league. Through this, he was a work horse as he lead the Indians for the third straight season in innings pitched, completing 22 of his 37 starts. After leading the league in losses in 1951, he had what was truly his greatest season in 1952.

That year he won 22 games with a 2.50 ERA and 131 strike outs in a career high 309.2 innings. While this number of innings isn’t near an Indians record, he was the last pitcher to reach 300 innings outside of Gaylord Perry, who surpassed it three times.

In 1954, the stars aligned again for the Tribe as the 1953 MVP Al Rosen helped propel a roster that still included Lemon, Doby and Feller, but now also had Wynn and Mike Garcia in the rotation back to the World Series. Of all the returning players, it was only Lemon who made starts in both the 1948 and 1954 Series although he was no where near as successful in the latter series. Pitching in game one and four, Lemon took losses in both games, allowing five runs in a walk off loss to the Giants in ten innings in game one and six (five earned) in four innings as the Giants completed the sweep in game four.

With the four starts, Lemon became the only Indians pitcher to throw in four games in the postseason until play was expanded to three rounds in 1995. He wouldn’t return to the postseason again, but would have two more incredible seasons, particularly in his very underrated 1956. In that season, he won 20 games for the seventh and final time with an ERA of 3.03 at the age of 35.  He completed a league best 21 games in 35 starts, throwing 255.1 innings and earning a WAR of 5.2, higher than his totals in 1952 and 1948 (both 4.8). That year, he finished just tenth in the MVP race, behind teammate Vic Wertz and losing to Mickey Mantle, who very deservedly won the award. He did receive more votes, however, than staff ace Early Wynn, who had an even better season than Lemon.

Lemon had a quick decline after 1956, throwing just 117.1 innings in 17 starts the following year, then 25.1 almost exclusively as a reliever in 1957 before being released. Once he was let go, he signed with the PCL San Diego Padres for the rest of the season, but retired at the end of the year. Almost immediately after, he came back to Cleveland as a scout in 1959 and coach in 1960. From 1961 through 1970, he was a pitching coach for the Phillies, Angels and Royals, becoming a manager for the first time in mid-1970 with Kansas City. He would go on to manage for the White Sox and Yankees from 1977 through 1982, winning the World Series with New York in 1978.

Lemon was fired in 1982 despite winning the pennant for New York the year before and after this, he left the game. He lived out the rest of his life in his home state of California, dying in 2000 at the age of 79 after having a stroke. For his efforts, Lemon finished in the top five in Indians history in almost every conceivable career statistic including wins, shut outs, innings and strike outs. The fact that he was almost always the second best pitcher on his team makes him the best non-ace in Indians history and is a primary reason why the Indians were able to reach the World Series twice in seven years despite making it just once in the previous 47 and not again for the next 40.

Bob  Lemon

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB