100 Greatest Indians: Bob Lemon
Folksy style and gutsy pitching pave way to Cooperstown
In 2001, a panel of writers, historians and baseball officials got together and named the "100 Greatest Indians," and the organization then held a season-long celebration in honor of the men who made the team.Those men will be honored and their feats chronicled in an ongoing series of stories about each of them. Each month a story will appear that takes fans back through Memory Lane as one by one the legends of Cleveland baseball have their stories told. The series began in March with a story on Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, the most heralded player in team history. Here in installment No. 3 of the series is a tribute to pitcher Bob Lemon. For 13 seasons, right-hander Bob Lemon proved an anchor on Indians teams that had Hall of Famers Early Wynn and Bob Feller in their starting rotation. Yet Lemon showed he was their equal, if not their superior. During his career, he was a seven-time All-Star, and Lemon also was a 20-game winner seven times, as well. He threw 31 shutouts, saved 22 games and had a 2-0 record in the '48 World Series. Those were great numbers for a pitcher who started his professional career as an outfielder -- a decent hitting outfielder at that. "What would I have done if I had not switched to pitching?" Lemon was quoted as saying in sportswriter Russell Schneider's book "Tales from the Tribe Dugout." "I don't know ... but I probably wouldn't have lasted long in baseball." What did in Lemon's career as an outfielder was his inability to hit the changeup, but he could hardly regret it. For his decision to turn to pitching led Lemon to a Hall of Fame career of his own. The switch also helped Lemon to get selected as one of the "100 Greatest Indians," although his sinker probably deserved more credit for this than his decision to switch positions. "Technically, I have no fastball," Lemon was quoted as saying in a 1956 article in Sports magazine. "Everything I throw is breaking stuff. My fastball is a natural sinker." A poll of 645 players in the 1987 book Players' Choice rated Lemon's sinker as the second best in baseball history. In Lemon's mind, such ratings didn't seem to mean much. Few players in the history of the game took themselves less seriously as Lemon, who hurled a no-hitter in 1948. He recognized that baseball was a little boy's game, and Lemon tried to enjoy it as much as a boy might enjoy riding a roller coaster. It was a blast. How flippant was Lemon in life? Listen to him. He once said, "The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen." He might have been right, too.
Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.