James Robert Lemon
(Lem, Jim Bob)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 4", Weight 200 lb.
- High School Covington (VA) High School
- Debut August 20, 1950
- Final Game September 24, 1963
- Born March 23, 1928 in Covington, VA USA
- Died May 14, 2006 in Brandon, MS USA
Tall, lanky Jim Lemon was born on March 23, 1928, in Covington, VA. With an erect, wide batting stance and a powerful roundhouse swing, Lemon was a slugging outfielder who teamed with Roy Sievers and Harmon Killebrew to present a formidable home-run trio for the lowly Nats. He twice logged 100 RBI and over 30 homers.
Lemon played professionally for 14 years from 1948 to [, spending twelve seasons in the majors. Signed by the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent out of high school in 1948, he broke into Organized Baseball at age 20 with the Pittsfield Electrics in the Canadian American League, and played for Pittsfield and Bloomingdale in the North Atlantic League that year. He then played for the Harrisburg in the Inter-State League in 1949 and the Oklahoma City Indians in the Texas League in 1950.
In 1950, perhaps his best year in the minors, he had 135 hits, 87 runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 39 home runs, and 119 RBI while hitting .287 with an approximate on-base percentage of .367 and a slugging percentage of .585 in 126 games.
Lemon was 22 years old when he broke into the big leagues on August 20, 1950 with the Cleveland Indians, and he was on the Cleveland roster when he was drafted into the U.S. Army for the Korean War in 1951. Because he was drafted, he missed the 1951 and 1952 seasons. He married Ella Mae Otto on April 19, 1952 and was discharged that year as well. He spent most of 1953 with the [[Indianapolis Indians of the American Association, however he also made 16 appearances in the big leagues, hitting .174 in 46 at-bats. He started the 1954 season with Cleveland but did not play any games with them.
In his autobiography (with Ira Berkow), Hank Greenberg, then the Cleveland Indians General Manager, mentioned some transactions he made that did not actually benefit the Indians, but benefited the traded player. One such example is when Lemon was sent to the Senators. Jim was a power hitter, and did not fit into manager Al Lopez's plans. Greenberg thought Jim would be better off elsewhere, so he shipped him out. Lemon made the most of the chance Greenberg gave him. The Indians wanted to keep Lemon in the minor leagues in 1954, and in fact optioned him to Richmond of the International League during spring training. The American League then informed the Indians that because Lemon had spent two years in the military they had to ask waivers on him before they could send him down. So Greenberg was forced to re-roster a man he had decided to farm out. It was well considered at the time that Lemon would quickly be claimed if waived.
During that era, teams broke camp with extra players, and May 15 was the deadline for trimming rosters. So Lemon was sold on May 12 of that year because the Indians couldn't demote him freely. They gambled and, as predicted, lost. So, while Lemon might have eventually benefited - it still took him two years to stick with the Senators, who demoted him when they signed Harmon Killebrew as a bonus baby and were forced to keep Killebrew on the roster - the Indians did not trade him, and there's no indication they had his best interests at heart.
Lemon was purchased by the Washington Senators from Cleveland on May 12, 1954. He played for the Charlotte Hornets in the South Atlantic League in 1954 and the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association in 1955. On July 19, 1955, Lemon set a minor league All-Star game record by hitting four (some sources say five) home runs in the Southern Association All-Star Game. The All-Star system that year pitted the first place team (the Birmingham Barons) against the All Stars of the other teams. Lemon was Chattanooga's All Star, and his four (or five) homers and 7 RBI led the All Stars over Birmingham 10-5. He was called up to stay by the Senators for ten games at the end of the season.
He finally wins a job
In August 1956, Lemon hit three consecutive home runs off the New York Yankees' Whitey Ford while playing at Griffith Stadium in Washington. The Yankees' Joe DiMaggio was the only player with a three-homer game at Griffith before Lemon's feat, but his were not consecutive. In attendance was President Dwight Eisenhower, who congratulated Lemon on his performance. The Senators nonetheless lost, 6-4.
The Wall (at Fenway Park) has a ladder that enables the ground crew to pluck home run balls from the screen above. It’s the only fair-territory ladder in the majors. One night in the 1950s, Ted Williams and Jim Piersall of the Boston Red Sox converged under a fly ball in left center. To their surprise, the ball hit the ladder and ricocheted toward center, allowing Lemon to circle the bases for an inside-the-park homer.
Lemon knocked in 6 runs in the 3rd inning of the September 20, 1959 game on two home runs, tying two MLB records. Washington scored 10 in the inning to triumph over Cleveland 14-2. His two home runs still stands as a tie for the record. His modern MLB record of six RBIs, held also by Bob Johnson, Tom McBride, Joe Astroth, Gil McDougald, Sam Mele, and Carlos Quintana in the AL and Fred Merkle, Jim Ray Hart, Andre Dawson, and Dale Murphy in the NL was broken by Fernando Tatis. The all-time record for RBIs in one inning was set on September 23, 1890, when Ed Cartwright of the old St. Louis Browns in the American Association had seven RBIs – a record which also fell to Tatis.
In the 1959 MVP voting, Lemon had four votes. In 1960, he had 36.
On June 12, 1960, the Detroit Tigers and Senators combined for 11 homers in their double header split, with the Senators hitting eight roundtrippers. Lemon hit three homers, one in game one, an 8–2 win, and a pair in the nightcap loss, 12–5. Rocky Colavito had a pair in the nightcap for Detroit and winning pitcher Frank Lary also went deep.
Selected for the 1960 All-Star Game, he walked once and struck out once.
The surprising fourth-place Senators fell to a game above .500 on September 18, 1960 when the Red Sox Ted Williams' two-run home run off Pedro Ramos gave Boston a 2–1 win. Billy Muffett allowed just three hits, including Lemon's 38th home run, in a quick one hour 40 minute win. A late collapse—15 losses in the final 18 games—will drop Washington to fifth place, but that will still be the club's best finish in seven years. The club will continue its improvement in Minnesota.
In 1960 he chased Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris for the American League home run crown, losing to Mantle 40 to 38. In 1960, which could be considered his best year in Major League baseball, he had 142 hits, 81 runs, 10 doubles, 1 triple, 38 home runs, 100 RBI and 2 stolen bases while batting .269 with an on-base percentage of .354 and a slugging percentage of .508 in 148 games.
Moving north with the franchise, he played for the Minnesota Twins from 1961 to 1963 but was slowed by injuries in 1961 and 1962. Purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies from the Twins on May 4, 1963, he attempted a comeback. On June 9, 1963, the Phillies scored five runs in the ninth inning on homers by Don Demeter, Lemon and Johnny Callison to tie the Cincinnati Reds 7–7. Philadelphia scored again in the tenth inning to win 8–7.
Purchased by the Chicago White Sox from the Phillies on June 28, 1963, he played his final MLB game and ended his playing career on September 24, 1963 after a major shoulder injury at age 35. On October 18, 1963 he was unconditionally released by the White Sox.
He then managed the York White Roses in the Eastern League for the new Washington Senators and was the Twins' batting instructor from 1965 to 1967. On November 27, 1967, The New York Mets sent Bill Denehy and $100,000 to the Senators for Washington's manager, Gil Hodges. Lemon was named manager of the Senators. He managed 161 games with a record of 65 wins and 96 losses. The team's new owner, Bob Short, then fired Lemon on January 29, 1969 and replaced him with Ted Williams.
He turned to part time scouting and coached the Twins again, from 1981 to 1984. He ended his baseball career in 1987 at age 59, however he later came back for one season as manager of the GCL Twins in 1992.
Known for his humble professionalism, Lemon did not play during a big-money era and early in his career he would supplement his income by refereeing basketball games during the winter.
Lemon's big-league career didn't really begin until he was 28, and lasted just six full seasons. Of course, in the process of going to Washington, he not only ended up in the minor leagues, again, but he also missed out on the Indians' championship season in 1954. It wasn't until 1965, as hitting coach of the Twins, that he got a sniff of the World Series.
Lemon stood 6'4", weighed at least 200 pounds, and averaged about one steal per 80 games played. Ironically, he reached the major leagues as a centerfielder.
Combining power, speed, and an exceptional arm, Lemon was part of the power group with Roy Sievers, Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison that made the transition of the Senators to Minnesota a successful one. He spent a total of 26 seasons in the Senators/Twins organization as a player, coach, scout, Minor League instructor, hitting instructor and manager
Overall in MLB, he had 901 hits, 446 runs, 121 doubles, 35 triples, 164 home runs, 529 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 1,010 games. He hit .262 with a .332 on-base percentage and a .460 slugging percentage. Overall in the minors, he had 710 hits, 456 runs, 123 doubles, 53 triples, 130 home runs and 415 RBI with an average of .285, an on-base percentage of about.364 and a slugging percentage of .534 in 702 games.
Lemon left sports and became involved in the restaurant business and was a co-owner and operator of a Hyattsville, MD grocery. He left the Washington area in 1987 and spent many years in Myrtle Beach, SC.
He had blond hair and hazel eyes and his principal hobby was sports. He died at age 78 at his home in Brandon, MS from melanoma - a type of cancer - on May 14, 2006. Survivors included his wife of 54 years, Ella Otto Lemon of Brandon; three children, Joseph Lemon of Lynchburg, VA (a nursing administrator), Le Lemon of Darnestown, MD, and Patrick Lemon of Brandon (an attorney); a brother, William Lemon of Roanoke, VA (a partner with the Martin, Hopkins and Lemon law firm in Roanoke); and seven grandchildren.
- AL All-Star (1960)
- AL Triples Leader (1956)
- 20-Home Run Seasons: 4 (1956 & 1958-1960)
- 30-Home Run Seasons: 2 (1959 & 1960)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 2 (1959 & 1960)
|Washington Senators Manager
Year-By-Year Managerial Record
|1964||York White Roses||Eastern League||55-85||6th||Washington Senators|
|1968||Washington Senators||American League||65-96||10th||Washington Senators|
|1992||GCL Twins||Gulf Coast League||30-28||7th||Minnesota Twins|
- On July 19, 1955, Lemon set a record for minor league All-Star game play by hitting four home runs (or five according to some sources) in the Southern Association All-Star Game
- 138 strikeouts in 1956 (in a 154-game season) set an MLB record long since broken
- Although Roy Sievers holds the record for career home runs with the Senators, Lemon is second (144 to 180)
- Tied MLB mark for most home runs, inning (2), September 5, 1959
- Tied modern MLB mark for most RBI, inning (6), September 5, 1959 - record since broken by Fernando Tatis
- Six teams have had 3 players with 20+ home runs before the All-Star break including the 1959 Senators. Lemon had 20 homers, Harmon Killebrew had 28 and Bob Allison had 21.
- Hit three consecutive home runs in a game, August 31, 1956.
- Led Interstate League in home runs (27) and RBI (101), 1949. Also led outfielders in errors (18).
- Led Texas League in home runs (39) and RBI (119), 1950.
- Led Southern Association in triples (12) and RBI (109), 1955.
- Led American League outfielders in double plays (6), 1956.
- Led American League in triples (11) and times struck out (138), 1956. Also led outfielders in errors (12).
- Led American League in times struck out (94), 1957.
- Led American League in times struck out (120), 1958.
- Led American League in Sacrifice flies (9) and Intentional walks (8), 1960. Also led outfielders in errors (12).
Awards and honors
- In 1988, he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
- Named to Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
- "I always liked refereeing with big Jim because nobody was ever going to give him a hard time. There was one time when I called a foul on Bath County when they were about to end Eagle Rock's 80- or 90-game winning streak . . . we needed a police escort to get out of town." --Bill Brill--
- "I think we had 28,000 at the game that night," Lemon later told the Washington Post [in reference to his three consecutive home run game]. "I'm convinced now we must have had 428,000. At least a dozen guys have claimed they caught two of the homers."
- "When I first signed [with the Senators in 1954], I had to go to the major leagues. That was the rule then; if you signed a contract with a bonus, you had to stay for two years. Well, it ended up that Jim was sent to the minor leagues when I came up. He could have had a reaction to that. But that's not the type of person he is. And we became very close friends." --Harmon Killebrew--
- "We asked him, 'How far do you think Mickey Mantle would have hit the ball that went off the facade of Yankee Stadium?' He told us, matter of factly, 'I caught that ball.' He said, 'If I had thought about it, I would have put it in my pocket. Instead, I just rolled it back to the bench.'"
- "I think he had some strong ideas on hitting and later became a hitting coach. He actually helped me a little bit with my hitting because he used to say, 'Spread out, take a short stride and swing the bat like a hammer, not like a broom.'" --Jim Kaat--
- "Even then [after retirement], he would go up and work with the Elizabethton Twins for eight or nine years. He loved being in a uniform." --son Joe Lemon—
- "We still have a picture of my dad shaking hands with President Eisenhower. That was a special day. I think getting named manager of the Senators in 1968, coaching in the World Series [with the Twins in 1965], being a part of that team with all those great players. That was special to him also." --Joe Lemon--
- Longtime Twins clubhouse attendant Wayne Hattaway missed a few of the team's home games a little over a week before his death to visit Lemon at his home. He felt that it was important he go and see his friend since he knew the time could be short. "If you got to meet him, you love him. He was a real baseball man. When I went to see him, we talked about nothing but baseball. He was in good spirits. He was talking about how our hitters were doing. He was saying, 'They've got to do this, they have to do that.' He was still the hitting coach. He was a superstar in my mind," -- Wayne Hattaway--
- "I saw him actually last year (2005) because we had our 40th reunion of our '65 World Series team. Lem was a fixture in that organization for years. I just knew him as a good, power-hitting outfielder when I came up, and just a pleasant guy." --Jim Kaat--
- "When I think of him though, I remember watching Jim Lemon on the show 'Home Run Derby,'" I don't really know much about his career but when you see a guy like that on 'Home Run Derby,' you think this guy was a superstud. That's when I really realized who he was." --Ron Gardenhire--
- "Jim Lemon is a legend around here." former Covington mayor Temple Kessinger
- "It was a time when Covington was only an 11-grade school and most people went straight to work at either the Rayon plant or the Westvaco plant. Jim Lemon went somewhere. Jim was a celebrity." -- Bill Brill, former sports editor of the Covington Virginian—
- "He had a very serious operation once and [ex-Senator] Frank Howard called him and said, 'Jim, I want you to know that everyone in baseball is pulling for you and you are one of the most respected people in the game.'" --son Joe Lemon—
Principal sources for Jim Lemon include newspaper obituaries (OB), government Veteran records (VA,CM,CW), Stars & Stripes (S&S), Sporting Life (SL), The Sporting News (TSN), The Sports Encyclopedia:Baseball 2006 by David Neft & Richard Cohen (N&C), old Who's Who in Baseballs (1957-1964) (WW), old Baseball Registers (1956-1963;1965-1968) (BR) , old Daguerreotypes by TSN (none) (DAG), Stars&Stripes (S&S), The Baseball Necrology by Bill Lee (BN), Pat Doyle's Professional Ballplayer DataBase (PD), The Baseball Library (BL), Baseball in World War II Europe by Gary Bedingfield (GB) ; Baseball: Biographical Encyclopedia by the Editors of Total Baseball; A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers by John C. Skipper; The Texas League in Baseball, 1888-1958 by Marshall D. Wright; The Southern Association in Baseball, 1885-1961 by Marshall D. Wright; The American Association: Year-By-Year Statistics for the Baseball Minor League, 1902-1952 by Marshall D. Wright and independent research by Walter Kephart (WK) and Frank Russo (FR) and others.
- Gregory H. Wolf: "Jim Lemon", in Gregory H. Wolf, ed.: A Pennant for the Twin Cities: the 1965 Minnesota Twins, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 306-312. ISBN 978-1-943816-09-5