Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #418, Bob Lemon (Article 78)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
Bob Lemon never played for the Yankees, his New York fame came as the manager of the 1978 Yankees.
As the story is told (accurately, I’d add), Bob Lemon took over a team that was in chaos (these were the “Bronx Zoo” Yankees, after all) and brought them a calming and steady presence. It was his calm, steady, and laid back managerial style that allowed the Yankees to begin winning on their way to their eventual World Championship.
Under manager Billy Martin, the Yankees had gone 52-42 (.553). They were mired in third place, 10 games behind the Red Sox. It was late July…
Under Bob Lemon, the Yankees went 48-20 (.705) and caught the Red Sox, eventually winning the one-game playoff at Fenway Park, defeating the Royals in the ALCS, and triumphing over the Dodgers in the World Series.
It was Lemon’s steady calming hand that gets credit for bringing the Yankees this championship.
But, these were the days of turmoil for the Yankees. Consistency was not a word that could have been used to define this club.
Almost immediately after Lemon was named Yankees manager, the team announced, on Old Timer’s Day, that Martin would return as the manager for the 1980 season.
It wouldn’t even take that long…
After the Yankees got off to a lackluster start in 1979, with a 34-31 record after 65 games, Bob Lemon’s tenure as manager ended. Bill Martin returned. The Yankees went 55-40 under his leadership, but ended the season, the tragic season of Thurman Munson’s death, in fourth place.
IT was then that the managerial roller coaster really started.
The 1980 season didn’t see Bill Martin as the manager, by then it was Dick Howser. The 1980 Yankees won 103 games but were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series which led to the firing of Howser.
Gene Michael was named the manager of the 1981 Yankees, but (not surprisingly considering the times), he didn’t last the season. In that season of the strike, the Yankees went 48-34 under Michael. He was replaced for the season’s final 25 games…by Bob Lemon.
In those days, it wasn’t just the players you couldn’t keep track of without a scorecard, it was the managers too.
If Bob Lemon is given credit for the 1978 World Championship, he also deserves some blame for the fact that the Yankees lost the World Series in 1981 under his watch. After winning two rounds of playoffs (due to the post season plan enacted after the strike was resolved), the Yankees faced off against the Dodgers in that 1981 World Series.
Bob Lemon’s Yankees won the first two games before dropping the next four in a row to lose the series.
Lemon’s biggest blunder, the one he’s most remembered for, came in Game 6, the game the Dodgers won for their World Championship. In that game, one in which the Yankees were trailing in the series three games to two, Bob Lemon removed starting pitcher Tommy John after he pitched just four innings in a game tied 1 to 1. Tommy John (a former Dodger) had previously won Game 2 after allowing just three hits (and no walks) and no runs over seven innings. A case can be made that he was their best chance to even the series. In this game, John had allowed six hits, but only one run. Bob Lemon though was playing for the big inning at home. (This series was played without a DH.) With two outs, Graig Nettles was on second, Larry Milbourne on first, when Tommy John was pulled for pinch-hitter Bobby Murcer…
The result wasn’t good. Murcer flew out. George Frazier then came in out of the bullpen, and gave up three runs to put the Yankees in a hole they couldn’t get out of and the Dodgers had the glory.
Bob Lemon began the 1982 season as the Yankees manager, but it didn’t last long. The Yankees began the season 6-8, and that was that. Just 14 games into the season, Bob Lemon was fired.
All told, Bob Lemon managed the Yankees in four different seasons (1978, 1979, 1981, and 1982), but he never managed even one full season. He managed 172 games in total for the Yankees accumulating a record of 99-73.
Many people do not remember that long before he was a manager, Bob Lemon was a Hall of Fame pitcher. His career wasn’t long, he pitched in just 13 seasons, but he won 20 or more games seven times. Lemon led the league in wins three times (1950 with 23, 1954 with 23, and 1955 with 18). He led the league in innings pitched four times. From 1948 through 1956, he pitched more than 200 innings every year averaging just over 271 innings pitched each year!
Bob Lemon was an American League All-Star each season from 1948 through 1954.
Lemon was the ace of the 1954 Cleveland Indians team that was the only American League club other than the Yankees to win a pennant between the years of 1949-1958.
Lemon’s career record was 207-128, 3.23.
He was elected to the Hall-of-Fame in 1976.
As a manager, Bob Lemon also managed the Kansas City Royals (1970-72) and the Chicago White Sox (1977-78).
Much of the research for this article came from Baseball-Reference.com.