Bob Lemon, who made the Hall of Fame for a brilliant pitching career and then managed the New York Yankees to a World Series championship, died at age 79.
Lemon, a seven-time 20-game winner with the Cleveland Indians and manager of the Yankees during their amazing 1978 title run, died Tuesday night at Palmcrest North Convalescent Home in Long Beach, Calif.
Lemon led the American League in victories three times and won two games in the 1948 World Series the last time the Indians were champions. He finished with a 207-128 record and was inducted into the Hall in 1976.
Two years later, Lemon, who also managed for Kansas City and the Chicago White Sox, took over the Yankees at midseason when Billy Martin resigned and focused a turbulent clubhouse, where Martin, owner George Steinbrenner, Thurman Munson and Reggie Jackson had been feuding.
New York overcame a 14-game deficit, beat Boston in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park to win the AL East, then defeated the Royals in the AL playoffs before triumphing over the Los Angeles Dodgers to win its second straight World Series title.
Lemon remained on the Yankees' payroll until his death as a scout and adviser to Steinbrenner.
"It is with tremendous sadness that I was informed today of the passing of Bob Lemon," Steinbrenner said. "He was an idol of mine when he pitched for the Cleveland Indians and he has been a true friend of mine for many, many years.
"When our team was going through the turmoil during the 1978 season, Bob Lemon was just what we needed. He was such a calming influence and, of course, he guided the club to the world championship in one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. He was a gentle but consummate competitor."
The news of Lemon's death came just hours after another former Cleveland sports figure, Cavaliers guard Bobby Phills was killed in a traffic accident in Charlotte, N.C.
Lemon, a seven-time All-Star, began his playing career as a third baseman with the Indians in 1941. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he became a pitcher, one of the most successful in Indians history.
The right-hander twice won 23 games. In 1948, sometimes pitching on one day's rest, he went 20-14 with a 2.82 ERA and led the AL with 20 complete games, 10 shutouts and 293 2-3 innings pitched.
"Lem" as he was known to his teammates, then beat Boston's Warren Spahn in Game 2 of the World Series before pitching Cleveland to a 4-3 victory in Game 6.
In 1954, Lemon went 23-7 and along wth Bob Feller, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia combined on what many still call the best starting rotation ever. The Indians won a then-record 111 games that season before being swept in the World Series by the New York Giants.
Lemon, who pitched a no-hitter at Detroit on June 30, 1948, also was an outstanding hitter, as far as pitchers go, finishing with a .232 career average and 37 home runs. He occasionally was used a pinch-hitter, batting .284 in 109 at-bats.
After retiring in 1958, Lemon worked as a scout, coach and minor league manager. In 1966, he applied for Cleveland's vacant managing position but was turned down by Indians owner Gabe Paul, who later called his decision not to hire Lemon, "the biggest mistake I made in baseball."
Lemon managed Kansas City from 1970-72 and the White Sox in 1977 and 1978 before taking over the Yankees on July 25 when Martin.
Lemon was replaced by Martin midway through the '79 season but returned to the Yankees for the second half of the strike-shortened 1981 season. New York won its division and the AL pennant before losing to the Dodgers in the Series.
"It's really sad to lose a man like Lemon. Everybody liked him so much even the opposition," said 90-year-old Mel Harder, who played with and coached Lemon. "He joked with everybody I don't care who you were. He was one of my best friends."
A spokesperson at Palmcrest North Convalescent Home said funeral arrangements were being made by Lemon's family.
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