Bob Lemon, 79, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians who had seven 20-game winning seasons and later managed the New York Yankees to an American League pennant and a World Series championship in 1978, died Jan. 11, the Associated Press reported in Cleveland. No cause of death was announced.
Mr. Lemon, a right-armed sinker ball specialist, played 15 seasons with the Indians, retiring in 1958 with a career record of 207 wins and 128 losses. His lifetime earned run average was 3.23. He led the American League in victories three times and won two World Series games, including the seventh game in 1948 when the Indians defeated the Boston Braves for Cleveland's last baseball championship.
That year Mr. Lemon's regular season record was 20-14, with an earned run average of 2.82. He led the American League with 20 complete games and 10 shutouts. In 1954, he was 23-7, and combined with Bob Feller, Early Wynn and Mike Garcia to make what is said to have been one of baseball's all-time best pitching rotations. But the rotation collapsed in the 1954 World Series, when Cleveland pitchers allowed 21 runs in four games as the Indians were swept by the New York Giants.
Mr. Lemon also played in seven All-Star Games, and he pitched one no-hitter, on June 30, 1948, against the Detroit Tigers. On May 29, 1951, he retired the first 21 Detroit batters in succession, then Vic Wertz robbed him of a perfect game by hitting a home run to lead off the eighth inning. Mr. Lemon then retired the next six Detroit batters and the Indians won 2-1.
In 1978, after having been fired in June as manager of the Chicago White Sox, Mr. Lemon was named Yankee manager after Billy Martin resigned as the Yankee skipper on July 24. That year the Yankees, 10 1/2 games out of first place in July, defeated the Boston Red Sox in a one-game playoff at Fenway Park to win the American League East Championship and then beat Kansas City for the American League pennant. They beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series 4 games to 2.
Yankee players attributed Mr. Lemon's success as a manager to the fact that his athletic ego had been satisfied during his playing years and he felt no need to compete with them for attention, as his predecessor had. "Playing for him is a piece of cake," Yankee pitcher Rich Gossage told Washington Post sportswriter Tony Kornheiser. "You don't wonder if he's in the dugout second-guessing what you just did."
In 1979, Mr. Lemon became general manager of the Yankees when Martin returned as manager in mid-season. He would manage the Yankees again in 1982, but was fired three weeks into the season. Earlier in his career he also had managed Kansas City and several minor league teams. He remained on the Yankee payroll as a scout and adviser to owner George Steinbrenner until his death.
Mr. Lemon, who was born in San Bernardino, Calif., grew up in Long Beach, where his father, who had been a semi-pro baseball player, owned a gasoline station. As a child he was encouraged, not pushed, by his father to play baseball. From the start, he was good but was a little wild. At his induction to the Hall of Fame in 1976, he told how he'd tried to throw a curve ball at the age of 13.
"I told my mom to stand there, and I'd show her my curve. I threw a hanger and hit the side of her head. You all know how Early Wynn said he'd stick one in his mother's ear if she crowded the plate on him. Well, I did."
In 1941, Mr. Lemon began his major league career as a third baseman for the Indians. He played third base in 1942, then served in the Navy during World War II. When he came back from the war, Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau told him he wasn't a good enough hitter to make it in the major leagues as a third baseman.
Boudreau had heard that Mr. Lemon had been a good pitcher for a Navy team during the war, and he sent him to the Indians' bullpen. For the 1946 season his record was 4-5 with an earned run average of 2.49. By mid-1947 he was a starter, and in 1948 he had the first of his 20-win seasons.
As a player, it was said of Mr. Lemon that it was impossible to tell from his facial expression after the game whether he had won or lost. "I never took a game home with me," he often said. "I always left it in the bar on the way."