December 15, 2017

From the Archives: Bob Lemon and the Hall of Fame

November 18, 2017 by · 3 Comments 

(Editor’s Note: The following was first published on this site on January 21, 2008.)

A couple days ago Dr. Michael Hoban posted an article about strange Hall of Fame voting in which he wondered why Bob Lemon was suddenly regarded as a better pitcher than Allie Reynolds in 1972 after Reynolds received more votes in the first seven years that they appeared on the ballot together.

“In 1972, a funny thing happened on the way to the Hall of Fame,” Hoban wrote. “After both players had been retired for many years, Bob Lemon suddenly and mysteriously became a ‘better pitcher’ than Allie Reynolds. Or, at least one could infer that from what happened in the voting. In 1972, Lemon passed Reynolds in the voting and went on to be elected to the Hall in 1976. And Allie Reynolds was never elected. What happened? How can anyone logically explain this turn-around?”

SABR members have speculated that perhaps Lemon’s induction had something to do with him managing the 1972 Kansas City Royals to 85 wins and a second place finish. “None of the other 1969 expansion teams had more than 71 wins, so Lemon was praised for his achievement,” wrote Hoban. “A similar surge in Hall of Fame votes has occurred for other players who became managers. Both Gil Hodges in 1970 and Joe Torre in 1997 saw their percentages double from the previous election.”

John Lease, a good friend, had his own theory: “One point I can think of is the expansion of baseball in 1969,” wrote Lease. “When the leagues both expanded they added a lot of new baseball writer voters, I’d assume. And while American League writers were probably swayed by the many years Reynolds pitched for the Yankees and won World Series, giving him a higher percentage each year over Lemon, with expansion (and a Yankee down cycle) a bunch of new voters probably looked at Lemon’s seasons differently, plus the fact that he was with the 1954 Indians, who they knew as the most winning team in [AL] history (up to that time).”

While both of the above theories played a small part in Lemon’s induction, the truth is that Lemon was the beneficiary of a campaign headed by friends and numerous sportswriters, many of them popular and influential, including New York Times columnist Arthur Daley, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bob Broeg, Dick Young of the New York Daily News, Bob Markus of the Chicago Tribune, Bob Addie, who was a longtime Senators beat writer for the Washington Times-Herald and Washington Post, and C.C. Johnson Spink, editor and publisher of The Sporting News. The campaign was designed to “educate” the other voters about Lemon’s qualifications and to convince them that the former Indians hurler was worthy of induction. Not surprisingly it began in 1972.

On New Year’s Day a faint drumbeat came out of Kansas City courtesy of Joe McGuff, who wrote in The Sporting News, “To some it may seem that Bob Lemon suffered from an Avis syndrome in 1971. His Royals were second in the American League West, he finished second in balloting for Manager of the Year in the American League and second in the Manager of the Year poll conducted by THE SPORTING NEWS. Even though Lemon failed to win any awards, the second-place finishes constituted a tribute to his managerial ability. They also may have a favorable side effect in another area—the annual balloting for the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame voting in no way resembles a popularity contest, but at the same time, a candidate’s accomplishments are more likely to be remembered if his name is before the public.”

McGuff went on to list Lemon’s accomplishments as a pitcher—that he went 207-128; that he ranked 18th in winning percentage among pitchers with at least 200 wins; that 13 of the 17 hurlers with better winning percentages were in the Hall of Fame; that he was one of only four American League pitchers to win 20 or more games seven times; and that Ted Williams rated Lemon as one of the toughest pitchers he’d ever faced. He concluded his article, “By all the standards that have been set down, Lemon belongs in the Hall of Fame. His support in recent years has not been strong but now perhaps more voters will take a look at his record.”

Bob Broeg was elected to the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors in 1972 and took the opportunity to bash the writers’ voting patterns in The Sporting News on March 11, 1972:

It’s not who we’ve elected but who we haven’t. For instance how can we justify Early Wynn and not pitching colleague Bob Lemon, considered by many ex-teammates and contemporaries to be superior?

Yet when Wynn eased into the Hall of Fame last January with 301 votes…Lemon lagged in tenth place with 117 votes.

I doubt very seriously, with only six more elections before he passes beyond BBWAA consideration 20 years after his retirement, that the current Kansas City manager will make it.

I think he belongs…Lemon, it says here, was as good a pitcher as Wynn and, again, I base this in part on conversation with men who caught them both and played with and against them.

After winning 85 games in 1971, the Royals slipped in 1972, playing to a 76-78 and fourth-place finish. Lemon was fired after the season, not only because the team underachieved—they should have won five more games than they did based on the Pythagorean Theorem—but because the Los Angeles Times reported that Lemon couldn’t wait to retire so he and his wife could spend the remainder of their lives in Hawaii. As is usually the case in professional sports, the comment was allegedly taken out of context. The die had already been cast, however, and Lemon was replaced by Jack McKeon. When Lemon denied that he was ready to retire, the Royals hired their former manager as a special assignment scout.

In December, Dick Young wrote about the Hall of Fame ballot, “Warren Spahn, Robin Roberts and Whitey Ford became eligible for the Hall of Fame all at once and should make it first crack. A big boom’s on for Bob Lemon, who is highly deserving.”

Three weeks later, Arthur Daley really laid it on thick when he wrote what in essence was a public apology for ignoring Lemon on his Hall of Fame ballot in previous elections.

This is really an admission of carelessness, neglect, and maybe even downright stupidity.

I never before voted for him [Lemon] and that indicates a gross display of incompetence on my part because Lem has been eligible for the last nine elections. Not until some of his friends challenged me to check his credentials did I give them the scrutiny they had long deserved. It was a revelation.

I’d known all along that Lemon had been good, but it was a general impression gathered over the years and without any substantiation by facts. As Casey Stengel was fond of saying, “You can look it up.” I looked it up and was jolted considerably by what I found. It made me a little mad at myself for having bypassed so worthy a candidate so often in the past.

Presumably too many of the lodge brothers did the same and this is one way to nudge them into taking a more searching glance in the direction of the most consistent pitcher on a perennially powerful Cleveland Indian staff.

In the same article, Daley called the voters “careless” and vowed that he would vote for Lemon in future elections and would recommend that other voters do the same. (That Daley and the other writers weren’t already familiar with the accomplishments of all the players on the ballot is inexcusable, but I digress).

Daley’s efforts clearly paid off. On January 24, 1973 the New York Times speculated that Spahn, Roberts, Ford, Ralph Kiner, Lemon and Gil Hodges all had a chance to be elected into the Hall of Fame. Alas Spahn was the only one of the above to gain entrance into the Hall in 1973—Ford, Kiner, Hodges and Roberts rounded out the top five. Lemon came in sixth and netted only 46.6% of the vote, but he received 60 more votes than he’d gotten the previous year and his support increased by more than 17%.

Two years earlier, Allie Reynolds received 20 more votes than Lemon and had 30.6% of the vote while the latter stood at 25%. But once a handful of influential members of the BBWAA began stumping for Lemon in 1972, that trend reversed itself. Lemon’s vote total climbed from 90 to 177 in two years. Reynolds didn’t have the benefit of a similar campaign and went from 110 votes to 93 over that same span.

Lemon was fired by the Royals again following the 1973 season in what was reported to be a cost-cutting move (Eddie Sawyer, another scout, was also fired). The move had little effect on his supporters. John Hall of the Los Angeles Times wrote a tongue-in-cheek article on Christmas day in which he wished to trim his tree with “Eyeglasses for the Hall of Fame voters” who failed to elect Lemon earlier that year. Ironically Hall was the same writer who reported that the Royals skipper wanted to retire to Hawaii, prompting Ewing Kaufman to fire Lemon in 1972.

Daley stumped for Lemon again in 1974. He penned an article for the New York Times on January 3 in which he admonished voters as being “too blind or too ignorant” to have given Spahn the “homage he deserved” in 1973. Though Spahn was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Daley couldn’t understand how the southpaw’s name was omitted from 64 of the 380 ballots cast. He was also afraid that Mickey Mantle, who was eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time, would overshadow everyone else on the ballot, much the way Spahn had the previous year and Ted Williams had in 1966.

Daley wrote:

There is plenty of room on each ballot. That’s why some vote tabulations defy comprehension. Each listing has spaces for 10 names and the order of placing is of no consequence. Any outsider therefore would have to believe that all obvious choices would rate inclusion somewhere among the 10 slots on the ballot.

The important thing in the current election for the voters to remember is that there are 10 spaces. Sound judgment should be used to fill any or all of those places and I find it imperative to urge the brothers to consider my three favorite candidates. All are pitchers and each was a superb craftsman with solid credentials for making it to Cooperstown.

They are Robin Roberts, Whitey Ford and Bob Lemon.

On January 12, Broeg wrote in The Sporting News that while he anticipated that Mantle and Ford would be the only two inducted into the Hall of Fame (he gave Eddie Mathews a chance and Roberts an “outside shot”), he felt that despite receiving “strong publicity,” Lemon had been the “most overlooked in the voting.” Broeg also revealed that he voted for Mantle, Mathews, Ford, Roberts, Roger Maris, Lemon, Enos Slaughter, Hodges, Red Schoendienst and Duke Snider.

Just as Broeg predicted, Mantle and Ford were elected to the Hall in 1974. Roberts, Kiner, Hodges, Lemon and Slaughter were the top five vote-getters among those not elected. Though Lemon’s vote total increased by only 13 and the percentage of ballots on which he appeared rose only marginally from 46.6% to 52.1%, he was still moving closer to induction. Allie Reynolds also received more votes in 1974 than he had in ’73, but he was still well short of induction, appearing on only 27.7% of the ballots.

Before letting the matter die, Broeg weighed in once more on February 9, congratulating himself for predicting that Mantle and Ford would finish 1-2 in the voting; admitting that he blew it when he wrote that Mathews had a chance to be inducted (Mathews finished ninth in the voting with a “measly” 118 and appeared on only 32.3% of the ballots); and insisting that Lemon continued to be the most overlooked candidate.

Several months passed before Lemon’s Hall of Fame worthiness cropped up again, but like clockwork the press began beating its drum again around the holidays. On November 23, 1974 Dave Condon of the Chicago Tribune reported that Bill Phillips, a friend of Lemon’s, was spearheading a campaign to get Lemon elected to the Hall. Phillips was the president of the Royal Lancers Club in Kansas City and had a history of running campaigns designed to gain All-Star votes for Royals players. In 1972 he organized Kansas City’s first “Elect-a-Royal-for-the-All-Star-Game” campaign in which he hoped to convince Royals fans to vote for Lou Piniella, Amos Otis, Fred Patek and Cookie Rojas. It worked. Rojas finished second among second basemen in the balloting, Patek was third among shortstops, and Piniella and Otis finished fourth and sixth, respectively among outfielders. All four made the American League All-Star team.

On January 11, 1975 both Broeg and Addie wrote about Hall of Fame balloting in The Sporting News, though neither dedicated much space to Lemon. Broeg focused mainly on author Robert Michener’s campaign to get Robin Roberts elected (Michener felt that Roberts was snubbed in 1974 and that Whitey Ford’s induction was due to a New York bias among the writers), but he mentioned that he voted for Lemon just as he had since 1973. Addie reported that there was “quite a campaign mounted in Kansas City to get Bob Lemon into the baseball Hall of Fame—and deservedly so.”

But another vote came and went and still Lemon was on the outside looking in. Ralph Kiner was the lone inductee in 1975, earning just enough votes to gain entrance into the Hall of Fame. Roberts came in a close second, falling nine votes short, and Lemon finished third with 233 votes, 43 more than he’d received in 1974. Reynolds’ eligibility expired after the 1974 vote and he fell off the ballot.

Not long after the results were announced, C.C. Johnson Spink, editor and publisher of The Sporting News, questioned the writers’ reasoning.

It’s been our privilege, as publisher of THE SPORTING NEWS, to know many of the veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. We respect their abilities and their judgment, but we wonder what happens when they vote in the Hall of Fame elections.

We certainly have no criticism of their recent selection of Ralph Kiner, but we do fault them for failing again to honor several other former outstanding stars. How in the world can the writers continue to bypass Bob Lemon, Robin Roberts and George Kell, just to name three?

Most of another year passed without further commentary about the election until John Hall rang in another Christmas with suggestions about how to trim his tree, this time asking Santa Claus for “sanity tests for the Hall of Fame voters who seem to have misplaced their minds.”

Addie wrote that he’d voted for Lemon again and that a man in Oklahoma had been trying to sway the voters in Lemon’s favor for years by sending out a brochure “extolling the virtues and records” of the former Cleveland pitcher. Five days later the New York Times reported that a new club called the Wahoo Club of Cleveland had formed and was waging a direct-mail campaign in which they were sending lemons and career summaries to the writers in an effort to garner Lemon more attention in the upcoming election. It was a tactic that the Chicago Tribune’s Bob Markus called “exotic.”

“You know what a lemon will get you in Las Vegas. It gets you the same thing here,” wrote Markus. “But you’re getting to me fellas. I may weaken yet. But not until Robin Roberts gets into the Hall of Fame first.”

On December 27, 1975 Lemon was named pitching coach of the New York Yankees, which was seen as fortuitous by one writer who speculated that the media attention he would get just prior to Hall of Fame voting would help his cause. Phil Pepe agreed and wrote that “landing a big league job, and the attention that goes with it, was certain to reacquaint voters with Lemon’s splendid credentials as a pitcher.”

Jack Lang kicked off 1976 by announcing in The Sporting News that Roberts and Lemon were the favorites heading into the election. He was right. Roberts received 337 votes and appeared on 86.9% of the ballots and Lemon earned 305 votes and appeared on 78.6% of the ballots. After being on the ballot for 12 years, Bob Lemon was finally a Hall of Famer. When asked about the campaigns waged on his behalf, Lemon responded, “I never solicited them. I had nothing to do with it, but I didn’t say, don’t do it.”

A couple weeks later he told Lang, “When you’ve been in baseball all your life, it’s nice to have friends like that. I didn’t encourage the campaign, but I won’t condemn it. I think my record speaks for itself, but having people help me did not embarrass me.”

The Hartford Courant’s Bill Lee summed up Lemon’s induction without actually naming the pitcher:

It must be pretty wonderful for an old ball player to find himself elected to the Hall of Fame, whether it be baseball or basketball, or for that matter, any competitive sport.

Those of us who as kids dreamed five nights out of seven of making it in the big leagues and had to settle for being a peanut vendor or sportswriter, will never begrudge any man his election to Cooperstown or Springfield.

Arguments pro and con, yes. It may even be held that politicking, or old time friendships, sometimes have more to do with a man’s induction into his game’s Hall of Fame than what he did on the field or court.

But if as kids we would have been willing to give our right arm for a big time contract, in maturity few of us take a stand that this man or that doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. If he makes it, God bless him.

* It’s interesting to note that The Sporting News conducted a poll among its readers in late January 1976 and asked them to vote for the players they felt were most worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame that year. Roberts got the most votes (582) and appeared on 59.8% of the 973 ballots cast. Lemon finished fifth with 203 votes (20.9%). In between were Eddie Mathews (392), Duke Snider (282) and Enos Slaughter (249).

Comments

3 Responses to “From the Archives: Bob Lemon and the Hall of Fame”
  1. Mike Hoban says:

    Great article. But, as you pointed out, how distressing it is to see just how bad the research done by the writers really is. If Arthur Daley (who I always admired) did no serious research on Lemon for his first nine years on the ballot – you can imagine how careless many of the other writers are.

    Isn’t it time for the Hall of Fame to entrust this voting to more serious baseball people?

  2. John Lease says:

    Not too surprising, I guess. I know that in the old veterans committee picks it was all about politics and vote swapping. Too bad supposed ‘expert’ baseball writers couldn’t bother to actually look up guys when they hit the ballot. Bill Mazeroski and Lloyd Waner both got in due to the influence of longtime GM of the Pirates Joe L. Brown.

  3. Mike Lynch says:

    Mike,

    I couldn’t agree more. I was thinking the same thing while I was writing. I heard a story on the radio not long after the HOF voting this year that was almost identical to the one about Daley. Someone pointed out Bert Blyleven’s stats to a writer, who then responded, “Well, if I’d known all that I would have voted for him.” How can these guys not know? With all the tools available to us, anyone with a computer can look this stuff up and with all the web sites dedicated to baseball anyone can have stats explained to them if necessary. I don’t get it.

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