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Jim Lemon

One player who could reflect on New York Yankee Hall of Famer Whitey Ford with gratitude was Jim Lemon. At the end of August in 1956, Lemon cracked three home runs off Ford in successive at-bats in Washington D.C. Only Joe DiMaggio had ever hit three homers in a game at Griffith Stadium.

Jim Lemon of the Minnesota Twins

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Making that three-homer day more special for Lemon was the presence of President Dwight Eisenhower, who made a surprise visit to the park to meet Mickey Mantle before the game. Mantle hit his 47th home run of the season that night, but Lemon stole Eisenhower's attention, and Ike asked to meet with Lemon after the game.

Lemon had entered the '56 season with just 75 big-league games under his belt at the age of 28, partly because of Harmon Killebrew, who had signed with the Senators as a "bonus baby." Killebrew had to spend two seasons in the big leagues after he signed, the Senators had to demote a player to make room for Killebrew, and Lemon was that player.

Lemon became the Twins' batting coach in 1965, coaching none other than Killebrew as the slugger worked his way back from a near season-ending dislocated elbow.

The starting left fielder when the Twins' played their first game in Minnesota, Lemon became the Twins' batting coach in 1965, and his entire career is generally associated with either the Twins or Washington Senators, both I and II.

Ragged path

Lemon - a straightaway, right-handed hitter who also showed some pop going to right field - was originally signed by Cleveland, but he quickly learned about disappointment, which wasn't unusual for the thousands of players who were clawing for roster spots on the 16 big-league teams.

At 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, he was on the light side for his height and tended to need rest from the daily grind of pro ball now and then, but he hit 39 home runs and drove in 119 for minor-league Oklahoma City in 1950. That drew Cleveland's attention, but after just 12 games in Cleveland he entered the military and missed two seasons.

In 1953, he was among the baseball rookies featured in a newsreel - short films that preceded movies in theatres - but he first sputtered at Cleveland and then slumped in the American Association.

It eventually reached the point where Cleveland general manager Hank Greenberg was going to lose Lemon on waivers, so he sold Lemon to the Senators for $20,000 in 1954, saying, "He swings a good bat. When he makes good with Washington, don't taunt me."

In the Southern Association's all-star game in July of 1955, Jim Lemon hit four home runs. He belted two to left and two to right, connecting in the first, third, seventh and ninth innings. Lemon drove in seven runs in the 10-5 win.

He became a starter in 1956, and in 1959 helped the Senators create a poweful quartet along with Roy Sievers, Killebrew and Bob Allison. They combined for more than 125 home runs that season and reporters used the first letter from each last name to tab them the SALK shots, a play on the Salk polio vaccine that was a God-send for people of the day.

A thinking man at the plate

From '56 through 1960, Lemon hit 141 home runs. An average of fewer than 30 home runs a season might seem unremarkable now, but if a player hit 20 back then he was considered a longball threat.

Lemon was known to use multiple batting stances during the season, adjusting based on the type of pitcher he faced. Lemon's ability to think through these varying approaches meant that by 1961 players often went to him for hitting advice, which was a preview of his second career as a hitting instructor.

Lemon's playing career ended in 1963, but he stayed in baseball for 20 years, mainly in the Twins' organization. He did return to D.C. in 1968, when he was named manager of the Senators.

The week of his death, his son told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his dad still was watching baseball on TV and talking about hitters' approaches to different pitchers.

Oh. In addition to tying DiMaggio's record of three home runs at Griffith Stadium, in 1958 Lemon tied another DiMaggio record with two home runs and six runs batted in during one inning.


Where are the 1965 Minnesota Twins?

 


Born in Covington, Virgina in March of 1928, Jim Lemon died of cancer in 2006.


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