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
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
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
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
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.